Jay Pharoah's Best 'Saturday Night Live' Impressions

As Jay Pharoah exits 'Saturday Night Live,' we look back at some of his greatest impressions.

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Complex Original

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Last night, word broke that Jay Pharoah, along with Taran Killam, would not be returning to Saturday Night Live after six seasons. (The show also got rid ofthe white guy they just hired last summer, too.) As of now, there hasn't been an explanation for why Pharoah is leaving—the comedian, who's on tour right now, has yet to comment. It was a pretty up and down run for Pharoah on SNL. One week he would absolutely own a show, and the next he'd barely be on it. But one thing's for sure: the dude made his mark as a natural for doing impressions, aping everyone from Shaq to Denzel to Jay Z. All in all, he might be the best impressionist the show's ever had.

It's hard to tell what the future holds for Pharoah. But before we get there, let's pay tribute to the work he put in playing other people.

Denzel Washington

If you're a fan of the Training Day Denzel (aren't we all?), Jay nails it perfectly in this 2010 clip where Denzel's at a Macy's return desk preparing for a role. The numerous, repetitive questioning, the laughing claps, the immediate nose-dive into into Malcolm X territory? The brimming tension with a smile? It's all there.


But even that doesn't match the brilliance of this Unstoppable spoof trailer from 2010. I've never seen Unstoppable, but I'd definitely seen the trailer, and they nailed the corny quips, ridiculous premise, and all of Denzel's "BOOM!"s. 


Kanye West

Was Jay's Kanye the best Kanye we've seen? Probably not—the overuse of "Fam" is pretty grating. But Pharoah gets credit for owning 'Ye's post-Yeezus mannerisms, from the random "heeeeeh" to the aggro emphasis in his boasts, to the boasts themselves. But really, it's those random yells that win. Even the quick autotuning in segment bumpers is hilarious. This sketch isn't earth-shattering, but the impression did earn a phone call from Kanye, which definitely says something.


Ben Carson

Ben Carson, the sleepiest Republican presidential candidate, was perfect fodder for Jay to roast. With a faux swagger (and use of words like "turnt"), Jay transformed the brainless brain surgeon into a more confident individual, even if he's a perfect representative of that creep life.

Steven A. Smith

Jay dropped his fire Stephen A. Smith impression numerous times over the last six years, but it's this takedown of the Miami Heat from 2012 that killed it. If you're a fan of First Take, you know that he has an insane habit of claiming that everyone is his friend, as well as resorting to ALL CAPS EXPLANATIONS of why players are f*cking up. That's the entire bit, but it's so perfect. De-arm Mario Chalmers.


Shaquille O'Neal

Jay's cross-eyed, mumbling Shaq is so wrong that it's right.


All of the (Black) Comedians

When Saturday Night Live is firing on all cylinders, it's holding up a mirror to pop culture absurdities and turning up the heat. When Kevin Hart and Katt Williams were beefing earlier this year, Jay envisioned a Black Comedian's Meeting that featured Katt, Kevin, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Tracy Morgan, Chris Tucker, Hannibal Buress, and Bernie Mac all linking up to go bowling at Eddie's house. Sure, it's absurd af, but made for a HILARIOUS three minutes.

All of the Rappers

On some "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" ish, when Lemonade dropped, Jay envisioned that a secret rappers meeting took place, where Hov received marital advice from Will Smith, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, and more meeting up at Diddy's "above ground submarine." From T.I.'s use of SAT words to DMX's barking, Jay showcased just how ill he truly is at the impression game. Jay tried to do Drake, but Drizzy wasn't having it.


Sadly, this was the penultimate episode of Pharoah's run, but he went out on the ILLEST note. Jay has the time now to pursue whatever he couldn't during his tenure at Saturday Night Live, so check writers, it's time to ante up!


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