Rich Little (for those 40 and under) is one of the best impressionists alive. He is still, at 78, enjoying a long career because of his mastery.
I have not seen anyone as good at this form of entertainment, until Jay Pharoah. The kid had millions of views on YouTube before he even landed on Saturday Night Live in 2010. He has been doing impressions since he was six years old, and it shows.
Jay knows what people want to see. But if he just stood on stage and did his impression of Barack Obama, that’s only half of the trick. He has to do them saying something funny or being in an unlikely situation. That part has to be written. He has the mannerisms down, now he’s got to make ’em laugh. And he delivers.
Whether he is doing Will Smith at a tea party, or Jay-Z rapping about the fact that he don’t need any dancers or production on stage and that’s why his tickets are cheaper than Beyonce’s, or if he’s doing 50 Cent as a cashier at a grocery store or Donald Trump as a rapper, you can tell he put in the work. It’s not enough to do the impressions. You’ve got to write material that puts your impression to work, and sets you apart by putting your known caricatures in unusual situations. Rich Little started his career doing the same thing. He once recorded Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, playing all the parts, but playing them as popular celebrities playing all the parts.
Seeing Jay Pharoah live is like seeing a master at work. But he’s not just impressions. In between, he had lots of material based on race and living in America, with a style and delivery similar to Richard Pryor. But, like Rich Little, his stand-up is not what he’ll be remembered for. This was made apparent at a poignant moment as Jay came to the end of his time in front of a grateful #JFL42 and stated, “I’m running out of time”. Out of the darkness behind me, someone aggressively yells “DENZEL!” almost to say, “Boy, you better do Denzel before you get up out of here.” To which he said, “I know,” and then proceeded to do Denzel Washington in Fences confronting Casey Affleck after being robbed of his Oscar a few months ago. The crowd lost their minds. Honestly, it was as if Denzel was there, letting Casey Affleck know he fell asleep during his performance and had a dream that he fell asleep again. It was an Inception-based dis.
When it comes to impressionists, there are levels to this ish. There’s Jay Pharoah up here. Then there’s everybody else down here.
Special shout out to the great people at #JFL42 who did a great job giving us the access we needed to bring you the content and reviews that we did. We can’t wait to go next year. If you were on the fence about JFL42 or didn’t know anything about it, if you like TOP QUALITY Comedic talent, you need to get on board for next year. In times like these, we all need a laugh.