Known for his impersonations of celebrities and notable figures, including former President Barack Obama and Will Smith, former “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) star Jay Pharoah will kick off the first virtual Rocky’s Round-Up comedy show Thursday at 8 p.m. on Microsoft Teams.
Pharoah will participate in a one-hour moderated conversation with USF’s students through Teams. Center for Student Involvement (CSI) Student Programs Coordinator Isabelle Arroyo-Acevedo said preregistration is not required to attend the livestream.
Born in Chesapeake, Virginia, Pharoah, who will receive $18,000 for the appearance, began doing impersonations of celebrities when he was 6 years old as a result of having “no friends” and “no social life,” according to the newspaper Style Weekly.
“You don’t get that good at doing voices by talking to other people. That comes from just watching and sitting by yourself, having no life and having no friends, no social life,” Pharoah said.
“That’s what I had for a long time. I was bullied, I was picked on, didn’t really feel like I fit in. I just kept to myself and kept the door closed and practiced and practiced and practiced until I started going on the stage with it.”
Pharoah, 32, used this hard time in his life to his benefit, which led to his future career as a comedian.
When he was 15 years old, Pharoah started performing stand-up in comedy clubs around Virginia. Early in his career, he had the opportunity to go on tour with comedians Corey Holcomb and Charlie Murphy, according to Stand Up NY.
The breakthrough moment in his career, however, came when his impersonation of Obama went viral on YouTube in 2009, with more than 900,000 views as of Aug. 26.
Hence, his journey at “SNL” began.
Pharoah debuted on “SNL” in 2010 and during that same season, he was named by TV Guide as the show’s “breakout player” for his impersonations of Obama, Kanye West and Jay-Z. In 2015, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the 55th greatest “SNL” cast member.
After six seasons, in 2016, he ended his contract with the show. In a radio interview with Hot97, Pharoah said he was put into an “impression box” and felt “underutilized” during his time on “SNL.”
“…You have multiple people on the cast saying things like ‘you’re so talented,’ ‘you’re so able,’ ‘they don’t use you,’ it’s unfair and it’s making us feel bad,” Pharoah said.
“They put people into boxes. Whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. I’m a little fiery too.”
Besides “SNL,” Pharoah starred on the comedy television series “White Famous” as well as films including “Get a Job,” “Top Five” and “Ride Along.” He has also starred in animated TV series, including “Family Guy” and “BoJack Horseman.”