Saturday Night Live is slimming down. With the show’s fortieth season set to kick off in September, NBC’s venerable sketch comedy show has apparently set about culling its cast, and single-season featured player Brooks Wheelan appears to be the first to go. Wheelan tweeted the news (which he seems to have a pretty good attitude about) last night:
Perhaps Wheelan can get a pep talk from another one-season SNL star like Jenny Slate, who didn’t let her short-lived run on the series sink her career in the slightest. Sure, getting fired always sounds (and feels) bad, but it’s by no means a death sentence (also, Wheelan is just twenty-seven-years-old, he’s got lots of merrymaking to get to.)
Last season’s bloated cast — it topped out at seventeen players at one time, after the show added in six new players at the beginning of the season, and then brought in a pair of mid-season additions, with co-head writer Colin Jost making the jump to the screen to co-host Weekend Update after the departure of Seth Meyers and newbie Sasheer Zamata coming on board after pressures to find more black cast members (especially a black comedienne) exploded and the show went specifically looking for a black woman to round out the cast — made it hard for any of the new players to truly break through, and Wheelan’s fate seemed sealed early on. We just didn’t see him, and when we did, it was mostly in limited Weekend Update performances that highlighted his stand-up skills and tongue-in-cheek skits that made no bones about the fact that Wheelan was the odd man out.
There’s no word on if and when SNL will cut loose any more talent, but if they do, they will likely come from the “featured players” (read: newbies) cast. Jost is, by all accounts, safe. He is, after all, co-head writer of the entire program. Firing Zamata would be a PR nightmare (and while she’s yet to fully break through on the show, she frequently turned in funny bits and will likely be used much more in the next season). Similar to Jost, Mike O’Brien is also a writer on the show, and it would be strange to move him back into a writing only position (although SNL did this to Tim Robinson, who was a featured player for one year before he became only a writer, a weird shift that doesn’t happen too often on the show). O’Brien is also extremely funny and very special — as evidenced by this excellent ScreenCrush piece by SNL expert Mike Ryan on just what makes O’Brien’s humor work so damn well.
When it comes to the rest of the new kids on the block, most agree that Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are safe, thanks to plenty of second-half play during last season and the hard, cold fact that they’re both extremely funny and often quite unique with their humor. (The pair came to the show as part of the sketch comedy group Good Neighbor, but they’ve managed to find success both together and apart, a rare feat that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.) John Milhiser, however, is another name most often mentioned when it comes to the chopping block, though he did exhibit a few breakout turns last season (remember his talent show skit with Lady Gaga? we need more of that).
Last year’s other early edition, Noel Wells, might not have seemed like a shoo-in a few months ago, but the news that Nasim Pedrad is not planning on returning (she will instead turn her full attention of former SNL writer John Mulaney‘s new sitcom, Mulaney) sure makes it seem as if there is still space in the cast for yet another funny lady. Wells, who is best known for her celebrity impressions, never really got to show those off to their full extent last season (though her Lena Dunham was great), so perhaps there’s room for that now.
Still, fifteen is a large cast, and it could certainly stand some further whittling down, if only to give the current stars room to break out. But who should go? We don’t know, and it’s sad to think about.
Stay tuned for more Saturday Night Live news as it breaks (and, hey, there might not be anymore after this.) Until then, why don’t you brush up on the actual experience of seeing the show live?
Saturday Night Live will return on September 27th.