Goodbye Jay Pharoah, farewell Barack Obama?
“Saturday Night Live” parted ways with its resident Commander-in-Chief impressionist this summer, and with the new hiring all done for the season, no leading contender for the key caricature has emerged. Come Jan. 21, 2017, the Lorne Michaels-led sketch show won’t really need to do the 44th President of the United States anymore — regularly, at least — but it sure should until then, which encompasses half of Season 42.
So who ya got, Lorne? Well, today the series officially hired two Caucasian guys and a woman — in other words, not them. While Mikey Day’s got Obama’s ears, a white guy playing a person of color is, well, a really bad idea.
Sans Pharoah, we’re down to two African-American men in the “SNL” cast: Kenan Thompson and Michael Che.
The veteran Thompson can — and has — handled the duty in a pinch, but the two body types just don’t match up, which is a distraction for such a beloved and professional comedy franchise. That makes this one a “maybe.”
Meanwhile, if “Weekend Update” co-anchor Che — a standup comic by trade — does any impressions at all, we haven’t seen them. Plus, the fake news portion of the program has been increasingly separated from the skit side, which places that transition at, perhaps, a bridge too far. He’d probably have to shave for the part, too.
While the cast is set, there are still a few more decisions to come on writing staff. These talented joke scribes play bit roles on an episode from time to time — but this would be no bit role, of course. We’d be surprised if one of those deer were thrown in that bright headlight.
Let’s think a bit outside the box a bit, which is what it sounds like “SNL” may have to do. The forever-running series also employs two black actresses, Leslie Jones and Sasheer Zamata, though the rare gender-swap option — one brilliantly utilized by Kate McKinnon for Justin Bieber — seems like unlikely treatment for the leader of the free world.
Maybe the liberal and powerful Michaels can get Obama to play himself. Why not? The senior’s proven he can both take and deliver a joke, and he does have one foot out the White House door — but that’s a card you can probably only play once, in reality.
Another option is Fred Armisen, who has professed to TheWrap how much he still loves going back to “SNL,” where he portrayed Obama before Pharoah. The half-Venezuelan Armisen is technically the bandleader on the Michaels’-produced “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” which also films in New York City. That’s a plus — or really, two pluses.
That said, the busy “Portlandia” and “Documentary Now!” star barely even makes it to Meyers‘ tapings anymore, though this Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin type of triumphant return option may be the show’s best bet to fill four months.
Or maybe it’ll be closer to Larry David‘s Bernie Sanders: just a friend of the show who’s willing to do repeated guest spots. Jordan Peele does a pretty good Obama, and he’s famous — how about him? Additionally, “Key and Peele” doesn’t exist anymore as competition. That’s about all we can come up with as far as worthy and qualified outsiders.
In theory, Pharoah could simply come back to see old friends and play nice for a couple of Saturdays. It appears he had a more cordial exit than the also-ousted Taran Killam, but this early reunion option still doesn’t feel super-probable.
It also doesn’t seem realistic that there can be no Obama sketches at all. While the writers control the scripts and Michaels makes the call on what goes to air, the news is their ultimate shared boss. The 90-minute weekly show won’t make it through May without Obama being a big part of the 24-hour topical cycle. Yes, Season 42 will mostly be all about Donald Trump (as played by Darrell Hammond) and Hillary Clinton (McKinnon), but we need a sitting impressionist for a sitting president.
Michaels & Co. have just a few weeks to figure this whole thing out: “SNL” returns October 1 at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.