Jay Pharoah is perhaps best known for playing Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live. These days, he’s been working a Trump impression into his stand-up sets.
“Of course, man, I talk about all that shit,” he tells The Daily Beast over lunch in an interview to promote his new Showtime series White Famous. There will be much more on that project in our full profile of Pharoah coming later this week. But first, we had to ask him what it was like doing comedy with the president when he hosted SNL in September 2015.
“Trump seemed like a robot,” Pharoah says, noting that he would walk around calling everyone he met a “fantastic talent,” but “didn’t seem genuine” about it.
“He pulled out his phone in the middle of the table read,” Pharoah continues, seamlessly going into his Trump impression: “‘Listen, everyone. My book just hit No. 1 on Amazon. It should be a very exciting time for all. Let’s just stop and applaud me.’”
In previous interviews, Pharoah’s former castmates Taran Killam and Pete Davidson, who were both on the show when Trump hosted, said the then-candidate “struggled” to read his lines and kept trying to improv instead. The result was one of the least funny, most awkward episodes in SNL history.
Pharoah, who was fired from SNL ahead of last year’s Emmy-winning season, chalks Trump’s lack of understanding about how comedy works to his overwhelming “narcissism,” explaining, “When you’re that caught in your world, nothing else makes sense to you.”
He did, however, enjoy performing as Drake in the show’s “Hotline Bling” music video sketch opposite the man he never thought would become president a year later. “That was fun,” he says with a smile.
“It was a weird episode,” Pharoah adds. “Even at the end, everyone was standing in the back. Nobody would stand next to him. He’s doesn’t even notice it!”
That moment from the “Goodnights” portion of the show, in which guest-star Larry David can be seen awkwardly smiling to Trump’s right, was perfectly captured in this Curb Your Enthusiasm parody video by Seinfeld2000.
“I don’t think Trump thought he was going to be president,” Pharoah says of the man with whom he was performing sketch comedy barely two years ago. “He wakes up every morning like, ‘I can’t believe they have not gotten me out of here.’”
Stay tuned for our full profile on Jay Pharoah’s life after SNL, including working with Jamie Foxx on White Famous, coming later this week.