JFL42 Review: Jay Pharoah Has Great Impressions and Not Much Else

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto ON, September 24

BY Audrey CarletonPublished Sep 25, 2019

Jay Pharoah is best known for his impressions; during his six seasons on Saturday Night Live, he was applauded for his impersonations of characters like Barack Obama and Denzel Washington. Years later, he seems unready to let this material go.
Character work made up a majority of his set at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and there's no celebrity Pharoah won't try: He showed off imitations of Drake, Justin Bieber, and even big comedy names who he no doubt knows in person, like Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan and Eddie Murphy.
The comedian's impressions are without a doubt spot-on — but beyond this, the remainder of his set fell flat. He brings a high energy to the stage that's easy to laugh along with, but in terms of content, his jokes missed the mark. Every once in awhile, he threw in remarks about social issues — discussing the #metoo movement, the treatment of Muslims in Donald Trump's America, and Bill Cosby (yikes). He occasionally made off-colour quips, only to quickly follow them up with a defensive explanation of the joke or an apology, which begged the question: Why make the joke in the first place?
Pharoah also went well over his time on stage, trying out nearly an hour-and-a-half of material. It's easy to get restless watching comedy for that long; had Pharoah edited his set to fit within the standard hour, it might've made for an overall better evening.
While undoubtedly many Pharoah fans got exactly what they were looking for during an evening of uncanny impressions, his set did little beyond that to impress.

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