When Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam suddenly departed from Saturday Night Live last year, everybody involved stayed pretty quiet about the reasons behind the change. (The closest we got to juicy gossip was Killam giving an interview last week, where he talked about what a crappy host Donald Trump unsurprisingly was.) But now, Pharoah—who was with the show for six years—has opened up about the firing, including why it happened, why it almost happened way earlier, and the way the show “gave up” on Barack Obama.
Pharoah gave the interview to New York’s HOT 97, noting right at the top that “You go where you’re appreciated,” and that numerous cast members had told him that it bothered them that he wasn’t being cast in more sketches. Along those same lines, he pointed out that the show essentially gave up on Obama during the last year and a half that he was on, despite the series’ increasingly political point of view in the run up to the election. “I was like, ‘Just let me do my character and we’ll be fine.’ [They] didn’t want to do that,” Pharoah said, while also taking a small swipe at the show’s recent tendency to fill high-profile roles with guest stars instead of cast members.
Pharoah also alludes to a culture clash between himself and SNL, and his resistance to being placed in an “impression box.” “A lot of people are scared of Lorne,” Pharoah said. “I respect the hell out of him, but if I want to talk to you, I’ll go up to you, ‘Hey man, this is what I’m feeling.’” Pharoah also said he was more willing than other players to reject sketches or ideas, saying he’d turn down suggestions for scenes where he’d have to do things like wear a dress.
Pharoah also said he almost got fired several years ago, for spearheading a call for more diversity on the show. He claimed credit for the push to include more black women on the show’s cast and writing team, including Sasheer Zamata, Lakendra Tookes, and Leslie Jones, alluding to an interview where he called for more black women to join the show in 2013. “They were ready to get rid of me in 2013, in September, when I spoke up. When I said what I said, and it got on The Grio, and it went viral, I almost freaking lost my job.”
Still, Pharoah says he doesn’t bear the show, or Michaels, any ill-will. Remarking on their relationship, he slipped into his impression of fellow SNL alum Chris Rock: “I met Lorne Michaels and I ain’t been broke ever since.”