SNL’s Jay Pharoah on a mission to bring a black woman on cast: ‘They need to pay attention’
If Jay Pharoah had his way, there would’ve been a black female cast member on Saturday Night Live yesterday.
Actually, he’s got someone on stand by for whenever the producers give him a word.
“They need to pay attention,” Pharoah tells theGrio. “Her name is Darmirra Brunson…Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented. She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year.”
Brunson’s actually employed by OWN at the moment, an actress on Tyler Perry’s Love Thy Neighbor, but Pharoah insists she’s just what the variety show needs.
Since Maya Rudolph’s departure in 2007, no African-American woman has been cast on the Saturday night stronghold, and along with Kenan Thompson, Pharoah remains the only other black actor and on a show with 16 cast members.
While the series has constantly been criticized for its lack of diversity, the make-up remains homogenous with only three people of color total. Even with six new comedians added to the lineup this season, all are white and some believe the quota has been met.
Pharoah, on the other hand, says he doesn’t know what’s up.
“It’s one of those things that’s hard,” he recognizes. “Some people choke up. Some people burn their bridges by saying things they shouldn’t say either. You just have to be very political about your delivery, what you say, and your performance. You’ve got to be on point. Everybody has to like you and want you to win. If they don’t like you, it’s a wrap.”
He’s ready for his close-up
The 39th season of the comedy sketch series premieres Saturday, and marks Pharoah’s third year in the crew.
Steadily rising, 25-year-old believes his journey gaining screen time has been contingent on his own experience as an actor and comedian, and less on his race as some of presumed.
Asked if being black affected his placements, Pharoah jokes it off.
“I can’t say that exactly,” he responds. “Finding my niche and confidence and all that stuff, and being able to be on cue and things like that, that was a little bit of a problem in the beginning. But those are things I’ve worked on and strengthened, as far as a performer. As far as being a black person on the show, there’s not a lot of us, you know? So actually, when you’re on here, it’s kind of cool. What can you say? We’re in a very coveted position.”
In recent years, Pharoah’s near-perfect take on President Obama along with entertainers like Kanye West, Denzel Washington, Will Smith and Jay Z have made him one of the standouts.
Viewers speculate why he’s featured less than other cast members.
This year, however, the comic believes he will be front and center.
With the departure of bigwigs like Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen, Pharoah says a curtain has opened.
“There’s a big gap and void to fill,” he explains. “I believe that I will get more air time this year. It’s a very competitive environment, however I know only the strongest survive and I’m still here so that oughta say something.”
Taking Miley Cyrus on a ‘field trip’
Among the first announced hosts, Miley Cyrus will steer the show Oct. 5, and where there’s Miley, undoubtedly there will be an assortment of crass cultural exploitation.
Pharoah recently told E! News he would love to give Cyrus a reality check, taking her, Britney Spears, and Amanda Bynes on a field trip “to the hood.”
“In some part, they are striving to be that so, let’s take them there and show them,” he explains. “Let’s take them to the strip club. Take them to the hood. Take them down to my cousin’s house down in Norfolk.”
More introspectively, he recognizes the patterns of change those like Cyrus experience in the formation of their identity.
“A lot of artists transition over from Disney, your Justin Biebers and what have you, they need to figure themselves out,” Pharoah acknowledges. “When they find that out, that will be the person you talk about for the next 10 years. Then, when they get past 30, they’re going to have a revelation and they’re going to change like Justin Timberlake. It’s a constant evolution.”
Obama vs. Putin
Likely, Cyrus will provide a glut of material for the show, as will Obama, a character Pharoah officially debuted a year ago, taking it over from Armisen.
The comedian’s impersonation impressed even the real life Commander-in-Chief, and Pharoah says the feeling is mutual.
He approves of Obama’s presidency, noting the lengths the president has moved the country from where his predecessor left it.
On the subject of Syria however, Pharoah believes another leader took the reins.
“The show probably will say something about it this week, but that issue is kind of old because of what Putin said,” he comments. “Putin was like the teacher that comes inside the classroom and turns the lights off and everybody just shut up.”
Taking advice from Kevin Hart
Pharoah sees the humor in almost everything. He laughs constantly, as if glee sits waiting to burst within him.
Yet he exudes maturity beneath the boisterousness, and says he’s grown a lot over the past two years.
Impressions may have always come second nature – Pharoah’s been doing them since he was six – but the comic has taken serious time to find his voice, and says he only accomplished the goal over his summer’s pursuit of stand-up comedy.
With his creative palate procured, the comedian begins SNL with home court advantage, and additionally, several movies in motion including Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.
“It was reminiscent of the Friday movie with Ice Cube and Chris Tucker,” Pharoah observes.
After being introduced five years ago, he says Hart offered him creative advice and financial tips.
“He said treat your material like it’s gold, like it’s precious, like it’s diamonds,” the comic recalls. “He said give people what they want in segments so you’ll still have fire to come out with for your next thing.”
Considering the Think Like a Man star’s track record, Pharoah says he’ll take the guidance and then some, particularly when it comes to money.
He notes, “He’s one of those guys I would listen to, but hearing it from other people who’ve been on this show, I don’t know if I would take it. I would take it from Chris Rock, I would take it from Eddie Murphy, but anybody else, I don’t know.”
All things considered, Pharoah seems well prepared for the road ahead and the new season of his show.
If only he could find a Michelle to match his Barack.
For now, he comments, “Somebody gonna have to put on a dress.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia