From entertaining students with impressions of famous celebrities to talking about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and his personal experience with the police, Jay Pharoah used his comedy as a call to action on current issues around the country on Thursday evening at the 2020 Rocky’s Round-Up Show.
After more than 30 minutes of waiting due to technical difficulties, about 90 students, staff and faculty joined the Microsoft Teams meeting with the “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”) alum at 8:30 p.m., filling the chat with questions and excited reactions.
Despite the delay and not having a face-to-face interaction with the audience, Pharoah was still able to deliver an engaging and inspirational show.
The main draw for most of the questions was about Pharoah’s famous impersonations, a mainstay during his run at “SNL.”
Common messages in the chat like, “What was the hardest impression to learn?” and “What is your favorite impersonation?” alongside requests for impersonations ranging from Katt Williams to John Mulaney were hard for the moderator, Center for Student Involvement Vice President of Programming Phoebe Carrazco, to keep up with at times.
For Pharoah, the hardest impression to learn was of rapper Sean Combs.
“It took me a long time to learn it,” Pharoah said.
Pharoah constantly swapped between impressions, from Kevin Hart to Will Smith, with the audience reacting positively to most reactions, apart from Pharoah’s Jay-Z impression, which was met with only a “Jay-Z, no.”
“Wow, he sounds almost exactly like all of them,” viewer Shayna said.
While now he is well known for his impersonations of celebrities, including former President Barack Obama, it took several years for Pharoah to master his skill.
Pharoah said he started doing impressions early in his life when he was just 6years old.
“My girlfriend at the age of 6 complimented my impression of Iago from Aladdin, and I was like ‘thank you,’ and I just kept expanding,” Pharoah said. “It was Forrest Gump next, then Eddie [Murphy], then I started doing cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse.”
When asked about why he attended business school, he said he wanted to learn more about the field he was getting into.
“I chose to study business in college because I figured I was going to get into the business, and I didn’t want anybody to be able to pull the wool over my eyes in any situation.”
Besides delivering some of his most famous celebrity impersonations to the audience, Pharoah also talked about an upcoming album that he is currently working on.
“Am I dropping an album? Absolutely,” Pharoah said. “The way that I’m doing this project, I’m doing both impression features and myself. So I got a 50 Cent track, I got a Jay-Z track, I got a Lil Wayne track, I even got a Rick Ross track.
“You’ll hear an impression on the hooks or some of the verses, and then you’ll have me spitting verses too, on a track that’s a good track, and that’s something that’s never been done before.”
In light of the recent events involving police brutality around the country, Pharoah also talked in depth about the current Black Lives Matters protests and his experience with police in early June, when Ventura County (California) officers put him in handcuffs and had a knee on his neck because he “fit the description of a black man in gray sweatpants on and a gray shirt.”
“I got detained, I got arrested for no reason brother, ” Pharoah said. “I got guns pulled on me by police officers on me while I was exercising.
“Look at the young gentleman that got shot seven times. He actually got shot, and he is still here to talk about it. That’s a blessing because a lot of us don’t make it out of this situation unscathed.”
Pharoah said he was walking down Ventura Boulevard after exercising when he was detained. When the officers recognized him, he was released.
After the incident, Pharoah said he was still alive because “God was looking out for me.”
“Not a lot of us make it unscathed out of a situation like that. If I had my headphones on, which are noise canceling, and I had been running through that situation, and I didn’t hear what that officer said, and he had a gun, I would have been shot,” Pharoah said.
“The headline would have read totally different. It would have read ‘black man killed on Ventura Boulevard for resisting arrest,’ when I didn’t.”
Pharoah said that he took a life lesson from the situation — enjoy life to its fullest.
“I see [living] through that as a privilege,” he said. “I see that to say ‘enjoy every minute of your life.’ Life is not just given to us to breathe. Breathing is a privilege, being alive is a privilege. We’ve lost 188,000 people since [the COVID outbreak] started.
“If you can get up, brush your teeth, go to your classes, talk to your mom, come back, talk to your girl, kiss your girl, kiss your boyfriend, go to sleep with them, that’s a blessing. Because everybody doesn’t get to do that. You’re always luckier than everyone else if you get to breathe, because some people can’t do that.”