By Elly Woods
This weekend, the Englert will host standup comedian Jay Pharoah, an actor, impressionist, and rapper well-known for his time as a cast member of “Saturday Night Live.”
Englert Marketing Director Aly High said big names who one wouldn’t usually see in Iowa always make for a good show and always draw a good crowd. She said his show will likely draw a lot of “Saturday Night Live” fans and will be good for the college crowd.
“People are always really excited to see their favorite comedian, musician, writer, or artist right at home without having to drive to a market like Chicago or Madison,” High said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “There’s also an extra cool factor in seeing these artists in a really intimate theater of just over 700, not a big arena with 10,000 other people. Plus, people just love seeing someone they’ve seen on TV live.”
Pharoah’s first standup comedy special came out in 2015 on Showtime, “Jay Pharoah: Can I Be Me?” He has also appeared in movies such as Ride Along, Get a Job, and Top Five.
Pharaoh is known for his impressions of Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live,” where he was a cast member for six seasons, from 2010 until 2016. He has also done impressions of Kanye West, Denzel Washington, and Will Smith.
“Saturday Night Live” traditionally uses impressionists to poke fun at political figures and social icons. The trend started in medieval times, when peasants were permitted to have an annual carnival in which they poked fun at the kings, queens, and higher powers, said UI communications Professor Kembrew McLeod.
“That was built into the system as a release valve, where a lot of the anger and frustration at being subjugated by kings and being the peasants, that anger and frustration could be sanctioned into something that was sanctioned by society in the form of these carnivals,” McLeod said.
Jamie Porter, member of Iowa City improv troupe Paperback Rhino, said she think people like impressions because they point out people who have characteristics that are unique and identifying.
“It is a trait in someone that the viewer has also noticed to be unique about the person, so an impression is enjoyable to watch because the impression exaggerates a characteristic that the viewer has also noticed to be true,” Porter said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “That exaggerated truth is what makes impressions so funny and enjoyable.”
Porter said she looks up to comedians such as those on “Saturday Night Live,” noting that they have been a big influence on her and other members of her team.
“It is one of those shows that makes what we like to do look so fun and glorious,” Porter said. “I would say it was a major influence at least on a portion of why I became so interested in and passionate about comedy. I think Jay Pharoah was a major reason the six seasons of ‘Saturday Night Live’ that he was on were so successful. He is a master at impressions, and that was one of his strongest skills that he had on the show.”