Photos by Leysha Caraballo.
I have a confession to make: I am in a deeply committed (and one-sided) relationship with “Saturday Night Live.” We have weekly dates in front of my television set, and I spend hours reliving old memories via video clips and photos. I’ve even introduced them to my friends, who I have forced to watch “Tony Ruins Puppet Class” roughly twenty times. Needless to say, when I found out cast members Pete Davidson and Jay Pharoah were coming to UNC Charlotte for Homecoming Week, I was ecstatic.
The comedy show was held at 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Halton Arena. As Davidson promptly pointed out, this was a bit of an odd location. The comedians performed on the basketball court, where a rug functioned as a makeshift stage. The large echoing arena prevented the feeling of intimacy typically associated with standup performances in comedy clubs or theaters. Still, it’s the only place on campus with enough space to hold the large number of people in attendance. Tickets were free for students (which I greatly appreciated) and $20 for those outside the university.
The first of the comedians to perform was one not even listed on the program, standup comedian Dave Sirus. Dave was a member of “Saturday Night Live’s” writing staff during season 41. He also writes for “Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog” and produces sketch comedy, typically performing as a reporter covering the Westboro Baptist Church. Quite frankly, I spent the entire set feeling bad for Sirus. Not only was he faced with the extremely hard task of warming up the crowd, he had to do so as a performer the entire audience was unfamiliar with and unprepared for. The confusion in the audience when Sirus walked out instead of Pete Davidson or Jay Pharaoh was very apparent. Sirus struggled a bit material wise as well. The audience generally seemed anxious to move on and see Davidson and Pharaoh.
After Sirus, Davidson took the stage. Let’s be clear here, I’m generally a fan of Pete Davidson. He’s done some seriously good work as a cast member on “SNL,” most notably with his Weekend Update appearance on Oct. 7 and the sketch “The Jungle” with Dwayne Johnson. When he joined the show in 2014, he became one of the youngest “Saturday Night Live” cast members of all time. This year, he’s also been very upfront about his current personal struggles, which may have impacted his performance at the comedy show. Davidson struggles with addiction to marijuana, something he went to rehab for earlier this year. He has also publicly revealed the fact he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In fact, his most recent “Weekend Update” appearance focused on this diagnosis and managed to be both funny and talk seriously about mental health at the same time.
Unfortunately, Davidson’s standup didn’t quite live up to the standards he’s set at “Saturday Night Live.” While Davidson’s stage and stand up persona is intentionally awkward, Davidson seemed nervous and struggled to remember his own material, often looking at his phone to remember jokes. I felt like I kept waiting for him to find his rhythm. As soon as he’d find it or a joke would land well, he had to return to his phone and search for jokes again. Davidson mentioned in his set that he’s out of practice doing standup and needs to do more, so I hope this was just an off night for him. Still, some jokes did manage to land really well. His best included a joke was about his father’s death on Sept. 11, a fact Davidson often incorporates into standup. He also told a pretty riveting story about his lack of sexual experiences in high school.
When Davidson left the stage, he introduced Jay Pharoah as “the headliner.” Pharoah had an absolutely stellar run as a member of “Saturday Night Live,” where he worked for six years. His sudden firing from the show came as a bit of a shock at the end of the season 41. Though the comedy show on campus had not advertised Pharoah as the headliner, it was apparent that Pharoah was in charge the second he walked on stage. Pharoah exuded confidence and swagger and had an undeniable stage persona. The contrast from the previous two comedians was very apparent. Pharoah connected with the audience more easily and often pulled in audience members for jokes.
Pharoah is an excellent storyteller and used his reputation as an “impression guy” to his advantage. In the course of about an hour, Pharaoh managed to incorporate impressions of Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, Barack Obama and Ben Carson (among others). Highlights of the night included memories of his study abroad trip to Japan and the story of how he created his Ben Carson impression. Still, all of Pharoah’s jokes didn’t land. Both Pharoah and Davidson write material that relates to a number of sensitive topics and would definitely be considered politically “incorrect.” Sometimes, when delivered correctly, it worked. Sometimes it really didn’t. Beyond that, his time ran on a bit long. When students began to leave the event early, I couldn’t tell if it was out of offense at some jokes or if they were simply bored and had homework to do. In all, the event lasted a little over two hours.
In the end, I left the arena a bit underwhelmed. Of course, this was in part due to my ridiculously high expectations. Some of the punchlines were really great, and enough of them amused me to make it worthwhile. There just weren’t enough high enough quality jokes as there should have been considering the caliber of the guests. Of course, comedy is relative. What I find funny is not necessarily what others will find funny and vice versa. Plenty of people laughed at every joke and seemed thoroughly entertained. As a side note, I’m seriously impressed by the Campus Activities Board for managing to get both Pete Davidson and Jay Pharoah to even come, regardless of their performance. They are by far some of the biggest stars I’ve seen come to campus. For now, “Saturday Night Live” and I will continue our relationship via our weekly television dates. I have no plans to travel up and attempt to get tickets to a taping. And while the comedy show ultimately didn’t live up to it’s potential, it was still great to have the opportunity to see a part of “Saturday Night Live” right on our campus.