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Virginia native Jay Pharoah snags cast spot on "Saturday Night Live"; will he be their new Obama?

Comedian Jay Pharoah will join the cast of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." (Chris Jon/NBC)

If you saw Jay Pharoah doing stand-up in Virginia Beach, you can say you knew him when. The 22-year-old comic from Chesapeake, Va., is the newest cast member of "Saturday Night Live."

NBC announced the cast Tuesday -- including newbies Pharoah, Taran Killam, Paul Brittain and Vanessa Bayer. Pharoah, the first African American to join the cast since Kenan Thompson arrived in 2003, was discovered from an audition tape that's been floating around for the past year. He flew up to New York last month and got the good news two weeks ago after meetings with executive producer Lorne Michaels and the show's writers.

Jared "Jay Pharoah" Farrow studied business at Tidewater Community College and VCU, but all that scholarship went by the wayside in favor of comedy: He's been performing since he was 15, honed his craft at Virginia Beach's Funny Bone and toured with comics Corey Holcomb and Charlie Murphy (Eddie's brother).

"I'm known for impressions and family stories," Pharoah told us Tuesday night. He wouldn't say much about his future roles on "SNL," but admitted he's good at celebrities. Which ones? Again, not talking, but Pharoah does a dead-on Will Smith, Denzel Washington and ... President Obama.

Which leads to the inevitable question: Will Pharoah replace Fred Armisen as "SNL's" commander in chief? The veteran cast member has gotten plenty of heat about his Obama impression for (a) not being African American and (b) not being very funny.

Pharoah wasn't going anywhere near the Internet rumors saying he's the POTUS-playing heir apparent. "I just got here," he demurred. "I'm just trying to fit in. I don't know what's going to happen."

He debuts -- live from New York! -- Sept. 25 on the season opener hosted by former cast member Amy Poehler and featuring singer Katy Perry.

So, who does the better POTUS impersonation, Pharoah or Armisen? Watch the clips, then let us know your vote.

Here's a clip of Pharoah riffing on Obama during a stand-up routine:

Here's Armisen doing his Obama on "Saturday Night Live":

By The Reliable Source  |  September 8, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
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That show is a dinosaur. Three minutes at the top is all I watch, the rest is 1% funny, 99% lazy. Hope the new kids can stand up to chief neanderthal Lorne and make something happen there.

Posted by: kls1 | September 8, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Thank God they found another black cast member -- Kenan Thompson is the single least funny human on earth. The show is actually pretty good to DVR but of course you'd be bored to tears watching it live. And the political sketches have been terrible since the election ended.

Posted by: justin_timberwolf | September 8, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Good for him. The show needs a talented person. Also, thank God: I am tired that ALL of the Black people on TV or comedy shows are obese. We are not ALL obese in real life, yet that seems to be a necessity to get parts on television.

Hopefully, they won't require this guy to wear a dress and play a "black woman" character or do a "black woman" celebrity impression. yawn.

Posted by: nkwari | September 8, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

He is the most successful alum of Tidewater community college!

Posted by: Silly_Willy_Bulldog | September 8, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

He should get that problem with his crotch checked out.

Posted by: CalmTruth | September 8, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Is the misspelling of pharaoh an accident, or is that just how the artist prefers it?

Posted by: Patera | September 8, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Does this mean that Kenan Thompson is gone? Has Lorne ever had more than one black cast member?

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 8, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Fred Armisted has been "dead air" for years, real problem though is that it took Michaels this long to recognize it. Earth to Lorne, retire already! You are 20 yeras past your sell by date.

Posted by: SoCali | September 8, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Still no African-American female actor. Why? Can anyone explain this? I'm at a loss.

Posted by: drewhat1 | September 8, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

For those of you trashing Fred Armisen, you should watch this:

Posted by: steampunk | September 8, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

For a guy who does "dead-on" impressions, I have to say that I wasn't impressed at all after seeing this film clip. Jay Pharoah is NOT the second coming of Eddie Murphy as an SNL not-for-ready-for-prime-time player. But that's just my opinion.

Posted by: lwilliamson1 | September 8, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

"Still no African-American female actor. Why? Can anyone explain this? I'm at a loss."

Even though she likes to be referred to as "bi-racial," Maya Rudolph, daughter of the late R&B song siren Minnie Riperton, at one point appeared on SNL as a not-for-ready-for-prime-time player.

Posted by: lwilliamson1 | September 8, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

They could have a pretty funny skit with "contest" between Will Smith (v good Obama imitation) & Arnison & this new guy. With maybe some deliberately really bad other competitors in the mix.

Posted by: dadada | September 8, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

"Still no African-American female actor. Why? Can anyone explain this? I'm at a loss."

don't for get Ellen Clegghorn

Posted by: jkblodge1 | September 8, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

This guy is good. It warms my heart to see a young black role model. This young man could be doing something native. Jay Pharoah you have our support and we will follow you all season. Good choice SNL!!!!!!!!

Posted by: icedog2277 | September 9, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Captain_Universe | September 9, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Meh. Two observations. One, that Obama impersonation sucked. How is it a guy who is such a caricature (The President) is so apparently difficult for comics to impersonate well? No one can do freakin' Obama? Really? No, you're f*ckin' kidding us all, right? No one?

Second. Black people. Enough with the ridiculous nick-names already. It is tired. It is childish. It is freakin'

Posted by: cartmaneric | September 9, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

The cadence is the only similarity to Obama. Overall, a third rate impression, not funny or interesting. He should fit in well.

Posted by: eoniii | September 9, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

The clip shows Jay P. at a distance with a stupid t-shirt on. It's a little hard to tell how good or bad his impression is since the video is basically only audio.

I can't help but think Jay Pharoah will do a much better impression of Obama when he is all done up with a suit, the appropriate staging, and WH props.

Good luck to him.

Posted by: marybel9999 | September 9, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

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