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HYFINated Conversations

Exploring Jay Pharoah’s impact on comedy and culture in SNL and beyond

todayDecember 13, 2023

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Milwaukee’s cultural landscape often surprises visitors and residents alike, as it did Jay Pharoah, a renowned comedian known for his remarkable work on shows like “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), “Black Lady Sketch Show,” “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” and more.

I sat down with Saturday Night Live alumni Jay Pharaoh before the December 15-17 run at the Milwaukee Improv. We discussed this time in his life and how he took a stand there that could have ended his career before it started. We also talked about how he changed the look and feel of the show permanently. By the end of the interview, Pharaoh gave me the scoop on a new project.

Discovering Diversity in Unexpected Places

Pharoah’s visit to Milwaukee brought a revelation similar to realizing the diversity in places like South Africa, famously home to Charlize Theron. This realization highlighted the importance of understanding and acknowledging the diversity within communities.

Making a Stand for Representation

His tenure at SNL was marked by a courageous stand for representation, advocating for the hiring of more black women. This move, supported by fellow comedian Keenan Thompson, was a risk that could have ended his career at SNL. However, it led to a significant shift in the show’s casting, eventually bringing talents like Leslie Jones, Sasheer Zamata, and Punky Johnson to the forefront.

A Career-Defining Moment

A particularly memorable episode for Pharoah was when Kerry Washington hosted SNL. It was a period of personal and professional turmoil, and her presence and his impactful sketch, “What Does My Girl Say,” based on his own breakup experience, solidified his place in the show.

Breaking Barriers and Opening Doors

Pharoah’s advocacy for diversity didn’t just open doors for black women but expanded to include a range of underrepresented groups. The show’s evolution to include Asian, Latino, and a broader range of voices is a testament to the importance of representation in comedy and media.

Beyond SNL: Diverse Roles and Impact

Post-SNL, Pharoah’s career diversified into animated shows, notably “Legends of Chamberlain Heights” and the upcoming “Good Times” on Netflix. His ability to bring authenticity to his roles, drawing from personal experiences and cultural understanding, has been a hallmark of his work.

The Art of Impression and Comedy’s Future

Known for his spot-on impressions, including Barack Obama and Will Smith, Pharoah shared insights into the art of impression, emphasizing the need for authenticity and relatability. His upcoming shows promise a blend of personal stories, political commentary, and a showcase of his diverse talents.

Final Thoughts

As my conversation with Jay Pharoah drew to a close, he reflected on the changing landscape of comedy, the importance of staying true to one’s voice, and the ongoing need for representation in the entertainment industry. His journey, marked by bold choices and a commitment to diversity, offers valuable lessons for aspiring comedians and artists in every field.

Written by: Element Everest-Blanks

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HYFIN is a media movement from Radio Milwaukee.

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