Jay Pharoah is a rising star on Saturday Night Live primarily because of his impressive talents and impersonations.
The 28-year-old stand-up comedian was quickly able to turn heads as soon as he joined the Saturday Night Live cast with his uncanny ability to impersonate quite a few different people.
Just like a chameleon, Jay Pharoah (born Jared Antonio Farrow) is able to quickly adapt to his chosen target — extending far beyond the person’s voice into the realm of their mannerisms, body language, and overall persona.
For instance, if you pay close attention to his classic Denzel Washington impersonation, Jay went as far as mastering the Oscar-winning actor’s body language — including the odd thing that he does with his lip in most of his movies.
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In addition to receiving praise for his impersonations, Jay Pharoah has also received quality feedback from some of the people that he is actually impersonating. During a discussion with Interview magazine in April 2011, Jay opened up about the criticism and comments that he has received.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that Will Smith loves the impression but that Jaden [Smith’s son] isn’t convinced. And Denzel Washington said that I’m very good at both his and Will Smith’s impression.”
Along with his classic impersonation of Denzel Washington, Jay Pharoah has also turned heads with his impersonations of other Hollywood stars — including Will Smith, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, and Eddie Murphy.
During an interview with SplitSider in July 2015, Jay opened up about the method behind his madness and the overall science of celebrity impressions.
“Basically when you’re dissecting somebody’s voice, you kind of wanna think about two people who they sound like and then find the middle. Usually the middle of those two people is the exact voice. If you take Jay Z’s voice, Jay Z sounds like Christopher Walken, but he sounds like a cool Christopher Walken. So if you take Christopher Walken and you take a real swaggered-out Brooklyn accent and you put those two together, in between that you will find Jay Z’s voice. It’s scientific — you really gotta do an equation in your head. It’s kind of mathematical, it’s like the Pythagorean theorem. And if you can envision the person’s face while you’re doing the voice, usually it helps bring the character out more.”
Jay Pharoah further explained exactly how he is able to bring so many celebrity impressions to life – making it hard to distinguish between the impression and the actual actor being impersonated.
“That’s how I bring them to life: I visualize the person’s face saying the same stuff I’m saying at the same time. So when I’m doing an impression, I don’t even see you; I’m not looking at you. When I’m doing an impression, I’m in my brain and I’m trying to channel that person. I’m trying to match that person to what I’m saying exactly at that point. It’s kind of weird, truly…I’m a weirdo, man.”
Most people will admit that Jay Pharoah is extremely talented on Saturday Night Live, and most fans agree that his impressions are unanimously great. Think about his recent stint on Weekend Update, when he seamlessly bounced from person to person – impersonating numerous celebrities within an ongoing conversation without cracking once.
Jay Pharoah did an “ensemble black comedians” bit on SNL and it was great[video]
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However, why is it that Jay Pharoah is not one of the biggest stars on Saturday Night Live? Why is he only featured in a select number of sketches on each episode?
Perhaps it is due to the one aspect of Saturday Night Live stardom that Jay Pharoah has not quite mastered yet: originality. Even though he is known for impersonating other real-life celebrities, he has yet to bring any memorable original characters and concepts to the show.
When you think about the true stars of Saturday Night Live –– past and present — you will likely remember the various impersonations and impressions that they were known for during their respective tenures. Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber. Will Ferrell as Charlton Heston, Alex Trebek, or George W. Bush. Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, and Sean Connery. The list goes on and on.
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In addition to those impressions, though, many of the most memorable SNL alums are also remembered for the original characters and concepts that they made famous on the show.
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“@MaryssaMenendez: Mads is judging me with pics of Kristen Wiig @madeline__xoxo” Sorry pic.twitter.com/C1Got410mS
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When you think of Jay Pharoah, which original character or sketch concept comes to mind?
Jay Pharoah made his Saturday Night Live debut as a featured player in September of 2010 during the show’s 36th season. He was listed as a featured player along with several other cast members that have made names for themselves since then — including Vanessa Bayer and Taran Killam, two cast members that are now known both for impressions and original characters.
If Jay Pharoah wants to be featured as a bigger part of Saturday Night Live –– the way that McKinnon, Bayer, and Killam are currently — he should focus on improving the quality of his original characters instead of just his popular impressions.
[Image Credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images]