‘Saturday Night Live’ fires Jay Pharoah and replaces him with two white guys

Saturday Night Live is shaking up its roster again. And by “shaking up” we mean firing Jay Pharoah and adding more white guys, because what mainstream comedy really needs is more Caucasian men. Six season veteran Pharoah, along with (white) cast members Taran Killam and Jon Rudnitsky, was recently told that his contract wouldn’t be renewed for SNL’s next season.

Who’s stepping in for Pharoah and his former colleagues? Two out of the three names on the list are white dude comedic actors Mikey Day and Alex Moffat — not a great look for a show with a serious long-running racial diversity problem that hasn’t gone away. Although Day and Moffat will also be joined by Melissa Villaseñor, the first Latina cast member in the show’s history, just over one-fourth of the upcoming season’s cast will be actors of color. Also, how sad is it that a show with more than four decades under its belt that films in New York is only getting its first Latina actor this year?

No clear explanation has emerged from NBC about its decision to let Pharoah go, and he hasn’t been very forthcoming about the reasons behind his departure. In an interview with Vanity Fair, all he said was, “Transitions happen at the show. That’s how it happens and I’m just looking forward to getting on [upcoming comedy series] White Famous.” Very cryptic.

Jay Pharaoh - SNL
CREDIT: NBC/Getty Images

Did he know this was going to happen beforehand? Again, it’s unclear. But if former castmate Killam’s account to Uproxx is any indication, this was a surprise firing. He said, “[I] heard they weren’t going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really. I can assume until the cows come home.”

SNL’s decision to drop Pharoah is particularly jarring when you consider the topical impressions he’s done for the show. Even though Barack Obama won’t be in the White House much longer, dropping the guy who does Obama impressions at the peak of a truly mind-boggling presidential campaign seems like a bad call on the part of NBC.

Pharoah’s firing isn’t just a diversity issue — it’s also a relevance issue. If SNL continues to whiten its lineup, it’s already-declining claim to social relevance is going to go down the toilet. At a time when issues of race are such a visible part of politics, society, and the media, a show that trades on topical humor can’t afford to keep shutting out actors of color and replacing them with more white guys.