Shortly after the news was announced, Taran Killam opened up about how “surprised” he was by his unexpected firing after six years in the cast. But Jay Pharoah, who had been on the show for four full seasons at that point, has barely said a word about his departure from the show in the months since. But in a long interview on New York’s HOT 97 Wednesday, he said it all.
“You go where you’re appreciated,” Pharoah began. “And if you have multiple people on the cast saying things like you’re so talented and you’re so able and they don’t use you and it’s unfair and it’s making us feel bad because they don’t use you and you’re a talent...”
Pharoah, who became known for his uncanny impressions of rappers like Jay Z, Drake and others, said that SNL puts people “into boxes.” In his case, the box became impressions of black celebrities, from actors like Will Smith to former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson.
“Whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do,” Pharoah said, before adding, “And I’m not a ‘yes nigga.’” Like his former cast member Kenan Thompson did during the uproar over the lack of black women on the show, he said he refused to put on a dress. It got so bad that people would show up at his stand-up shows and yell, “Fuck SNL!”
Not only does Pharoah think that SNL “gave up” on him, but he also thinks they “gave up” on the character of President Obama, who was barely seen on the show long before he left office. As he discussed with the hosts, not seeing his Obama ever interact with Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump was a major missed opportunity. And according to Pharoah, it was something that Baldwin was looking forward to before the show dropped him.
Pharoah also took credit for helping to get Sasheer Zamata and then Leslie Jones on the show, telling theGrio in September 2013 that the show needed to “pay attention” and get some black women in the cast. “I’m the reason it happened,” he said, but, “I almost freaking lost my job.”
Despite everything, he said he “respects the hell” out of SNL’s executive producer Lorne Michaels despite some “shaky times” along the way. Breaking into a pitch-perfect Chris Rock impression, he added, “I met Lorne Michaels and I ain’t been broke ever since.”
It’s yet to be determined whether or not that saying will hold true for Pharoah, but so far, he seems to be doing just fine without SNL in his life. He’s set to star in the new Showtime series White Famous, which is based on Jamie Foxx’s experience in Hollywood and will give him far more screen-time than he ever got in the show that put him on the map.