Grantland’s Andy Greenwald isn’t sold on Jay Pharoah as SNL’s Obama:
But I’m still not entirely sold on Jay Pharoah. The guy is a brilliant, otherworldly mimic, but I’m not sure he’s all the way there yet as a performer. Don’t get me wrong — I’m thrilled he’s got the podium with the seal on it and Fred Armisen is back doing what he does best (portraying the president of Iran as an Austin Powers—quoting goofball, evidently). In the cold open, Pharoah’s Obama was uncanny, from the relentlessly thoughtful pauses to the exasperated up-speak on “I went from hip-hop star to jazz musician!” but comedically inert.
But perhaps it’s best not to vote for impeachment yet; the sad truth is that no one has managed to do a funny Barack Obama imitation. The guy is as immune to parody as he is to attack ads in Ohio. I’m all for fair and balanced comedy, but SNL has better success when taking shots from the sidelines — like Kenan Thompson’s giddy Cornel West. I’m already considering asking my editors to swap my paycheck for costume jewelry and cornbread.
Slate’s Aisha Harris says that the best Obama is over on Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele”:
For those unsatisfied with SNL’s Obama moments, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele serve as a great, subversive antidote. The two former Mad TV performers, who are both biracial, have done several short sketches featuring a spot-on Obama impression (Peele) and his “anger translator” Luther (Key). Playing off of the President’s avoidance of the Angry Black Man stereotype, Peele’s Obama addresses the audience calmly and coolly in various situations, while Luther releases bombastic rants to explain what the President really means. When Obama diplomatically reaches out to foreign countries urging them to cut off their uranium enrichment programs, for instance, Luther explains angrily: “Mahmoud, Kim-Jong! I think I already done told both y’all: 86 your shit, bitches! Or I’m gonna come over there and do it FOR Y’ALL!”
By poking fun at the President’s need to remain palatable and “safe” to mainstream America in order to steer clear of preconceived notions about how black men are supposed to act, Key and Peele make a far more interesting point than SNL ever has with its rather bland take onObama’s “cool” personality. No doubt it helps that at Key & Peele two black men are running the show. While there is obviously much more to the President than his race, the subject has given Key and Peele a way into their impression that SNL is still struggling to find.