Jerrod Carmichael Has His First HBO Special, But Don’t Worry — He’s Not Nervous

jerrodcarmichaelAt only 26 years old, he’s being called an “up-and-coming” comic, but Jerrod Carmichael knows who he is, knows what he’s good at, and thanks to his first television special (on HBO no less) directed by THE Spike Lee, soon everyone else will know who he is too.

He’s got a laid back vibe and comfort level of a much more seasoned comic, but when you know who you are and what you think, the confidence shines through like it does for Carmichael. And he’s not wrong. He may be chill, but he also happens to make you think while you’re laughing. Plus, the word is he’s one of the nicest comics on the scene. I had a chance to interview him and find out for myself. Gracious, and encouraging, he’s the kind of nice, talented guy you can really root for… not that he needs you to. Dude’s doing just fine on his own.

Your own special, how exciting! How do you feel it went?

It was a really fun night of comedy. I loved that the material was authentic to me, so it was so fun to say and share with people. And we had some great moments. So yeah, it was a great night.

Getting an HBO Special is every comedian’s dream, so when you first found out you got your first special, what was that like?

I called my mom and I told her, “Hey mom, I’m doing a special at HBO.” First thing she said was, “I don’t have HBO.”

Such a mom thing to say.

Yeah, I was like, “I think you’re missing the point.”

Right. “Mom, I can buy you HBO now.”

Yeah, that’s the benefit of getting a special on HBO. I’m sure they want the person on the network to be able to see it.

Did you approach it differently, as far as writing it, then you would of another show?

No. No, I wanted it to be honest, you know what I mean? And that’s why we did it at The Comedy Store. That’s why we did it in the Original Room, because it’s honest. It’s a room that I’m really in a lot and it’s a room that’s really special to me, so I approached the way I approach every set. It’s just like, “Alright, lets go.” My intention is to have fun. My intention is to have people think and feel challenge, so I wrote I as honestly as possible. And then the rest is just room for these organic moments that happen between me and the audience that we captured, so I just approached it like a fun set.

Yeah, that’s what I heard, that you don’t typically do set lists.

Yeah, no.

Do you even have your jokes written down anywhere?

There was a time where I really wrote out material, but really what I do is, it’s like a word. It’s just a word written down and I know my feeling on it and the jokes kind of come naturally from that. Really, I’m just sharing ideas. It was a list of topics I wanted to cover and I know what falls into that and we just went.

You really have to be able to trust yourself, because there’s a lot on the line there. Were you nervous?

I know this will probably sound like really artistic thing to say, but I’ve never been nervous before a show or anything. I just get really excited. I get happy to go do it. So, you know, I was excited. But everyone approaches it differently. It affects all of us differently. One guy might be nervous, another guy might not be nervous.

So, you don’t officially write it down, but did you focus on new material or new thoughts you had or was it stuff you’d done before?

Yeah, I tried a bunch of new things for the special. Like I said, for me, my approach to it was to approach it as honestly as possible. I wanted to give the best show possible and the thoughts I’m really excited about it. A lot of those happened to be new. My friend Ari (Shaffir), who’s also a comedian was like, “A lot of this was just stuff you thought of in the past couple months.” I’m always excited to share new ideas.

So, I’ve always wondered this, because on these specials you always see that they have a director. How does it work when a director directs standup? Do you lay out your material and they help you arrange it? Do they give you assignments to work on? Are you performing at Spike Lee’s house, or does he come to you house? How does that part work?

Well, Spike would come to a lot of shows in New York when we first met. He would come out to shows. He’d come see me at The Cellar or The Stand to watch and to get down who I am on stage. But really, when someone directs a special, at least in my case, I think you want to go for someone who captures moments well. And for me it was important to capture what that room is and the energy and to kind of do it more documentary style. Spike does great documentaries. Even outside of great films he does great documentaries, so that’s what was important to me, just to have it captured. That’s what they bring to it. The material’s all me.

So it’s more kind of that they’re doing it with the way they edit it and the way they capture it with the camera?

Exactly. Bring, a certain tone and texture and style to what you see, and you know, everything else is just you.

And that’s something you guys talked about and he gave you creative control over?

Yeah, he was very open and it was interesting, there was a vision for the special even before, to shoot in the Original Room, to call it “Love at The Store.” You know, these things that happened, and HBO, which the reason it’s such an amazing place for, not just comedy, but all art, because you’re dealing with a really smart group of people who trust their artists. They trust the people they work with and they want things to feel fresh, and new and authentic. So, it was an amazing partnership. I couldn’t have picked a better outlet for a special. HBO was so great and Spike was really great. So, it was just kind of very true and very close to the original vision of it to have it at The Store. My apologies if I went on a tangent and didn’t answer your questions.

No, that’s great! I’m very excited to watch it.

Oh! I hope you like it!

It sounds like, “I really went to the grassroots of what I did and how I grew up…” how you became a comedian.

Yeah. It’s authentic, as opposed to just being in a theater setting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a lot of theaters, but I’ve done the Original Room more at this point in my career. So it’s like, let’s do this where you feel the most at home and the most in your element, so just bringing it to you. I think that’s what’s important about art, especially comedy, especially standup, not making the mistake of going to them, but bringing it to you. Making the things around you authentic to you.

I read that I Love Lucy was a big influence on you.

Yeah, Lucille Ball was amazing! I mean, that show! Everything about I Love Lucy I really, really like. It’s at its core such a great sitcom and the business model behind it is amazing. Desi Arnaz is amazing. I’m really surprised, don’t get me wrong, he gets lots of credit, but I’m really surprised he doesn’t come up more in a lot of conversations about moguls who’ve changed a lot for the industry. They’re both such powerful creatives, so I’m inspired by all of it.

I was surprised, because I don’t think I’d ever put her style and yours in the same category.

Well see, my thing is there’s only two categories. There’s good and bad. There are truths that transcend whatever style and whatever of comedy you do, the words you say, there are certain core truths, so at the core Lucille Ball was just this flawed character who wasn’t afraid to just chase after her dreams essentially. You know what I mean? That’s me, that’s Louie C.K…  you know in the sense that there’s these truths that kind of go through everybody. The difference is, I don’t know if she ever said “Fuck” publicly.

You obviously know who you are, you know what your truth is. I think it’s a good lesson for other comedians out there. So, you don’t ever get nervous, but do you have any weird pre-show rituals or habits that you like to do?

I’ll listen to jazz. I’ll listen to Dave Brubeck or Miles Davis or something before a show.  A lot of times I like that space, you know, that music, that’s what to me what a lot of great art is. Anything that’s great in art is jazz, you know? I would dare argue most great things that are great in life are jazz. It’s just the structure, but freedom within structure. So, I’ll listen to jazz just to hone in, focus and know where you are, being conscious and being aware. But a lot of the principals I try to practice in life are more concentrated before going on stage.

What about non-performance stuff? What’s something that we might be surprised to learn about you?

Ooh, that’s a great question. Hmmm… the thing you’d be surprised to learn about me. I’m trying to think of what would be surprising. I’m probably more quiet off stage. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s even a good one.

That’s not a surprise to me. I don’t think.

That’s not a surprise?

No, not really. From everything I’ve heard about you, you’re really nice, and your style seems very laid back and cool. For some reason that comes across as “I bet he’s kind of quiet behind the scenes.”

Yeah, yeah. There are few people that I’m really, really silly around. You know those friends of yours that you’re authentically; you’re so comfortable around. People would probably be surprised how I act when I’m just with Jamar. Like with Jamar Neighbors. I’m probably more animated and silly when it’s just me and him. He’s a fun, silly, animated comic and in private I’m probably more animated then he is.

He brings that out of you.

Absolutely. Just really silly. We sing a lot, that type of thing, so that might be surprising. Me and my best friend Jamar, just hanging out.

Can you sing? Do you have a good voice?

You know, I think I do alright. I don’t think I’m that bad. I just did this show in LA “The Comedy Jam Show” Josh Adam Meyers does. It’s this fun show where you do a set and you sing a song. I sang publicaly for the first time since church a couple weeks ago. It was really fun, I sang a Stevie Wonder song.

Were you nervous singing in public? That’s a big one that makes people nervous.

Ummm… You’re gonna be mad at me. No, I don’t think I was nervous.

(Laughing)

You’re like, “Fuck you Jerrod! Like really? Really?”

Yeah, so nothing makes you nervous?

Nothing that… here’s the thing, it’s knowing your own truth, right? It’s the thing that you said, that I always love to say, knowing your own truth. It’s like “Oh I sing a lot, I know how it works,” so I can have fun with it. Things that I know for sure, like standup. I guess I’d be nervous if I had to go play baseball tomorrow. I might be a little nervous, because I don’t play baseball. For the most part, I just try to do the things I want to do.

Yeah, that’s inspiring. As I’ve been focusing on my own career, especially since I moved to LA about a year ago, I’m really focusing on being 100% honest and truthful.

Yeah, I’ll tell you this… where’d you move from?

Chicago.

Oh nice! Great town for comedy. Hannibal Buress’s place. The thing is, moving to LA or really anywhere, what comedians have to really understand, and not to sound like some sage that’s just giving advice, but what’s different now and why it’s more important to know yourself now is that there’s so many outlets. Comedians have more options than ever. You know why Eddie Murphy did 48 Hrs.? Because it was the only movie offered to him. He wasn’t fielding a million offers. That was the movie offered to him. But now, comedians have a lot of shows and things they can do, and film and television and the Internet. It’s easy to just feel like you have to do it all, but if it’s not what you do, then why lie? You can’t lie artistically. You shouldn’t lie artistically. If you really focus on things that you want to do and that you’re great at, it’s a more natural path and I think the lane clears better if you focus your energy.

That’s great, man. Okay, I’m gonna ask you one last question. If you were given an unlimited budget to do anything creative that you wanted, what would you do?

That’s great question. Oohh… I really love understanding people ideas and facilitating, getting that to the right outlet for them. So you know, I would finance a couple films, a couple televisions shows. Maybe a web series or web site for certain comics and you know, and just facilitate those things. That’s what I would do right now, be in production. One of my favorite roles is producing. I really love that.

I am sure that, among many other things, is in your future. I have no doubt about that.

Well, thank you.

Monique Madrid is a comedian/writer/actor living in Los Angeles.

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