While Jay Pharoah makes a splash playing President Obama on “Saturday Night Live” this fall, another NBC late-night performer has assumed the same role on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” And he’s threatening to steal Pharoah’s thunder.
He’s Dion Flynn, 43, an actor and comedy writer who’s been playing Obama, 51, for the last few weeks in sketches with Jimmy Fallon playing the role of Mitt Romney.
We have found this interesting ever since we first saw Flynn as Obama on Oct. 4, the evening after the first Obama-Romney debate on Oct. 3. Flynn was introduced as the “Fallon” show’s Obama just a few short weeks after Pharoah began playing the president on the new season of “SNL.”
And we’ve wondered if this has been causing any creative conflicts within the confines of NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza studios in New York — where both shows are produced in close proximity with each other.
For example, just last night (Friday) on the “Fallon” show, Jimmy and Flynn did a sketch in which the president (Flynn) and Romney (Fallon) were talking to each other on the phone while they each watched the Joe Biden-Paul Ryan debate Thursday night in their respective living rooms.
That’s a sketch — and a scheduling maneuver — right out of the “SNL” playbook. It’s a “cold open” — which is the jargon assigned to the opening segments on “SNL” that precede the “official” opening of the show. And the substance of that sketch — Obama and Romney secretly sharing some laughs at their running mates’ expenses — may have been an angle the writers at “SNL” would have pursued for tonight’s “SNL.” But if they were, they’re likely thinking twice about it, now that the “Fallon” show has already done it. (We’ll find out how “SNL” deals with the VP debate this weekend.)
A similar thing happened a week earlier. The “Fallon” show opened with a sketch — with Flynn as Obama — on the evening after the Obama-Romney debate that had “Romney” (Fallon) and Obama tangling with moderator Jim Lehrer (played by “Late Night” head writer A.D. Miles).
Two nights later, “SNL” did its own cold-open take on the debate (with Jason Sudeikis as Romney and guest-star Chris Parnell as Lehrer). Of course, “SNL” can’t help the fact that it airs on Saturday nights, but still, the sketch seemed old-hat by the time it aired — one reason being that the “Fallon” show had already done its own sketch two nights earlier, in the style of “SNL” (after all, Fallon comes from “SNL”).
For the young Jay Pharoah, 24, being handed the Obama role on “SNL” during this crucial election season represents a career-making opportunity. And he’s doing a great job with it. But so is Flynn, who is the lesser-known performer. Overseeing both of them, ultimately, is Lorne Michaels, the shrewd poobah of NBC’s New York-based late-night shows. He probably figures: If spoofing the presidential race is a boon to “SNL” every four years, why not do the same thing for the “Fallon” show?
Watch the two videos above and draw your own conclusions about NBC’s battling Baracks.