Jay Pharoah Shines in the Spotlight in New Series ‘White Famous’

White Famous - Jay Pharoah and Jamie Foxx
Patrick Ecclesine/SHOWTIME
Jamie Foxx as himself and Jay Pharoah as Floyd in White Famous.

If you don’t totally grasp the concept of Showtime’s new comedy White Famous, then you’re in good company. Neither did Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live) when he was approached to star in the series about Floyd Mooney, a comedian on the rise. “I was introduced to the term and said, ‘Oh, now I get it!’” says Pharoah. “It’s universal fame, when everybody knows who you are—Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker. It’s like, ‘Awww, you’re white famous—like Nick Cannon!’”

Not to mention Jamie Foxx, the show’s executive producer, whose own career trajectory serves as inspiration. When we meet Floyd, he’s still on the cusp of crossing over. “He’s an urban stand-up and an underground star,” Pharoah says. “I immediately connected with him, because I’ve lived that on the chitlin circuit, playing rooms for $75.”

All of that changes in the premiere, when Floyd has a chance encounter with movie producer Stu Beggs (Stephen Tobolowsky). The odious bigwig launches into a racist rant that’s caught on video—it ends up going viral, and as part of his public mea culpa, he casts Floyd in the latest Jamie Foxx movie. (Cue Foxx’s cameo, a hilarious send-up of his boisterous persona.)

From there on out, Floyd finds himself hobnobbing with Tinseltown’s elite, but it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds. “Getting thrown in with all these white folks, he’s going to be thrust into weird situations,” says Pharoah, noting that the uneasy encounters will be far from exaggerated. “The things that we’re exploring may be hush-hush, but they happen all the time.”

Helping him navigate this uncharted terrain? His son Trevor (Lonnie Chavis, aka the young Randall on This Is Us) and baby-mama-with-occasional-benefits Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman). “The fact that Floyd is a father absolutely gives him parameters. There are certain things he just can’t do,” Pharoah says. “He’s not going to let this industry change him and assassinate his character. There are going to be so many scenarios when he’s like, ‘Oh, hell no!’”

White Famous, Series Premiere, Sunday, Oct. 15, 10/9c, Showtime