You may have seen some of Jay Pharoah’s impressions on Saturday Night Live as Barack Obama, Ben Carson or Kanye West among others, but former SNL cast member Pharoah is making a name for himself in the stand-up world and Hollywood. Pharoah is the lead in Showtime’s brand new show, White Famous, a comedy series based on the life of actor, musician and comedian Jamie Foxx. The show only just aired its first episode on October 15, and Pharoah is psyched. But the talented comedian is also back in Denver to perform stand-up at Comedy Works downtown on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. This man can actually do over 200 impressions, and we promise he is one of the funniest comedians you’ve yet to see. 303 got to chat with him before his shows, and reassured us that he’s still sane despite all the voices in his head.
303 Magazine: Describe your stand-up inspiration. Has this always been a lifelong passion of yours?
Jay Pharoah: When I was six, I was always doing voices. I think when I finally saw Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain I was like ‘Oh, this is dope,’ and then Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. That was the game-changer. I thought, ‘Man, I wanna do that.’ Of course, in my teens I was like, ‘Oh that’s fun. I wanna do that. I can do that.’
303: Where do you find inspiration for your jokes?
JP: Things happen every day. I turn on the news and I’m like ‘Oh man, I gotta talk about that. It’s like looking at things with a different eye. I don’t know. I’m always paying attention to everything and writing things down. Personal experiences help. It has really helped now.
303: How has your stand-up changed since Trump took office?
JP: Well, you’ll see if you come to my show. He’s definitely a good catalyst for feeding jokes and punch lines. The world is just out there right now and it’s a good time to talk about everything that’s happening.
303: What’s your favorite impression that you do?
JP: You know, I don’t know. I like doing impressions that people don’t see like Richard Pryor and Sidney Poitier and things like that. It’s just ones that I don’t do a lot — like Leonardo DiCaprio is fun. There are just ones that I don’t get asked to do all the time. I get asked to do so many people. It’s fun because in interviews and things, on television they’ll have a list. I don’t pick them. They’re like we’re gonna have you do this one, this one, this one, and I’m like, ‘Alright.’ But I got obscure ones that I don’t normally get asked to do that are fun.
303: So if someone were to say a random celebrity name, could you do it right on the spot or is there a running list that you practice?
JP: Usually you throw one out and I’ll be able to do it. I just gotta know who it is. Sometimes I don’t know who it is. If there’s someone I’ve heard before most of the time even if I haven’t practiced them, I’ll get it like 60 percent but practice makes perfect.
303: Do you know how many you’ve done?
JP: I have over 200 impressions at this point. I don’t know how that list got so elongated, but over the years I’ve just accumulated all of these different personalities of folks. I know who I am, but I’ve gotta keep that on the other side of my brain.
303: When you were little, did you do impressions of your parents and friends, or just famous people?
JP: I did impressions of the teachers. I did impressions of my parents and Disney characters and cartoons like Ed, Edd n Eddy because that’s all I could watch as a kid. When you sit there and think about how many voices you can do, you’re like ‘Wow, I needed some friends,’ but it all worked out, so it’s cool.
303: What’s your favorite part of working on White Famous? How is it different than your experience on SNL?
JP: Of course being a leading man is definitely different. I mean the best part of it is just working with the cast. The cast is so amazing. That was the same at SNL. Everybody was great. But from being on screen so much, I just have more time to play off of other people and that’s the most fun thing to me — the chemistry that we all have together is just amazing. Being able to watch all these different actors and actresses makes me feel really good to be a part of this cast. Just being the lead man is really fun.
303: Can you describe your character?
JP: Floyd is an unapologetic, hardcore, IDGAF type of personality, but he’s also sweet though because he just wants to take care of his home. He wants to make sure his son’s mom is good. His son is good. He’s hardcore in the sense that he doesn’t want to compromise all that he is.
303: What are some things fans can see from you in the future?
JP: The goal is to permeate Hollywood in an electrifying way. I got movies coming out. I got a rap project that I’m working on. I’ve got cartoons I’m doing. There’s so much happening. I just want to be a triple threat — that’s the goal — to be somebody with a multitude of talent. I’m just blessed. I’m just trying to show the world that I can do it all.
303: What is something that people don’t know about you publicly?
JP: I’m a Lord of the Rings geek. Anytime it comes on, I don’t care what I’m doing I will watch it. I have all the games. I play them. I don’t have the costumes — I don’t do that. I don’t dress up. But I can probably quote the whole Two Towers movie, and you can sit there for three hours and by the end, you’ll probably give me a round of applause and tears will be in your eyes. It’s that serious.
303: What’s your key to success in the comedy world?
JP: Be humble. Always, always try to push yourself and get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to talk about things. Don’t play it safe because that never works. People will call you corny. Talk about what’s really going on in the world. Have a smart take and make it something special. That’s how legends get made. You’ll never get somewhere playing it safe. Never talk about hurting anybody, but go there. Don’t be afraid to fail.
303: What is your favorite part of Denver and Comedy Works?
JP: Just the crowd. The crowd’s alive. It’s a good place to know your material is hitting strong from the vibe and energy. I could’ve said the weed, but I won’t say that, it’s the fact the crowd is so authentic. It makes our jobs easier as comedians. If it ain’t funny, you ain’t gonna laugh.
You can see Jay Pharoah perform at Comedy Works on October 20-22, 2017 by purchasing tickets here.