Introductions aren’t usually hard for me but introducing this phenomenal young talent proves difficult even after days of deliberating about what to say. I mean what cannot be said about this young man? He’s performed with infamous entertainers, the likes of Ardie Fuqua, Shortie, Tony Roberts and Michael Blackson. He’s appeared on BET’s One Mic Stand and has been compared to Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy by Def Comedy Jam’s Talent VP Bob Summer.
He’s travelled the States performing show after show, receiving encore after encore and all at the tender age of just 21. After impressing renowned comedian Charlie Murphy a year ago he was recruited as part of his comedic team and has been on the road with him ever since. The man I’m talking about is Jay Pharaoh the self acclaimed premature miracle!
As if that wasn’t enough for his resume, with the release of his first DVD project The Premature Miracle pending he’s due to be touching down on English soil as part of the Real Deal Comedy Jam crew. Jay will be touring the UK as the headline act on the bill and with a string of shows lined up in Bristol, Birmingham and London nobody will be safe from the infectious humour and charisma Jay possesses.
When I caught up with Jay last week for a chat, it was impossible not to gravitate to the positive and electric energy he gave out. What was meant to be a formal interview turned into a relaxed, down to earth conversation by what felt like two old friends. It was hard to believe that someone who was born two months premature and had doctors fearing for his survival is now full of so much life and enthusiasm. Jay’s truly inspiring and humble persona had my full attention as I got to delve deep into the story of this talented success and find out about his hopes and fear and the highs and lows that make up this continuously unfolding young star!
You’re quite young, you’re just 21. Do you find it intimidating or overwhelming sharing a stage with older more experienced comedians?
Erm no, all the older comedians I see as my big brothers and everything you know. I been doing this since I was like 15 and at that age I was on stage with older comedians so it’s not intimidating it’s more like friendly competition
Tell me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a town house in Chesapeake Virginia. Then we moved to the suburbs which was nice. I come from a pretty big family though, I mean my immediate family is like four people but I got a lots of cousins, aunts and uncles so I got people everywhere.
How do you think you’re upbringing shaped you as an impressionable young man?
I think it was good actually having my family around me because one of my strengths is that I have a big support system. So wherever I go, like for example if I go to Florida I’ll have family come out and support me at my show same as if i go to New York and its like that everywhere I go.
So there’s always a familiar face in the crowd then?
Yeah exactly (laughs) but it depends on where I go but when I travel it’s just me and my sister.
Is your sister a bit like your roadie then?
(laughs) Nah she’s me manager
Oh cool, so do you find that works for you better having a family member managing you?
It does, I mean it’s like when you keep stuff in the family it makes it easier to have trust for the people around you.
How did you get started as a comedian?
Well I started doing proper impersonations since I was in like 5th grade but I had actually been doing cartoon impersonations since I was like six years old.
Wow! So did you just start doing it for fun?
It was a talent actually that my ex-girlfriend when I was in 1st grade noticed. She would be like ‘hey you sound just like…so and so’ and I was like ok! Well let’s do it I mean I didn’t think so at the time but I was like hey why not! (laughing)
So you had that talent from you were like six years old, so how did it turn into a performance?
In 2003 I was actually asked to get up and perform in front of my family at a Christmas party and do impersonations. Everybody was like ‘Jay can do all these crazy impersonations you gotta hear him’ and I was like ok let me get up and do it! So I got up and I think there was like 30 people in the room and they were just really great. It went down well! Then in 2004 I did the Virginia idle talent search at the Virginia house of comedy and that’s where I beat all the older people and I got 5th place in the competition.
So that was kind of the start for you then. When did you actually realise that you wanted to be a comedian?
That was after the Virginia Idle Talent Search. When I turned 17 I did another show in Chicago. I basically got up on stage in front of the whole congregation and they was just laughing. I was like hey this is where I need to be!
How does it feel when you’re on stage and people are laughing at your jokes?
You know it feels real good because I like to make people laugh and it’s kind of different from theatre where people are kind of just sitting there and looking at you and appreciating your talent. With this their appreciating your talent but at the same time their laughing which is a real good feeling.
Had you always known that you wanted to perform on stage?
Yes! I always knew that somehow and some way I wanted to be on the stage and be in something.
Where does the name Jay Pharaoh The premature miracle comes from?
Well it’s actually a play on words. My first name is Jay and my second name is spelt F.a.r.r.a.o but I spelt it the other way! (laughs)
Oh ok as in Pharaoh the king?
Well yeah because that kind of describes me too because people describe me as the young king and I’m like hey that’s crazy. The premature miracle comes from me being two months premature and the doctors were like he’s not going to survive. But I’m here though and I’m like 6ft 3! (laughs)
Who have you performed with on stage so far?
Wow I’ve performed with Tony Roberts, Tony Woods, Michael Blackson, Shortie, Chalie Murphy the list goes on and on I mean it’s a lot of people.
You’ve mentioned some pretty big names there. How does it feel sharing the stage with some of those?
Oh it’s an honour. Especially to be able to do so at such a young age it’s insane.
Charlie Murphy has actually referred to you as his protégé. How does it feel to be under the wing of such a respected comedian?
I think it’s a blessing because people have said ‘you know who you remind me of? and I’m like who? and their like Eddie Murphy! Then when I was 19 I got the chance to perform for his brother! So it’s like mind blowing that I get the chance to share the stage with him because now he’s just like family. He’s like my comedy father now. I mean he really looks out for me so it’s an honour and a blessing.
You’ve been compared to the likes of a young Chris Tucker and as you mentioned Eddie Murphy. Do you feel that you live up to these comparisons?
As far as being called a young Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy, I try not to get too big for my shoes. I just go out there and do my thing and if that’s who people compare me too then that’s great! I mean hopefully I can get some Chris Tucker and Eddie Murphy money (laughing), but I’m a very humble guy.
You’ve recently completed your first DVD project is that right?
Tell me a bit about that!
It’s a collage of some of the performances I did when I was 19 and 20. It features some big stars like, Charlie Murphy’s on it and it’s really just me Wilin’ Out! I mean now I’m even better but this DVD just gives people a chance to see how was wilin’ out before I got to this stage. I’m on stage at some big venues around the states so you get to see all of that too.
Some of the best Comedians have spread their talents across film and television like Bernie Mac for example. Can you see yourself branching out in that way, could that be on the cards for you?
I can see myself branching out because I have a lot of diversity and I have a lot to bring to the table that the industry is looking for. So I can see myself in two days doing a movie (laughing. Nah I’m playing, but seriously maybe in a year or so that could be on the cards for me definitely.
Who would you say you’ve been inspired by?
Oh man! You got Chris Rock, I mean he has to be my favourite, him and Eddie Murphy. Bernie Mac definitely is another one. You’ll see flashes of them in all my comedy through my impersonations and people are like ‘hey he said that like Mac would say it’. Yeah I said like Bernie Mac would say it because it’s an impersonation! So people I’m inspired by that’s who you’ll see in my work.
Is that your way of paying homage to them then?
Yes definitely, by impersonating them or telling stories like them that’s my way. They’re my jokes though I don’t steal jokes (laughing). I’m not on that mess!
So where do you draw your inspiration from for your actual material?
Well I got a lot of material from school. Seeing people do stupid stuff, erm my family… I get inspiration from just looking at things a different way. I used to do jokes about my job but I’m not working there no more (laughing)
What obstacles have you had to face along the way to get where you are today?
Well I had to get over trusting myself. When I was younger I used to be really fat and I had a lot of confidence issues. I hated school, I knew I had to have it as a mattress to lie on but I really didn’t want to be there. Just trusting me was a big issue because there was no way I was going to meet people like Charlie Murphy if I didn’t. Getting on stage and being able to make people laugh and having the confidence to do that was a big obstacle for me!
Have any major obstacles occurred in your life that have made you want to just throw in the towel?
I knew where I wanted to be from an early age and it wasn’t in school but I knew I had to be there. So for me it was kind of working out how to study and do comedy at the same time that became a major obstacle. I had to figure out how to do that, but there was nothing like me getting shot (laughing) or drive by’s or nothing like that.
Last year I was still working at my job and I hated it! I was saying to myself dude why am I still here?
I mean I just did the Def Comedy Jam, I should be out there on stage not here but I need to be here. There was a point where I was just like you know what forget it, but then I couldn’t because I knew I was about to break. I just needed to keep trying and stay focused even if I wasn’t hearing anything from anybody but eventually I heard something.
Where were you working before?
I use to work at a coat factory
Oh so you made coats?
No I didn’t make no coats (laughing). I used to work in the customer service section, but these customers…they just don’t get it! I was not trying to put no pair of socks and a pair of draws on lay away. Hell no I’d be like you got to put down five dollars, please you’re not being smart! I’m tired of this, I got to get out! (Both Laughing)
Ok, so did you have to knock on a lot of doors while you were trying to break?
Yes I did. I was knocking on doors like Hey I’m here…and people were like ‘Ok well you just did that show so were going to wait and see what happens’ and I was like no I don’t want to wait, I’m ready I want to do it now. Luckily, I’ve always had people who wanted to give me a chance so eventually when I managed to get myself seen at the Def Comedy Jam auditions and people weren’t laughing I realised that I was going to have to come a lot harder and with some more stuff because I really got to be able to hit these people with my stuff. So that’s when I started changing my material and then things started picking up for me. I just knew that my material had to be good so I was constantly writing and changing my stuff and that’s when I got noticed at the third Def Comedy Jam auditions!
How have all these things shaped who you are today?
It has caused me to rethink things all the time. I had to come up with new material, new ways of delivering things and to just constantly be reinventing myself. The support from people I got around me as well made me continue to pursue my dreams and just not give up because I knew this was what I wanted.
Are you looking forward to touring the UK?
Yes I’m excited about coming to the UK (in and English accent). It’ll be my first time and I’m very excited. (laughing)
So when can we expect from your performance?
You can expect to laugh your behind off and to leave the show without a booty! Laugh it off! This is just a chance for me to just Wil’ Out and just be crazy. I can’t wait!
Well I’ll be checking you out when you’re in Birmingham so I’m looking forward to that! I’m looking forward to coming man, like I said I can’t wait!
Make sure you check out Jay Pharoah and the rest of the team at the Real Deal Comedy Jam
Friday 27th February 2009 @ Colston Hall, Bristol
Saturday 28th February 2009 @ Alexandre Theatre, Birmingham
Sunday 1st March 2009 @ Savoy Theatre, London
Words by Daina Anderson
See below for a snippet of the Real Deal Comedy Jam