Saturday Night Live wrapped its historic 40th season, which featured more African-American performers than any season in its history, just a couple of months ago. But cast member Jay Pharoah, who has a three-night stand at Goodnights this week, doesn't feel like talking about that.
What the show's resident impersonator of celebrities of color would prefer to talk about is, of course, Jay Pharoah. After all, the 27-year-old comedian (real name: Jared Antonio Farrow) is having a good summer. He just hosted the basketball star-saluting The Players' Awards on BET, and his own stand-up special, the pointedly titled Jay Pharoah: Can I Be Me?, premieres on Showtime this Saturday.
Although the Chesapeake, Virginia-born comic is known mostly for dead-on impersonations of such African-American super-celebs as Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, Will Smith and President Obama, he'd like people to know his act is more than mimicking other folks.
"Now, it's everything," he says by phone from New York. "It's not just voices—it's point-of-view, it's stories, it's political jokes, it's humor."
When Pharoah first started doing comedy in his teens, voices were his thing. But as he's gotten older, he's learned that a comedian needs more in his repertoire than uncanny impressions.
"When you work the road, you just keep getting material and building up this résumé," he says. "When you're finally ready to put it out to the world, that's when you have a special. Then you just hope that everybody is proud of it and likes it, like you do."
He also wants to claim a spot in the hip-hop arena. Though he's done rap parodies in the past (on The Players' Awards, he dressed up as Jesus and did Drake's "Energy" as "Dreezus Christ"), Pharoah says he's serious about spitting bars.
"I've been rapping since I was 13," he says. "I mean, the thing that's popping right now is comedy. But I'm always writing and working on projects. I got 13 tracks right now that I haven't put out yet. I'm just looking for the right time to do it."
Considering the major moves he's been making this summer, it seems now would be the perfect time for Pharoah to show everyone he can be himself on the mike—in more ways than one.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Mistaken identity"