Talking with Jerrod Carmichael about Stand-up, Being a Nice Guy, and Bea Arthur
A wildly funny and fast-rising stand-up, Jerrod Carmichael’s career has been blowing up lately. He was named one of Backstage‘s 10 Comics to Watch this year and one of Variety‘s 10 Comics to Watch the year prior. He also landed a recurring role on Fox’s midseason comedy The Goodwin Games, which was created by the How I Met Your Mother team of Carter Bays, Craig Thomas, and Chris Harris and also stars Scott Foley, Becki Newton and Carmichael’s stand-up peer TJ Miller. I recently had the chance to interview Jerrod Carmichael, and we discussed his favorite comedians – young and old, why auditions are horrible, and his admiration of Bea Arthur’s comic timing:
You have a reputation for being a nice and positive person in the comedy industry. Is that something you aim for, or does it just happen naturally?
Well, first of all, why is that my reputation? I’ve been jacking people up on the side of buildings for months now trying to change that. No, it’s just a thing. It’s just me. [Laughs] If I am nice, it’s because hopefully my intentions are good.
You don’t put extra effort into…?
Just to be the guy who’s like “Guys, I brought cookies.” No. I get to hang out with a bunch of really funny people, so it’s not difficult to be friendly or to be excited to be around them, you know?
So, who were your comedy influences growing up?
I mean, it almost sounds cliché, but I love Bill Cosby, I love Richard Pryor. I was talking to someone – I feel like I learned timing from Bea Arthur. [Laughs] I love her, Jack Benny’s amazing.
What’d you watch Bea Arthur in?
I love Maude and her in Golden Girls, her timing is so great. Have you seen Bea Arthur? You gotta watch. It’s insane. It’s perfect. Her timing is perfect. There are very few people that master timing and she mastered it.
What were some of the earliest comedies you remember enjoying?
I used to watch… the first [shows] I remember falling in love with was, well it was two: It was The Wonder Years and I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite… It was like at 8:00, 8:30, I was sitting down every night to watch them. It was the greatest thing in the world. More I Love Lucy for humor, I thought it was just so funny.
What are your favorite rooms to play in L.A.?
My favorite rooms around L.A.? Hmmm, that’s a great question. You know, it shifts. It depends on the mood and the show. I love the Comedy Store. I love being at the Laugh Factory. This guy Ben Bizuneh [has] this show called The End of the World Show in Silverlake on Friday nights and the show is just fantastic. It’s just a fun, fun show. One of my favorite shows right now. So, just those pockets of shows are my favorite. Jeremiah Watkins has this show called The Improvised Stand-Up Show [which is] one of my favorite shows… [The topic] just comes from the audience, and you can talk as long as you like on the topic. You can go your entire set or you can switch it up and take a lot of different topics. It’s just… I love it.
Who do you enjoy watching the most out of your peers?
There’s a comedian named Jamar Neighbors that I love. He’s a very close friend of mine, but he’s hilarious… I love Fahim Anwar, I love Ian Edwards. Ian Edwards is just great, and he’s very smart… I just like people who are doing fun things. There’s this comic Rick Glassman that’s really creative… I like watching those guys, and I get inspired watching them perform around town. It’s my favorite. My favorite thing to do is just watch the really creative guys, right? The ones who are doing something a little different and they have a strong perspective. Those are my favorites to watch. I guess even more famously, Lewis Black is one of my favorite comics. I love Lewis. I still troll YouTube watching old Cosby and Pryor clips, so there’s a lot of that too.
Yeah, it’s great there is that resource out there. Previous generations didn’t have that.
It’s so great. YouTube is amazing. I go to the Paley Center too. I love the Paley Center… It’s a resource. It’s great. You can watch stuff that you can’t find on YouTube. It’s really really great… Just people that you love and [are] excited about. Just things I didn’t know existed. I saw, Bill Cosby did this thing for PBS about racism.
When was this?
This was in the 70s, and he’s smoking a cigar. It’s about bigotry and racism. It’s so weird and wonderful. You gotta watch it.
Are there any other gems you’ve found there?
I’m going to make myself sound old, but I like watching the Jack Paar program because I just like the way Jack spoke. It was just this aura, and there was this line that he wouldn’t cross. And watching him not cross that line… They had so much integrity on television back then. [Laughs] It’s fun to watch. I like the language and those things.
So, how’s Goodwin Games been going?
It’s really fun. It’s a great, fun experience. TJ Miller’s there, causing me to forget my lines and laugh. And it’s funny, and it’s just a fun experience.
Is it tough to do scenes with TJ, being friends with him?
The guy’s hilarious. He’s hilarious. He’s really funny. Scott Foley is really funny too. And Becki [Newton] is really funny. The cast is just a bunch of funny people, sitting around. It’s a fun thing to do. I’m learning a lot.
How did the pilot script compare to other stuff you’ve read for?
I don’t have a lot of experience auditioning, so I don’t know. [Laughs] I’ve read a few scripts. It’s so hard for me to get through a script. It’s so difficult… because I’ll read a page, and then I pace around the living room acting it out. I’m like, ‘It’ll be funny if you said it like this.‘ It’s taken like months to read a single script. Like the ones just from friends of like features that I’ve read, but yeah, I haven’t read for a lot of stuff. Auditions are horrible. Do you know that?
Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard.
It’s emotional genocide.
Do you have any particularly bad experiences?
All of them! No, no. I’ve only done a couple, but you walk in and there’s a room full of better versions of yourself. “Oh, that’s me if I worked out or me with a nicer mustache. There’s younger, cooler me.” Like, it’s better versions of you in a room. Your type – oh my God – I’m the worst of my type. If I have a type, I’m the worst of it.
You never see slightly worse versions of yourself?
No. They’re all better. They have better skin. Their teeth are perfect. They’re better versions of me. It’s insane. It’s insane.
Fuck those guys! [Laughs] Am I right?
Yeah, yeah. Bringing out some negativity in you….
We brought this interview full circle. We start with me asking you about your reputation for being a nice guy and just end with “Fuck those guys.”
That’d be the closing thing. The big thing, that I said it, and I said it with a stern face: Fuck those guys! No, those guys have shit to do, you know? [Laughs]
Do you have plans to release a special or an album anytime soon?
Hopefully, very soon. I have an idea. I think it’s a good idea. It’s very specific to me… If you do a special, you want to do it not just to do a special. You want to do it because you have something to say, and you think it can be impactful. So, what I want to say is coming out more, and I’m excited about that.