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Jay Pharoah Opens Up About His ‘Saturday Night Live’ Exit: They ‘Have to Do That’

Jay Pharoah is returning to live TV. The actor joins Gigi Hadid as cohost of the 2016 American Music Awards, and he tells Us Weekly exclusively what he’s most looking forward to about the gig, along with his thoughts about not being a part of Saturday Night Live this season after six years on the NBC sketch-comedy show.

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Pharoah, 29, says he’s excited to share the stage with supermodel Hadid, and the fact that she’s “beautiful” is just a bonus. “I think we’re going to bounce off each other very well,” he says. “From everything I’ve seen so far and from the interaction that we’ve had, I feel like it’s just going to be a dope mix.”

Jay Pharoah
Jay Pharoah attends the Opportunity Network’s 2016 Night of Opportunity Gala on April 11, 2016, in New York City.

As for which performers he can’t wait to watch, he names Fifth Harmony, The Weeknd and Nicki Minaj — although his reason for choosing the latter might not be solely due to her music. “She’s going to be performing twice,” Pharoah says of the rapper. “But you know, it’s always fun seeing Nicki perform — and the behind and all of that.”

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The impressionist specialist — known for his dead-on takes of Denzel Washington, Will Smith and President Barack Obama — is eyeing a return to episodic TV. He’s currently filming the Showtime comedy pilot White Famous, which is produced by Jamie Foxx and stars Pharoah as a talented young comic trying to break into the mainstream. The actor’s casting in the project was announced in August, just three days after news broke that he would be leaving SNL.

Pharoah says he “of course” still watches SNL, calling himself “a fan of the show,” and adds that he is still in touch with Lorne Michaels. “That’s my family,” he says of the SNL head honcho.

Jay Pharoah as Doctor Ben Carson during the
Jay Pharoah as Dr. Ben Carson during the ‘Carson Endorsement’ sketch on March 12, 2016.

Reflecting on how he feels now about his exit, Pharoah says, “Transitions go on at the show. The show’s a constantly evolving place. You have to do that. I was cool, you know? Everything is so smooth, that it was just like, ‘Yeah, man, let’s just do it.’ And then I found out I’m doing White Famous, I was like, ‘Great! Yeah, I want to do that! That’s something I can see as a next step.’ Everything just worked out together, and it was cool.”

One moment from his time on the show that Pharoah will never forget is meeting Obama in person, and what the outgoing POTUS told him: “I think about Obama leaving the White House, and I think about what he actually said to me when I met him, and he was like, ‘I would love to do something with you before I get out of here.'”

“So I’m looking forward to doing something with Obama in some type of capacity, whatever it is before he leaves in January,” he continued. “I don’t know what that is, but I always think about that. That always pops up in my head.”

The 2016 American Music Awards airs on ABC Sunday, November 20, at 8 p.m. ET. Be sure to check out Us’ full coverage of the event. 

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