Jay Pharoah pulls out his most famous impressions for JFL NorthWest

Jay Pharoah at the Vogue Theatre, 3/10/18

Jay Pharoah’s six years on Saturday Night Live may be over, but he hasn’t left the characters that made him famous back at Studio 8H. Last night (March 10) marked the last day of the JFL NorthWest comedy festival in Vancouver, and Pharoah had the Vogue Theatre packed.

Friend and comedian AJ Foster warmed up an audience which—only fifteen minutes before—had been wrapped around Granville and Smithe streets in a long line. “I’m pretty much like that shitty ad you gotta watch on YouTube before you get to the video you actually want to watch,” said Foster. The New Yorker’s material spanned growing up in the projects, DIY living conditions, growing pains, race and porn—all with a slightly boyish candor.

Pharoah—who took the Vogue stage to enthusiastic applause and whistles—just oozed energy. Or maybe “spurted” energy is a better way of putting it. He was all over the place, but the audience was more than happy to jump all over the place with him. Pharoah commented on his childhood ADD diagnosis, and it was easy to see how that has played into his comedy style. That style can be best described as ‘rapping’ for funnymen. As he bounced from impression to impression, hollered at members of the audience who were leaving for beers or a bathroom break, and laid into some punchlines, Pharoah did so in such a musical and fluid way that it did indeed seem like one long rap.

For the SNL fans in the room, Pharoah didn’t pull out too many new impressions. His Ben Carson and Barack Obama ones helped skyrocket his fame, and Vogue-goers got some of that and the Drake, Jay Z, Kat Williams and Kevin Hart material that they were used to seeing. Pharoah’s Sean Paul impression was a fun, unexpected early 2000s throw-back, and got some of the biggest laughs of the evening. The comedian was very happy to gross people out when he got the chance (something about tasting semen), and fans saw their fair amount of simulated humping throughout the set. The set was fun and kept people awake, but the jokes are not ones that will really stick in the minds of comedy fans.

Pharoah’s story about being given molly against his will prompted an ill-placed #metoo punchline, but perhaps it will always be too soon for one of those. He did, however, rectify the situation a bit by commenting “there is too much free booty out there for you to be taking stuff.” In fact, whenever he crossed a line, he was careful to back track a bit and offer the crowd confirmation that despite the jokes, his heart was in the right place. It might have been more effective if the jokes were better. Pharoah’s bit on his late friend Charlie Murphy was one of the more somber parts of the evening, and gave the crowd a little break from the dizzying silliness. But his most charming moments were probably when he made fun of Canadian accents as he corresponded with people in the audience. Canadians love it when people make fun of their accents. Fact.

Seeing Pharoah is a fun time, although not an overly memorable one. The laughs he got were by no means side-splitting, but ending JFL NorthWest with the bouncing, rapping impression-machine that is Jay Pharoah was a solid choice. A comedy show nowadays wouldn’t be a comedy show without a POTUS comment: “Fuck Donald Trump from the bottom of my nutsack,” said Pharoah. Indeed.