Jay Pharoah Talks SNL, Face Tattoos, and Jada Pinkett Smith
What happens when you put Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, and Jay-Z in a blender? No, not a flesh-and-guts gazpacho that only Hannibal Lecter could love. You get comedian, master mimicker, and Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah.
Nailing his first impression at age six when an audible copy of Gilbert Gottfried's nasal screech came out of his prepubescent mouth, Pharoah went on to flawlessly ace the voice, mannerisms, and personality quirks of other well-known celebrities. He can do Will Smith, Kanye West, Nick Cannon and Lil' Wayne. Catch Pharoah's Sybil-esque antics when he takes his stand-up act to Miami Improv tonight with performances through Sunday.
We caught up with Pharoah during his tour-blitz to talk about super important issues like face tattoos, auditioning for SNL, and how he's going to make everyone at the Improv crap their pants.
New Times: Was your first impersonation really Gilbert Gottfried?
Jay Pharoah: Yes, it was actually. I was six and really liked the parrot from Aladdin [whom Gottfried voiced] so I learned it to impress my girlfriend.
Is that how you wooed her? By imitating a cranky, raspy-voiced Jew?
I tried, but she had something called a boyfriend list and moved on. I was like, 'What you doing with a list of boys you want to be your boyfriend at six years old?' I guess she was a slut in training.
Did you have other Disney characters you could impersonate and use to woo other girls on your own girlfriend list?
I never had a girlfriend list. And I mostly just imitated my teachers back in school. Like, a teacher would leave the classroom and I'd have like 10 minutes to impersonate her in front of the class. Sometimes the teachers would walk in on me imitating them and I'd get detention and have to stare at a corner for hours. But I got real good at impersonating a corner after that. I mastered it. People would be like 'where's Jay?' and someone else would be like, 'Oh, he's over there, impersonating the corner, that's why you didn't notice him.'
Who have you had the most difficulty impersonating?
Denzel Washington, it took me a while to really get him down. But, you know, YouTube is a big part of my daily life, so, I eventually got him.
If Denzel Washington and Lil Wayne, another impersonation you do well, had a kid, what do you think would be its first sentence?
It'd be something like 'I'm going to rap about omelets, I love omelets, gimme an omelets, oruoweu aklsfk lkdjlasdjla??????????' you need to add a lot of question marks and nonsense to the end of that sentence [we did] and add that the baby's mouth is constantly trembling, just like Denzel's.
Speaking of Lil Wayne, if you could get any kind of face tattoo, what would it be?
I'd never get a face tattoo.
What if someone put a gun to your head and said, get a face tattoo or die?
I'd die then. I'd go to heaven and tell the Lord that I'd really like to see him but my eyes and ears have been blown off by a gun and all I've got left is my mouth just because I didn't want a face tattoo.
Maybe you should've gotten a face tattoo then.
Yeah, okay, maybe I should have gotten one but I don't know of what. Definitely not one of those tear drops, though. I know people who have tear drops, trying to look all hard, and in reality they walk poodles and shitzus every day.
Do you ever impersonate women?
You know, people say to me 'You can do Will Smith, but can you do Jada Pinkett Smith?' and I'm like 'Yeah, I can do Jada...all night in a hotel room but I don't think Will would like that very much.'
What was it like auditioning for SNL?
You're in a dark room with a spotlight on you and you feel like you're alone. And you know when you're inside your apartment but you can hear people having a conversation outside? It was like that. Like I could hear a bunch of people giggling in the corner but I couldn't see them, so I don't even know if Lorne Michaels was there, but, if he was, that would be a good thing.
Obviously the audition went well, because you were cast for the 36th season.
Well, you know how Eminem says YOU'VE ONLY GOT ONE SHOT, it was kind of like that. I didn't want to work in smelly clubs getting paid $20 and a free gin and tonic for the rest of my life, so I gave it everything. I felt like I was seeing every facial expression I made, every lift of the eyebrow in my head, like I was looking into a mirror. You know that feeling you get when you meet someone that you love for the first time? I got that feeling after the audition, so I knew I did well.
Has there been any guest hosts on SNL that you were initially intimidated by?
Russell Brand, I mean he's my height, but there's something about him that's intimidating. Maybe it's because he's British or has a that weird puffy hair that kind of looks like an aphro growing under his real hair that gives him a few inches, or his African-mask face, but, he really intimidated me at first, although he's actually really nice guy.
What can people expect from your stand-up?
If you're just coming for impressions, you're not going to get that. What you're going to get is a lot of stories about my family, my grandmother, stories from school, things like that. You'll get a better sense of who I am, which is all really funny. But if you happen to shit your pants during my show, don't look at me to come and clean it up because I'll vomit. I'm not good with stinky, Huggies-diaper smells. So, I suggest everyone who comes to my show to bring a colostomy bag because everyone's probably going to shit their pants.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.