Brow Beat

Jay Pharoah, Taran Killam, and Jon Rudnitsky are Leaving Saturday Night Live. Here’s Their Best Work.

We’ll miss Jay Pharoah’s Ben Carson most of all.

NBC

Variety reported late Monday night that three Saturday Night Live cast members would not be returning for the show’s next season. Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam, who were both on Saturday Night Live for six seasons, and Jon Rudnitsky, who was new last year, were all told that their contracts were not being renewed. It’s unclear what led to the decisions; Killam told Uproxx he wasn’t expecting the news, and who knows what logic is behind firing Pharoah, the show’s only credible Obama, in an election year. But Lorne Michaels Kremlinology is more Marc Maron’s thing than Slate’s, so here are a few of our favorite sketches from the show’s departing cast members.

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“The Jay Pharoah Show”

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Pharoah’s skills as an impressionist are prodigious, but his all-impression sketches lean a little hard on this talent. “The Jay Pharoah Show” addresses this criticism head on, by having Pharoah play a talk-show host who uses his impressions as a crutch to avoid admitting he doesn’t know anything about Daniel Radcliffe. The framing device and both men’s increasing discomfort make this top-tier Pharoah.

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“Principal Frye: Holiday Jam”

The first impressions a kid masters are authority figures: parents, teachers, and principals. Jay Pharoah’s high school principal was one James L. Frye. This is probably a coincidence.

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“Ben Carson Endorsement”

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Ben Carson was one of the great pleasures of Saturday Night Live’s past season—another reason Pharoah’s departure is puzzling—and this was one of his finest, creepiest appearances. Be sure to watch to the end for one of Darrell Hammond’s truest-to-life Trump moments.

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“Les Jeunes de Paris”

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“Les Jeunes de Paris,” which Tarran Killam originally wrote at the Groundlings (Sarah Baker co-wrote) was inspired by its soundtrack, a song Killam’s then-fiancé Cobie Smulders discovered at Starbucks, as Jessica Grose reported for Slate. It’s all too rare for Saturday Night Live to embrace something as sweetly surreal as this, and Killam’s total commitment makes it work.

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“Weekend Update: Matthew McConaughey on His Career”

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Killam perfectly captures the weird, rambling rhythms of Matthew McConaughey’s amazing Oscar acceptance speech (it’s easy to forget just how strange it was) and the gobbledygook he was spouting on True Detective at the time. And the closer is genius.

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“Jebidiah Atkinson: Great Speeches”

It sort of got lost once Jebidiah Atkinson became a recurring character, but Killam’s greatest creation was inspired by a real person, the anonymous author of the Harrisburg Patriot & Union’s negative review of the Gettysburg Address. (In the paper’s defense, their owner and three other staffers had been arrested without trial by Lincoln’s soldiers a year earlier.) Atkinson went on to pan everything from holiday movies to TV shows, but his first appearance gets our vote for the tasteless Mary Todd Lincoln joke.

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“Weekend Update: Dirty Dancing Live

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Jon Rudnitsky was underused in his one season on Saturday Night Live, usually getting cast as the person reacting to someone else’s craziness. (He’s pretty good at it; watch him terrorized by Miley Cyrus in this Grease sketch.) But he did get the chance to bring this brilliant Dirty Dancing Live routine to a national audience, which makes his tenure a success in our book.

So farewell, Jay, Taran, and Jon—may all your TV shows last longer than Tequila and Bonetti and all your movies make more money than Taxi. We’ve had the time of our lives.

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