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'SNL' star Jay Pharoah stands up and delivers

Known for his spot-on impressions of President Obama, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington and many others, cast member Jay Pharoah prepares for his first stand-up performance in Baltimore at the Baltimore Comedy Factory from Friday through Sunday.

We spoke with Pharoah about discovering his knack for impressions, meeting Obama and previewing the next season of "SNL."

What are you looking forward to about performing here?

Any time I can get on the stage and just show the world, that's the way to do it. I'm just excited about people coming out. I'm excited about another market seeing the talent. That's cool to me. That's the most exciting part, just being able to do it in front of the Baltimore people. You all got a crazy accent. B-MORE! That's how they do it, right?

When did you find out you could do impressions so well?

I found out at the age of 6. I didn't know that I could do it. I just happened to tap into it because I had a girlfriend at the time and I was doing an impression of Iago [Gilbert Gottfried's character in "Aladdin"], and she was like, "Oh my god, that sounds just like Iago." The only thing I could watch at the time was "Aladdin" and Disney, so that's where it came from.

What is your favorite impression that not everyone knows about?

Richard Pryor, definitely. A lot of people don't even know I do it. That one — it's just fun. When I'm chilling and I'm feeling real comfortable, I'll break out Richard Pryor and it will get a response from the people in the room. Or for more of an older crowd, sometimes I'll do that one because that's familiar.

What quirks of Obama's do you have to pick up on for your impression?

I picked up on the fact that Obama — sometimes he doesn't get to the point, or like he'll stray away from it. The simplest thing that's he's trying to say ... it's so simple, but it'll be so complicated and 30 seconds later, it finally hits you. I think that's the key to the impression and I just figured that out. Now that I know that, I think we'll be able to play with that next year. I just cracked it. I got that. There it is right there. Say his favorite cookie is chocolate chip. "Uh, I mean, flour and uh, sugar and eggs and chocolate put together make a chocolate chip cookie." And you're like, you could have said chocolate chip, you didn't have to explain that. I think that's the key to it, though. I think I've cracked it.

Have you ever met Obama?

I met him two or three weeks ago. It was a Harvey Weinstein event. It was me doing a skit with Jessica Biel and Steve Martin and I was right there, and he was standing there the whole time smiling and laughing, like two inches away from my face. It was crazy. So petrifying, but he was the warmest guy, so it was all good.

Is there anyone you'd like to see come on the show?

I want Eddie Murphy to come back. I would love Eddie Murphy to do it. That would just be amazing. We love him and hope he hosts. Denzel — I would love Denzel to host. That would be cool. Will Smith, I don't know if he's going to do it. I guess everybody who I do impressions of, which is like over a hundred people.

Have there been any musical guests on recently that you were a fan of?

Kendrick Lamar, when he came on, I was a big fan of him. Alabama Shakes, they were phenomenal. Drake, when he came on, I was a big fan of his. I thought Frank Ocean did a good job.

Kanye West?

I thought Kanye was cool. What can you say? Kanye is Kanye. I thought he was cool. I bid Ye well. I hope he's okay. You can kind of read his lyrics though sometimes and wonder how he is in his personal life, so I hope he's all right.

With Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and possibly others leaving at the end of last season, what can you say next season has in store?

I can say that a lot of us young ones are going to get a chance to do a lot more things, and that's exciting. I feel like next year I'm going to get to do a lot more, which is exciting. You all have only seen a bit of the talent, but there's like a full pot of talent there that people haven't seen yet. And "SNL" knows about it, so we're going to put that out there and people are going to see it. And with the other cast members — I think everybody's going to get a chance to step up and I think it's going to be really cool.

Why do you continue to do stand-up during the off-season?

It's a release. Sharing yourself with the world, that sacred relationship that you have with the crowd — nothing's like it. I love television, but I started in stand-up and I love it and I'm not going to stop. I'm just going to continue and push on every time. That's how I feel. I can't stop.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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