Story by Cassie Hepler
Jay Pharoah is not just an actor and stand-up comedian.
Former funny man on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Pharoah is best known for his wide array of uncanny celebrity impressions, including former President Barack Obama, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Stephen A. Smith, Kanye West and Chris Tucker, as well as recurring character of school principal Daniel Frye.
Now he’s coming back to chilly Philly to perform at Punch Line Philly on Thursday, Feb. 2 to Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. We caught up with him on a “phoner” interview, which can be hilariously misinterpreted through the sound waves by the way.
Q: Is SNL like 30 Rock the TV show?
“Sort of, you have the writers room and everyone bounces off ideas but it’s a little different beast. Nobody is dressed as well. There’s pizza stains and armpit stains everywhere. I never did it though. I was fly, I had a reputation to uphold.”
Q: Who was your favorite person to imitate and why?
“If I had a favorite, I like impersonating Kevin Hart because I’m 6 foot 2 inches but then you hear this small voice coming out of my head, it’s crazy. It looks odd coming from me and that’s funny.”
Q: What are you up to now with the comedy tour at PunchLine Philly?
“Philly is one stop on the tour, I’m about to go to Washington state today. Last night was my first rap show… I’m doing everything. Then I have to film this show, ‘White Famous’ in LA with Showtime with Jamie Foxx producing it. I’m starring in it and moving to LA really soon. My lease is up next month but my blood pressure is down.”
Q: Any movies in the making?
“There’s several projects that I’m attached to, but I can’t really put it out yet. I have a lot of exciting things in the works with Russell Simmons and others. I don’t have a lot of time to dilly dally.”
Q: Can you also portray drama or is comedy your schtick?
“The future projects have both in them, it’s grounded so you get both sides. I’m not gonna stray away from my comedic roots fully, I’m riding that wave. That’s how I started doing drama at age 8, it’s dope. I love everything.”
Q: When you met the Obamas, were you dressed as Obama?
“No, I was dressed as a college geek. That same outfit I had on with Michelle Obama, that plain Old Navy look… they didn’t let me change first. When I went back to the White House, I had on Jordans. I had J’s on in the White House, that’s historic. The last party was really fun and glad to be a part of it. Look at me now and coming from such humble roots, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Q: Who was your childhood idol growing up? Any pets?
“I had two dogs the first got hit by a car, the second was taken to the SPCA. I hope to get another puppy when I go to LA at some point if I can devote the care it needs. I had four childhood comedy idols – Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Robin Harris. My favorite actors were Will Smith, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and Sam Rockwell.”
Q: Is this your first time in Philly?
“Philly’s a second home to me, I have a lot of family out there. It’s a good comedy crowd, you all get it. You’re not slow. You gotta be sharp! It’s always a good show. One of my first standing ovations was out there at age 19.”
Q: Any cheesesteak plans?
“(Confusion) Wait, what any cheap date plans?”
Q: (Laughter) Well, I suppose it could be a cheap date with cheesesteaks or a place to take a cheap date… but what is your favorite cheesesteak place in Philly?
“I can’t even eat that stuff anymore, maybe years ago. I’ll blow up on that, I’m doing men’s fitness now. But I will watch you. I’ll watch you eat it and Instagram it like an English narrator (in English accent), ‘the cheese stops down the bread and now she had gained 5 pounds’. My go to place is on Bainbridge street near a church I go to – Omega’s. Go to Omega’s!”
Pharoah developed his comedy skills at a young age, training in local comedy clubs. He went on to tour in the U.K., U.S. and Montreal. He has released a series of music videos through Above Average including “Bad Kisser,” a parody on Usher’s “Good Kisser,” and “Problems.” Pharoah’s previous Kanye West parody, “I Am a Dog,” became an instant viral video reaching over a million views within the first week.
Pharoah and former First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up at the White House to create a viral rap video, “Go to College,” promoting the value of higher education. In 2015, he debuted his first stand-up comedy special, “Jay Pharoah: Can I Be Me?”, on Showtime.
His past feature film credits include “Get a Job” with Bryan Cranston and Miles Teller, “Ride Along” with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube and “Top Five” with Chris Rock, among others.