Why Saturday Night Live Got Rid Of Taran Killam And Jay Pharoah, According To Lorne Michaels

Over the course of its 41 seasons, Saturday Night Live has seen its cast change up pretty much every year, with varying degrees of severity in the swap-outs. This summer brought on one of the more notable splits between actors and their repertory player status on the show, with the duo of Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah exiting SNL between seasons. Executive producer Lorne Michaels has put an explanation to why Killam and Pharoah were given the boot.

I think that the lifeblood of the shows change. I love Taran, I love Jay, I think they're both super-talented. They've both been here six years. And if you don't keep making changes you don't change. You know? I can't explain it any other way, because there's no way of explaining it. Every now and then new voices come in --- both in the writing staff and the cast.

At its face value, that answer sounds like Lorne Michaels is being cagey about how he speaks of Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah, and perhaps he is. But perhaps there weren't any outwardly poignant reasons behind getting rid of the comedians other than wanting to go in a new direction. As someone whose life doesn't mirror Michaels' I can't claim to know the formula for putting the ideal sketch troupe together. Maybe he saw something happening that he didn't think was working in the long run.

Still, unless whatever those imperfect factors were came about suddenly, six years is a long time to keep two performers on the main stage just to kind of pull the prop rug out from under them. In that short amount of time, The Amanda Show and MADtv vet Taran Killam became only the fourth SNL cast member to ever hit 100 impressions. (Including Donald Trump, which will now be performed by someone else.) And even though Jay Pharoah doesn't have that distinction, he was still a major part of the process, obviously when it came to several more prominent black celebrities. So it's not like they were't hefting their weight.

When asked to compare their tenure to those who lasted longer, Lorne Michaels told this to THR.

Well, put it this way. Chevy Chase was there for a year-and-a-half. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were there for four years. Jimmy Fallon was there for five years. Fred Armisen was I don't know how many years. It's whether or not they're --- I don't know. There's people's lives involved here so I'm not really... There are decisions that you intuitively come to, that now we have to do something different, that's all.

Incidentally, Fred Armisen was there for 11 years. But this answer calls back to the other one. When there isn't any obvious bad blood involved, no one is going to be open and honest about the nitty gritty behind somebody getting axed. Best to keep things amiable and chalk it up to the unpredictable river of life.

That said, it still sucks that Killam and Pharoah won't be back for the new season. Sure, they've got other stuff happening that sounds pretty great, but none of that is coming in a couple of days. Hopefully new featured players Mikey Day, Alex Moffat and Melissa Villaseñor are exquisite substitutes.

With Margot Robbie stepping up as the first host - see the others here - Saturday Night Live will return to NBC for the start of Season 42 on Saturday, October 1, at 11:35 p.m. ET. To see when everything else is returning to your TVs, check out our fall premiere schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.