Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jay Pharoah's Joaquin Phoenix-Joker impression is the sexual aid you didn't need

Jay Pharoah, Conan O’Brien
Jay Pharoah, Conan O’Brien
Screenshot: Conan

Appearing—in person, even!—on Conan’s pandemic Largo set, comedian, impressionist, and guy not reticent about dishing how Saturday Night Live isn’t the most diverse place in the world Jay Pharoah explained what it was like being back in the good old, COVID-infested United States. Having just come back from an extended stay in the African island nation of Mauritius, where COVID is not a thing, really, thanks to its isolation and common-sense safety regulations, Pharoah told Conan O’Brien that experiencing the November election returns from a world away was a refreshingly tactile experience. “We were hugging because we could,” said Pharoah of his family’s time processing Joe Biden’s victory (apparently, the Mauritian people are also pretty happy that Donald Trump isn’t going to be in charge any more). Calling it a “momentous, joyous moment,” Pharoah told Conan his happy Mauritius vacation was only slightly marred by the nation’s insect life, whose size and ubiquity compared to America the comedian contrasted, in gangster rap terms, as between Will Smith and 50 Cent (But not “Abercrombie & Fitch-sporting, Trump supporting 50 Cent.” More like, “I just got shot in the cheek, 50 Cent.”)

Back in a land without either Mauritius-style geographical advantages or competent leadership on COVID (but rife with rampant racist police violence), Pharoah was happy to break out some relevant impressions from the chaotic American landscape he’d been sort-of missing. He does an unsurprisingly solid Kamala Harris, of all people, explaining that his key is portraying her—in all her competence and formidability when grilling Republican malefactors in Congress—as having just come straight from a bottomless Bloody Mary brunch. Pharoah, there promoting a rare dramatic turn in the drama All My Life, also took credit for coining the term “Karen” as it refers to the internet-captured outbursts of certain white women. (There is some evidence behind his claim.) Noting that his current life in the suburbs has plunked him right down in the middle of white-privilege Karen territory, White Famous star Pharoah gave Conan a first-hand taste, with one of his new neighbors asking the single Black man in that big house all alone, “Are you renting or are you buying?” “Yes, I am. You wanna be my maid, Karen?,” was Pharoah’s reply.

Advertisement

Pharoah might be venturing further afield from the “impression box” he came up in, but he did share one particularly intimate story of how his vaunted mimicry skills stood him in good, if relationship-fraying stead. Breaking out a truly stellar impression of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck/Joker, Pharoah ramped Fleck’s whiny, impotent ranting up to a burst of truly chilling insane Joker-cackle. Impressive, but hardly the sort of thing to get anyone into the mood, romantically, something Pharoah confessed to O’Brien that he once used to his advantage in bed with a very unlucky ex. Pharoah didn’t say that busting out a nasally, criminally insane Clown Prince Of Crime voice one night in order to prolong their to-that-point enjoyable sexual experience is the reason why he and the woman in question are no longer together. But, yeah. (In a pinch, apparently the Jay-Z laugh will serve as well. But only if you’re Jay Pharoah. Also, don’t do that.)

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.