SNL's Jay Pharoah on comedy, Drake, The Hunger Games, and more
To the casual fan, Jay Pharoah is a lot of things.
The Saturday Night Live star is best known for his spot-on impressions of everyone from President Obama to Will Smith, as well his viral video smash, "What Does My Girl Say?," which was impossible to escape this past winter. But the 26-year-old comedian and actor is more than just a bunch of funny voices, as the world is beginning to learn.
This week, Pharoah kicks off his summer vacation from SNL with four nights at Rick Bronson's House of Comedy. Before he gets to the Mall of America, we got on the phone with Pharoah to talk about everything, including Drake hugging NBA players, the stars of The Hunger Games, and R. Kelly's ex-wife (we also talked about comedy and SNL, if you're into that sort of thing).
Before we talk about comedy or impressions or anything like that, I want to talk about the freestyle you released a few weeks back, rapping over Drake's "Draft Day." How did that happen?
Yeah man, that was something I had been planning to do for a while, and then I decided to wait and actually release it on NFL draft day with the sample of the first draft pick being announced. I think people thought it was going to be a joke at first, but I was like, "I'm going to kill that shit and let people know I've got bars." Then it came out, and it got picked up by Rolling Stone and places like that, and I was like, "Yay! I'm a rapper now!"
Did you know you were going to record that track before Drake hosted SNL back in January?
No, I did it in April. So I didn't have the chance to talk with him about it. The next time I see him though, the first thing I'm gonna do is play it for him and be like, "I killed it, and you can too if you want to try again." I mean, I'm not actually going to say that but I'll be thinking it. I don't know if he's heard it or not, to be honest, but I'm happy that people are taking me seriously as a rapper in addition to being an actor and a comedian.
You're probably right about Drake not hearing it yet. He's too busy hugging NBA players.
I know! That guy loves everybody! He's seriously one of the nicest dudes ever. One time I met Drake in England. This promoter came up to me in a club and was like, "Drake is over in the VIP. Do you want to meet him?" So I did, and Drake immediately comes up like, "Oh man, I'm so happy you're here. I'm a big fan of yours and it's so great to be here with you." And I'm thinking, "This is Drake, and he's saying he's a fan of me?" So then he goes, "What are you doing tomorrow? I'll fly you out to my show in Manchester." So he does it. The next day he flies me out to Manchester, and he paid for everything. I'm taking this dude to the next cookout with me, for real. People: Don't be taking advantage of Drake's hospitality, but let the record show that he paid for everything.
Aside from Drake, was there anybody else who hosted SNL this season who you were excited to meet?
Kerry Washington was great. She was delightful to work with. That was really great for me, too, because it was my breakout show where I did impressions, but I also got to act and do the video for "What Does My Girl Say?" I feel like I got to really showcase my abilities a lot on that episode.
Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games was someone else who was actually a really cool guy. You know, I wasn't sure what I was going to think of him before he came on, because I only thought of him as Peeta, and he always looks like a punk. I was thinking he was going to be P.A.P: Punk Ass Peeta. I was judging him by that character, but he was a good dude.
I think he gets a bad reputation for being a punk in those movies, but the problem is that he has to be next to Jennifer Lawrence and she's just, oh my God. She looks like someone made her in a lab. Like they put Amazon legs on a normal-sized body. It's like they said, "Let's give her this butt, these legs, and this face, and BOOM: Jennifer Lawrence." That girl is so sexy that she needs her own theme music. Like Beyonce's "Drunk in Love" needs to play whenever she walks in the room, and the floor starts lighting up like the Michael Jackson "Billie Jean" video. That's right; I'm saying it. Do I love white women? Yeah I do. Don't hate, participate.
Speaking of showcasing all of your abilities, were you hoping to act more on SNL and not just do the impressions this season?
Impressions are fun, you know? That's what got me the job at SNL. But yeah, I think this is my defining year in terms of all of my abilities. To be honest, I think it's all happening at the right time, too. If you watch me on camera those first couple of seasons of the show, you can tell that I'm kind of stiff and I've got a lot of nerves going on when I'm acting, and you can feel those nerves. Now I'm more comfortable and it's all just coming together for me.
Aside from your TV work, you've been doing movies, standup, music; what else are you working on?
I've got a lot going on right now. You mentioned "Draft Day" when we first started talking. I'm actually working on a real rap mixtape, plus I'm doing a comedy mixtape. That one is going to be that Lonely Island vibe, kind of like what I did on "What Does My Girl Say?" I'm actually dropping a new video this Thursday, so you'll be able to see what it's going to be like.
Then, on top of all of that, I'm working on my first standup special, which is going to be really innovative and something that hasn't been done before. I can't really talk about it, but you'll see all three of these probably in mid-August. Who knows? Maybe I'll release them all together as a triple-disc set or something.
If you release all three at the same time, you could totally do a "Best of Both Worlds" tour like Jay Z and R. Kelly did a while back, where you do rap and comedy.
I think I've got to do it, but I'll just be the Jay Z of that tour. I don't need to be messing around with anything that R. Kelly is messing around with. Have you ever seen his ex-wife on Hollywood Exes? That woman has so much aggression. I'm talking about snap your neck, shove a banana in your ass-type aggression. I can't blame her though; she knows that was her husband on tape. He can't deny it; she knows what his penis looks like! She's like, "I know that's your dick! I've seen it a whole bunch of times!" So yeah, I'll just be Jay Z on that tour.
With everything you've got in the works, do you still like being out on the road performing live?
Everything I do is me working on new ways to make people laugh. The live shows are so great because I get to see that laughter in person, you know? There's nothing better to me than making someone forget about their problems for an hour while they're watching a comedy show, and then going online later and seeing the reviews and feedback on Ticketmaster and all of those sites.
You realize you just admitted to Googling yourself online, right? The new headline of this interview is "Jay Pharoah Googles his own shit."
I admit it; it's good to get that feedback. It's like when you're a little kid and you do good in school, and you're heading home all excited like, "I know my parents aren't going to give me a beating, and we're probably going to get ice cream because I did a good job." It's just like that.
IF YOU GO:
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
May 29-June 1
7:30 p.m. Thursday; 7:30 & 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 & 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Get tickets here
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