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Ex ‘SNL’ Star: Show ‘Gave Up on the Obama Thing’

Jay Pharaoh shares a behind-the-scenes look at the NBC show's political bias

Comedian Jay Pharoah’s impression of President Barack Obama was spot on. Too bad few people noticed.

Pharoah took the Obama impersonation baton from former “Saturday Night Live” star Fred Armisen. The black comedian had years to establish his Obama as pop culture’s definitive take on the Commander in Chief.

It never happened.

Obama's Ukraine Address - SNL

Past “Saturday Night Live” “presidents” proved far more memorable. Think Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush, Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton and Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush.

We may now know why Pharoah’s impression came up short: Creative indifference.


Pharoah opened up about his time on the venerable sketch series during an April 13 chat on Hot 97’s “Ebro in the Morning” show. The comedian got fired from “SNL” in August, but his Obama character got his pink slip much earlier.

“For the last year and a half they did no Obama sketches at all. They just were like, ‘oh, we don’t know what to do…’ I said, ‘just let me do my characters and we’ll be fine.’ They didn’t wanna do that,” Pharoah said.

“I feel like they gave up … gave up on the Obama thing,” he continued.

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“SNL” became increasingly progressive during the Obama years. Few sketches skewered the first black president. The show’s writers ignored Obama’s considerable ego, his lofty pronouncements nor the fallout from the 2013 PolitiFact Lie of the Year – “If you like your health care plan you can keep it.”

While conservatives pounced on the president via social media “SNL’s” professional scribes just couldn’t find much to mock.

FAST FACT: Jay Pharoah will soon star in “White Famous,” a Showtime comedy loosely based on the rise of Oscar winner Jamie Foxx.

As a result, a show known for hitting both sides of the aisle shifted its allegiance to the Democrats. No one realized that more than Pharoah.

It all came to a head earlier this year when the show literally sang a song praising President Obama as he was leaving the White House. That came on the heels of a mournful ode to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid late last year.

Election Week Cold Open - SNL

Pharoah clearly wishes his time on “SNL” had gone differently. The Obama impersonation proved just one frustration out of many.

The performer says many of his “SNL” skits went viral, snaring millions of views on the increasingly important One sketch earned more than 30 million views.

“I would always have things that would go viral. It’s what kept me relevant all of these years,” he said.

That wasn’t enough to save his job. He thinks his willingness to speak up for himself and nudge the show toward a more diverse cast, also played into his dismissal.

“I’m fiery. I’m not a yes nigga. That’s not me,” he said. That attitude, he says, plus his personal plea for more diverse co-stars, nearly got him fired months before his eventual termination.

He called “SNL” “Wonder Bread straight up” but still doesn’t regret taking the gig.

“it was definitely a good experience and a stepping stone to other opportunities. I viewed it as that as soon as I got there,” he said. His passionate followers may beg to differ.

“People show up to my shows, I got super fans and they say, f*** ‘SNL,'” he said.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via / CC BY-SA


  1. In addition to the networks, and Lorn MIchaels, the host of SNL has veto power over sketches. I’ve read of sketches vetoed because the host didn’t have enough jokes and they felt overshadowed, and I imagine hosts veto sketches for political reasons as well. Not defending anyone, just saying there is a lot of blame to go around.

  2. Some media folks just couldn’t bring themselves to laugh at pResident Super Negro it seems, and that shows how morally bankrupt they are.So thanks to President Trump they have a new champion to unfurl their talents on. Make us Laugh f_ckers, the world is waiting.

  3. It’s not that they couldn’t find much to mock, there was no interest in poking fun at a black Democrat. That would be heresy. The obvious bias in their only insulting Conservatives (or just Republicans) has turned me off of both SNL and weeknight late night shows.

  4. For me, the most vivid demonstration of the political bias of SNL (and its audience) was during Obama’s first run in 2008: after the show’s non-stop ridiculing of Sarah Palin, someone on the writing staff decided to play ‘equal-time’ on Joe Biden…with a sketch about him, using the many actual examples of HIS bonehead mistakes, gaffes & faux pas on the campaign trail. The sketch was fairly funny, BUT the reaction of the studio audience was a lot of suppressed half-laughs and nervous muted giggles — as if the entire crowd were possessed by the same thought: “Wait, we shouldn’t be laughing at this; Biden is a Democrat!”

  5. Saying Obama has a “considerable ego” is like saying there’s considerable cold at the South Pole. Or that a skyscraper is considerably tall. Or that America is considerably ahead of other nations technology-wise. Or that a heavy metal concert is considerably loud. Or children are considerably excited on Christmas Eve.

      1. Rosie O’Donnell is considerably overweight. Hillary Clinton is considerably unlikable. Susan Rice is considerably untruthful. Terrorists are considerably Muslim. Hollywood is considerably liberal. MSNBC is considerably biased. Russian Roulette is considerably dangerous. Kate Upton is considerably attractive. Anthony Weiner is considerably perverted. Chelsea Clinton is considerably unattractive. North Korea is considerably belligerent. Venezuela is considerably screwed (but not by socialism dammit!). ISIS is considerably barbaric. “Queers for Palestine” is considerably stupid.

  6. Diamond in the dung, that ‘Constitutional Rock’ “…today I am still just a bill…” skit on the immigration executive order was truly a classic, and extremely well-done. Google it if you haven’t seen it.

    The potential indeed was always there.

  7. SNL is just one of dozens of shows I cannot watch due to extreme political bias. You have to be a brain dead liberal drone to watch most television these days (not that there is any shortage of them).

  8. “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

    Pretty much sums up Hollywood’s stance toward Obama.

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