Leslie Jones exiting ‘SNL,’ Kate McKinnon back next season

LOS ANGELES — “Saturday Night Live” cast member Leslie Jones is leaving the NBC show after five seasons, while Kate McKinnon is sticking around.

Jones’ departure was confirmed by a person familiar with the change who spoke Tuesday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss Jones’ status with the long-running sketch series.

The exit comes as Jones is branching out into other projects.

McKinnon will return for her eighth season with the show, the person said. McKinnon’s portrayals of political figures including Hillary Clinton and Jeff Sessions have become a “SNL” staple.

Whether departures or additions, cast changes have become a part of the comic institution’s ritual as it gets ready for another season, this time around No. 45 starting Sept. 28.

Earlier this month, Jones announced she’s doing a Netflix stand-up special. In an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show, the “Ghostbusters” star said it’s great to be an actress but that she’s really a “hardcore” stand-up comedian.

She hasn’t abandoned acting: Jones is part of the voice cast of the recently released “The Angry Birds Movie 2” and reportedly has been in discussions to join Eddie Murphy’s announced “Coming to America” movie sequel. Murphy is scheduled to host “SNL” later this year, his first time back on the show in 35 years .

Her tenure on “SNL” was marked by an exuberant style and portrayal of celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, whom Jones has called an inspiration.

She started with “SNL” as a writer, hired after the show was criticized in 2013 for a lack of diversity, particularly the absence of an African American woman among 16 regular or featured players. Cast members Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah, who has since left the show, commented publicly about it and refused to dress in drag to portray black women.

Jones was promoted to cast member early in the 2014-15 season and received three Emmy nominations for her work. Her representatives did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

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Lynn Elber can be reached at lelber↕ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .

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