‘SNL’ Is The Worst, But We Knew That Already 

Jay_Pharaoh_Taran_Killam_SNLSNL is in the news again for another off-cycle cast shakeup. The newest victims? Taran Killam and Jay Pharaoh. Usually, valued performers at “The House that Lorne Michaels Built” have amicable exits and get an emotional send-off at the end of a season. But for some reason, these fan favorites were unceremoniously booted in the off-season. And it was seemingly done without reason.

Killam was arguably one of the most entertaining actors left on the ailing show. While SNL has devolved into relying on jokes 12-year-old boys would love, Killam brought a creative aspect to the show. His characters, most notably Jedediah, we’re unexpected but undeniably hilarious. Pharaoh’s departure is shocking for completely different reasons. SNL has always been dependent on its ability to impersonate people in pop culture, and that was Jay Pharaoh’s biggest selling point. His skit as Denzel Washington from his movie Unstoppable fit perfectly into the mold of the type of humor SNL loves to produce, and it was funny without being demeaning to minorities. More on that in a moment.

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The point here is that SNL has seemingly hobbled itself coming out of a rocky breeding season. Newer cast members Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett continue to be unpopular with many, but seem to be holding onto their posts. Colin Jost and Michael Che deliver weak “Weekend Update” installments week in and week out, but Lorne Michaels can’t seem to get enough. The only remaining pieces that appear to be working are its Ghostbusters castmates Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

**insert eye roll here**

There isn’t much to gripe about with McKinnon, who has affably fallen into her role as Kristen Wiig’s replacement, but it’s a different story with Jones. Her self-deprecating humor, which has been her shtick since the days of ComicView, takes on a different meaning on a show meant to serve white audiences. Jokes about being large and intimidating to men, her inability to find a man, and waxing poetic about how good she would have had it during slavery only reinforce white prejudices. This doesn’t excuse the recent slew of racial hatred sent her way on Twitter, but it does expose a stinging irony.

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We’ve lamented the failings of SNL at length on this site, and at this point, there is no reason to be continually shocked when they make another head-scratching decision. But it is important to note that the rise of (problematic) Leslie Jones and the ouster of Killam and Pharaoh send a clear message: SNL is only interested in low-brow or white-centric humor. It’s an interesting strategy as the MadTV revival and comedic entrants from Netflix, cable, and online outlets pose major threats to the SNL institution. But in the end, these moves stand to test just how far SNL can go before it teeters over the edge.


Photo credit: NBC

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.