Jason Sudeikis held off on officially announcing his departure from “Saturday Night Live” until an interview with David Letterman Wednesday – meaning he didn’t get the same kind of serio-comic sendoff cast mates Fred Armisen and Bill Hader received in May’s season finale.
But the lack of fanfare proved fitting for a deceptively strong “SNL” performer who eventually emerged as the low-key, funnybone-backbone of the show during the last eight years of the program’s 38-season run.
Sudeikis didn’t become a breakout star in the mold of a John Belushi or an Eddie Murphy. Instead, his versatile style more recalled “SNL” greats Dan Aykroyd and Phil Hartman, even as he put his own distinctive stamp on the show.
Sudeikis offered fine impressions of high-profile figures (Joe Biden and Mitt Romney). He expertly played the flustered straight man (the frustrated TV anchorman to Hader’s burned out old reporter in streets). Sudeikis also showed an ability to mine laughs out of pure silliness (the southern-fried catfish-out-of-water judge of “Maine Justice”).
He might be the most-missed cast member of “SNL,” which enters its 39th season down three major players. That’s on top of the loss of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg last year. Meanwhile, Seth Meyers is expected to leave in early 2014 after a 12-plus-season run, as he takes over “Late Night” for “SNL” alum Jimmy Fallon, who is headed for “The Tonight Show.”
The familiar challenge facing producer Lorne Michaels harkens back to the early 1980s, when the show floundered between the exodus of the original cast and Murphy’s arrival. Michaels, though, has weathered major change more seamlessly in recent years, mixing veterans with a steady stream of new talent.
The very funny Kenan Thompson, at age 35, is now the show’s grand old man. We can expect Jay Pharoah, an adept impressionist (he supplanted Armisen as Obama-impersonator-in-chief), to take on a larger role, along with promising relative newcomers Cecily Strong and Kate McKinnon.
Sudeikis, meanwhile, is seeking bigger things in the movies, a strategy that’s proved a mixed bag for “SNL” alumni. He’s not off to a bad start, though: He shined in the 2011 ensemble dark comedy “Horrible Bosses,” and is set to play leading man to Jennifer Aniston in “We’re the Millers,” to be released next month.
Perhaps he’ll be back on “SNL” next season to say that belated goodbye, at least as a guest host. In the meantime, check out one of Sudeikis’ funniest “SNL” bits as he departs the show more than just friends:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.