Since his debut on “Saturday Night Live” in 2010, Jay Pharoah has made an impression by doing impressions, such as his memorable turns as Kanye West, Denzel Washington and President Obama. But impersonating famous people for laughs is just one side of Pharoah, who brings his comedy act to Helium for five shows Thursday through Saturday.
“I do a mix,” he said of what people can expect during his show. “You get impressions, you get rap, you get singing, you get stories, you get jokes, you get political pictures. I talk about everything. I stand by my brand, people really come and really enjoy this stuff.”
Pharoah, who expects to return to the new season of “SNL” (“I haven’t heard anything different, but you’ll just have to watch and see.”), said his nerves are a little calmer when the clock strikes 11:30 p.m. on Saturdays from when he first started on the long-running sketch show. Nowadays, Pharoah is one of the first “SNL” performers that you’ll see, thanks to his Obama impression in political sketches during the cold open.
“I used to say, ‘Don’t mess up the lines,’ Pharoah said. “Now that I have to do cold opens, I just go out there and have fun.”
To focus on the voice, tone and mannerisms of Obama, the comedian focuses on one particular trait of the president’s: his inability to get directly to the point.
“That’s what key into when I do Obama in my standup,” he said. “On the show, it’s a little different because it’s always a travel log of things you have to read, but as far as my personal impression, that’s what I do. He’ll take forever to get through something because he doesn’t want to mess anything up. He’s under a microscope so he can’t say anything, so if he messes up one time, it’s going to get played for the whole year.
Pharoah has only briefly met the subject of his famous impression – and leader of the free world – once in 2013.
“He was like (breaking into Obama voice), ‘Oh, that guy’s pretty good!’ ” Pharoah said.
Occasionally on “SNL,” viewers get to see Pharoah’s talents in music, but the songs are usually joke or parody songs. The comedian enjoys working on that music, but he’s also passionate about performing serious rap.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know about it until they see it. I do stupid, funny raps too, but when they hear the real music, they’re like, ‘Wow, you’re really good at this.’ I was doing music before I was doing comedy, so I’ve got some years invested in it.”
Pharoah has been in a number of projects outside of “SNL,” including the movies “Ride Along” and “Top Five.” He’s working on a few productions through the summer hiatus while developing new music. Pharoah will also release a comedy standup special in August.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said. “My summer is never boring.”
Who: Jay Pharoah
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Helium Comedy Club, 30 Mississippi St.