Newest cast member JAY PHAROAH best addition to SNL in years.

“Saturday Night Live” recently hired Jay Pharoah as a featured player and he’s coming through in a big way.

When journalists write about impressions they tend to throw around the terms “dead on” and “spot on” although very few attempts at celebrity impressions are ever any good. But such high praise is justified for Pharoah, who has so far delivered terrific takes on SNL on Will Smith, and, this week, Denzel Washington. They need to give this guy the Obama franchise and move Fred Armisen into something else, like maybe craft services. At this point you have to wonder–why is Armisen still allowed to do Obama? It’s generally acknowledged that he’s not good at it, and now they have a guy on staff who is better at doing the same job. Is SNL part of of old boys (TV) network? What’s up?

Effective impressionists, like Dana Carvey, find specific characteristics about their targets that they exaggerate for comic effect. These characteristics can be real or imaginary–Chevy Chase’s impression of President Ford, for example, isn’t anything like the real Ford, but it captured some of the public’s conception of the man. Armisen doesn’t get this, and flounders away, trying to recreate surface impressions of Obama. There’s no comic imagination or artistic joy in what he does (by contrast, watch Frank Caliendo send up John Madden–he’s having fun, and he draws the audience in).

Pharoah’s spoofs, judging by the few data points he’s offered up so far, go right to the heart of his subjects, painting with bold, bright colors. He’s poised to do some memorable stuff. Here’s a clip of Pharoah from last night’s SNL. The writing in the sketch is sketchy, but his impression is gold.

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Jay Pharoah's debut Saturday Night Live

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