It’s been two days since Bill Hader announced his departure from Saturday Night Live, and already he’s got company. The New York Post is reporting that Fred Armisen, who was said to be pondering his exit for a while now, has locked it in internally: “A source at NBC has confirmed to The Post that, after months of rumors, veteran performer Fred Armisen will … be leaving the show.” Oh, also: “Headliner Jason Sudeikis will ‘probably’ jump as well, the source said.” If you’re counting at home: That’s Hader, Armisen, Sudeikis, and Seth Meyers all dunzo. Time to panic?!
But first, a moment of appreciation. In the 11 years he’s been on the show, Fred Armisen has done everything. Partially, that’s thanks to his indeterminate ethnic background (for the record, 1/2 Venezuelan, 1/4 German, 1/4 Japanese). Mostly, though, it’s skills: Goofy, evil, sappy, clueless, female — Armisen can do ’em all. He was the go-to for dead-panning Middle Eastern dictators or Jewish New York billionaire mayors or brilliantly hacky Latin American drummer/percussionists. He turned New York Governor David Paterson into a gleefully self-aware, New Jersey–loathing maniac, and did it so well he somehow got away with blind jokes. I mean, the guy did Obama! And it was passable! In his later years, as he swallowed up more and more screen time, Armisen became, by default, a marquee name. But it wasn’t like with Hader or Sudeikis; nobody was claiming Fred as their favorite cast member. Fred Armisen was one of the greatest utility men in the history of the show.
Now, back to that panic. Assuming Sudeikis is gone as well, that leaves a cast of Taran Killam, Kenan Thompson, Vanessa Bayer, Bobby Moynihan, Nasim Pedrad, Jay Pharoah, Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Tim Robinson, and Cecily Strong. Killam’s already gone a ways toward fashioning himself as the show’s next star; McKinnon has shown major, major flashes as well; and Cecily Strong — thanks to the introduction of the stalwart “Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started a Conversation With at a Party” — is right behind them. Pedrad and Moynihan are likable vets, but (and with all respect to “Drunk Uncle”) if they were going to break out, they would have done it by now. Kenan … is still Kenan. Add to that whatever nobodies Lorne Micheals hires next, and you’ve got … something? The Post‘s coverage drills down on the “How the hell is SNL going to put up watchable content next year?” angle, and that’s understandable. But it also points out that, the last half-decade of surprising stability aside, this is a show that lives — and, at least theoretically, thrives — in flux. New people will show up and do their damn thing. Others will flame out. Whatever else, it’s gonna be interesting.
And here’s a complete conjecture: With his big dogs exiting, will Lorne Micheals consider bouncing out as well? He’s 68, he’s been with SNL (on and off) since day one, and now has both Late Night and The Tonight Show (thanks to Fallon getting the gig) in his production domain, plus nothing left to prove. Facing the daunting task of rebuilding a cast again, no one would begrudge him his leave.