Jay Pharoah: From here to “Saturday Night Live”

January 28, 2016
TCC alum Jay Pharoah performing on stage

“If I did it, you can do it.”

That’s the message comedian and Tidewater Community College graduate Jay Pharoah would tell students weighing the value of a college education.

Pharoah, back in his hometown of Chesapeake for a Jan. 29 show at the National in Richmond and a Jan. 30 show at the Norva in Norfolk, is probably TCC’s most famous alum, a recipient of an Associate of Arts in 2008 and an Associate of Science in 2010.

Long before he became comedian-in-chief impersonating President Obama on “Saturday Night Live,” Jared Antonio Farrow graduated from Indian River High School, an unsure 17-year-old with a 3.06 GPA and a Rotary Club scholarship.

“I’m a procrastinator,” he said. “I was young when I graduated high school, still trying to figure things out. I thought, ‘What better way to do that than go to TCC?’"

His first light bulb moment: Forego the 8 a.m. classes for something later in the day. He spent his nights rapping and doing stand-up comedy at local clubs, meaning his Western Civilization class with history Professor William Rodner came just a little too early.

“He was a great teacher, and I was so intrigued, but I was just so tired,” he said.

Theater Professor Ed Jacob made the biggest impression. While he regrets not being part of any performances at the college, Pharoah said he gained immense confidence in these words from Jacob: “You are brilliant, and I would love to work with you.”

“He told me that in 2006,” Pharoah said. “All I could say was, ‘Thank you, man.’ He was a theater teacher. That was the highest praise.”

Associate degrees in hand, he was accepted by Virginia Commonwealth University, but after one semester, he got his break. On Sept. 25, 2010, he debuted live from New York, joining “Saturday Night Live” as a featured player. His impressions of Jay-Z, Will Smith and Denzel Washington quickly landed him a spot in the primary cast.

Grateful for the foundation he received at TCC, Pharoah has been an advocate of a college education through social media and with Michelle Obama. He joined the First Lady for the “Better Make Room” campaign last year, encouraging young people to go to college.

“TCC, you can go anywhere from there,” he said. “Honest to God, I’m definitely a living, breathing example of that.”
 

TCC Alumni footer