The Jamie Foxx show that could make Jay Pharoah White Famous

Modern America might be a seething cauldron of racial tension, but there's some upside in that, says comedian Jay Pharoah.

"There are so many different shows of ethnicity that are winning right now because so many people are paying attention to them," the former Saturday Night Live cast member says. "I'm not saying we haven't had good shows [about ethnic minorities] before, but now there is kind of an eye on those things with the racial tension being so high.

"So yes, it is a good time to be POC right now. It is."

POC is person of colour, and Pharoah is echoing a line from White Famous, in which he stars as Floyd Mooney, a stand-up comedian who is suddenly presented with the opportunity to cross over into the mainstream, courtesy of a role in a movie with Jamie Foxx.

Foxx plays a heightened version of himself in the show, and serves as an executive producer too. And while Tom Kapinos, the man behind Californication, is credited as the creator of White Famous, Pharoah insists the idea came straight from Foxx, who similarly began his performing life as a stand-up comedian.

"It was Jamie's idea," he says. "Tom is a fantastic writer, he definitely put things down on paper, but it was Jamie's idea."

The character of Floyd wasn't written specifically for Pharoah - who is best known for his impressions of other African-American performers, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Hart, Jay-Z and Kanye West among them - but he believes "they definitely had me in mind".

"I've known Jamie since 2012, and he'd been looking for a project we could work on together," he says, taking the opportunity to break into a Foxx impersonation. "'You know, I think you're talented, I think you're amazing, and I just want to find a way we could work together in some capacity and waaay'. And then White Famous came up and it just made sense, man. And now I'm living it."

Pharoah says there's a lot of Floyd in him, and vice versa. "I've worked the chitlin circuit," he says, referring to the black comedy scene. "I know how it is to do those black rooms at two in the morning in front of Jamaicans that shake keys at you, or in some Chinese restaurant in Maryland at midnight - I know how that is, so it wasn't hard to connect with the character because I was already familiar with the journey."

He'd had a taste of mainstream success, too, with SNL, where he was a cast member for six seasons from 2010 until his surprise dumping in 2016. In April, Pharoah gave an interview in which he complained about having been wheeled out only to do impressions of African-Americans (his Barack Obama and high school Principal Frye were favourites), saying "they put people into boxes".

He also said in that interview that he flat-out refused to wear a dress for one sketch, much to the chagrin of the show's producers.

I want to ask him about this because a variation on that scenario pops up in White Famous, when Floyd visits Jamie Foxx in his trailer, and the latter insists he wear a red dress (the pay-off in this decidedly uncomfortable scene is a rather shocking and hilarious sight gag). But when I bring it up, the American publicist listening in on the call heads it off before Pharoah can answer.

"OK, we're actually going to skip this question," she says. "If you could go to the next question that would be great."

OK, whatever.

Pharoah really doesn't seem like the kind of guy who needs protection, either from nosy journalists or from himself. He seems perfectly confident, able to handle himself, poised comfortably on the brink of his own real-world move into the big time. So, is this the moment when you become white famous yourself?

"I think it is," he says. "I think it is. I've never seen so many posters, so many billboards, with my face on them. I've seen a spike in numbers. I feel like Jay Pharoah is becoming white famous right damn now."

If this is the show that breaks him in a big way, he's good with that. He gets to be funny, to show some dramatic chops, even to wheel out the party trick that his existing fans will no doubt demand.

"It's not an impression-based show, but I sprinkle it in every now and then. It gives you a taste. It doesn't flood your mouth but it gives you a taste, and sometimes that's the best way to do things."

White Famous is on Stan. New episodes air each Monday at 8.30pm, the same time as the US.

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This story The Jamie Foxx show that could make Jay Pharoah White Famous first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.