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Name your favorite comedian or comic actor, and there’s a strong chance they spent some time on the cast of Saturday Night Live. The late-night sketch comedy TV show has run for nearly 45 years, and in that time, it’s introduced U.S. audiences to now-household names including Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Bill Hader, and Leslie Jones. However, Jones announced earlier this week that she would not be returning to the show for its upcoming 45th season, which will premiere September 28th.
Jones’ legacy in the storied halls of SNL is immense, especially considering that her five-year run is relatively short (Tina Fey, for example, spent nine years on the show before revolutionizing the sitcom format with 30 Rock). When Jones first joined the SNL team in 2014, she worked as a writer rather than a performer. Not even a year later, she was elevated to the main cast, a role in which she became one of the decade’s most notable SNL players.
Sources close to SNL and Jones say that the latter rather than the former made the decision to leave the show. SNL tenures less than seven years can be surprising, as the show signs seven-year contracts with its performers. However, actors do have the option to exit early, as Jones has. In leaving SNL, she hopes to focus on film rather than TV.
Before Jones was a full-time SNL cast member, she appeared in occasional guest roles on the show’s famed sketch series Weekend Update. Later in her time on the show, Jones used her SNL platform to address prominent social issues such as the spread of anti-abortion legislation in the Southeast.
Jones additionally holds the distinct honor of becoming the oldest actor to join the SNL cast. Many comedians join the show in their 20s or early 30s and then exit to self-developed major mid-career successes such as Fey’s 30 Rock and Hader’s Barry. Jones, on the other hand, was in her mid-40s when joining the show, but her age hasn’t held her back from becoming a household name. Jones, now in her early 50s, received two Emmy nominations during her five years on SNL, and with a handful of TV projects up her sleeve, she may just find herself nominated again after her SNL departure.
In addition to her age, Jones was distinct as an SNL cast member in another way. In the show’s 45-year run, Jones became only the seventh black woman to be cast as a featured player. With Jones exiting the show, SNL includes only one black woman in its cast, 2018 newcomer Ego Nwodim.
Alongside news of Jones’ departure, word arrived that Kate McKinnon will continue as an SNL cast member. Whereas few people anticipated Jones’ departure, McKinnon’s future with the show was unclear. In May, her traditional seven-year SNL contract ended, leading those in the know to speculate whether she would extend her return. McKinnon ultimately decided to extend her contract for an eighth season, though it is unclear whether she’ll return for a ninth. One thing that is clear, though: Without Jones, SNL will have a radically different tone for its upcoming season.