Four years ago, when Tina Fey was blowing up with her Sarah Palin impersonation, Jay Pharoah was a bourgeoning YouTube sensation — mainly for his Will Smith and Denzel Washington impersonations. Saturday Night Live impressario Lorne Michaels invited the kid to come rock with the SNL cast back in 2010. He had some highlights, Pharoah's first few skits as Denzel and Will Smith got a lot of buzz…but he didn't seem on the verge of going large. That is, until now. Lorne told Fred Armisen (is it local?) to step aside and let an actual black man take on the high profile gig of "playing the president" during a campaign season.
Pharoah's first go-round (opening up the season premiere) was solid. He's got the voice tone and cadence down. He nailed a lot of Obama's mannerisms. The young dude is a deft impressionist. But here's my thing: I don't know if he's actually a funny person. Jason Sudekis' impression of Mitt Romney popped harder and funnier, because — and of this I'm sure — Sudekis is a funnier, more amusing human than Pharoah. At some point the schtick of an impersonation ends and impersonator has to become an actual comedian. I'm still unsure if Pharoah's got that in him. The first presidential debate is Octover 3. Three days later, SNL will inevitably open up with a Pharoah-Sudekis/Obama-Romney face off. Don't get embarassed, Jay.