Can I keep it a buck with you for a minute? When word came down that I would be able to talk to Jerrod Carmichael—the comedian and actor who not only has his own brilliant sitcom on NBC (The Carmichael Show), but has been in everything from the first two Neighbors movies to the upcoming fifth installment of Transformers—about his new HBO stand-up special, 8, I didn't know how to react. I get that you have to separate the "stand-up" persona from the person, but who knows what a convo with Carmichael could turn into. If I say the wrong thing, will he go in on me with one of his pointed, thorough takedowns of my question? Would he shut me down like he does the hecklers at his shows?
I was being too paranoid. You have to forgive me, though; I approach this as a person who's been enamored with the swift rise of his NBC sitcom, a show that finds every conceivable angle to approach juicy topics and current events. We're talking about a guy who openly discussed the quandary of attending a Bill Cosby show post-sex assault scandal and dedicated an entire episode about the pros and cons of using Plan B. With 8, his second stand-up special for HBO, there was a story that came out of the second taping of the special, where Carmichael was said to have “spoke at such a slow pace, laboring and deliberating over each word as if his life depended on it.” The way it was written, you'd think he was falling off, or at the very least displaying some kind of performance anxiety...but then I watched the special.
Performed live at the Masonic Hall in New York City back in December, Carmichael's hour is much more intimate than most of the disposable comedy specials I've seen. It's one of those things where, when stand-up is really on point, it goes from being joke after joke after joke and can be seen as true performance art. There's definitely a slower, disjointed pace and delivery, which is a hallmark of Carmichael's style, but you get the feeling that Carmichael's more searching for a way to unearth these truths—many of which can be hard pills to swallow—to try to gain a better understanding of life, or at least how he sees life.
On a random afternoon, Carmichael took some time from his writer's room to hop on the phone with me. We ended up talking about the reasons behind shooting at the Masonic Hall, how he deals with hecklers, where season three of The Carmichael Show is at, and what an artist's job really is.
I actually just finished watching 8 not too long ago, and in terms of comedians that I rock with right now, it seems like you definitely occupy a really interesting space, and I feel like that was reflected in the way the visuals for 8, with the tight angles and close-ups. Was that something that you guys planned out beforehand where you wanted to have a certain aesthetic?
We went in with the intention of this one being personal, invasive, like a character study. I don't look at them as stand-up specials; I really do look at them as almost like these documentaries. Bo [Burnham, director of 8] and I discussed for a year what the look and feel and tone [should be like], we talked about this for a long time [and] mapped it out. I think we really captured what we were going for.
Was the choice of having it shot at the Masonic Hall deliberate? Was there some reason why you chose that venue for the special?
It's just a place that lended itself to dialogue. It was the intention behind choosing the venue, opening up something that is kind of exclusive but filming in a place that you typically wouldn't see cameras and having dialogue, in that place, it represents all the material and the intention. It really is just this exploration of characters, how we looked at it.
I'm glad you brought up the interaction that you have with the crowd. There were a couple of key moments where you made sure that if someone challenged you...there's actually a deeper conversation that you're wanting to have by bringing up a lot of these topics. There was a really good interaction with a woman in the audience, I believe it was up in the balcony section, do you plan [certain responses for these situations] or is that just like off the cuff?
No, that's just a real moment that happens. It's usually just open and we recorded this for your living rooms, we recorded it for your laptop, for the airplane or wherever people watch it, but also very present in the room. If something happens at all then we respond to it.
Do you get a lot of angry hecklers and how do you deal with those types of people?
I talked to them the way that I'm having a conversation with someone, speaking about something honest and real, then people get angry. People should get angry at certain things, people should have feelings toward things, I don't say things for the sake of saying them, I don't say things for shock. It has an intention behind it. When people feel things that's great. The worst thing you could do is leave feeling nothing, feeling numb to it and just like, "Yeah, he said stuff but it wasn't like..." Good, disagree.
The artist's job is to put up some sort of explanation or letting the art itself be an explanation to know perspectives and where they are in the moment. It's not necessary for you to agree or disagree; if you go to a museum you look at a painting, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing with it, it's about feeling. If an artist paints a mood and you're not in that mood, or the artist has a perspective and you don't agree with the perspective, you could still appreciate the art. I think that's what stand-up can be. It's supposed to be divisive, it's supposed to spark an emotion and a feeling, and what I want to contribute and what I hope the stand-up contributes to is knowing that. I don't want to be a court jester to you for an hour, that's not why I got into it. I don't think that's how I could be most useful.
A large chunk of 8's second half of the special is you dealing with your issues of relationships. You're almost 30; with so many views on love and relationships, do you ever plan on getting married or having kids?
I struggle with that stuff. I struggle with the emotion of it, I struggle with the rules of it, I struggle with it as an institution, I struggle with the thought of children and legacy, and a lot of things that I think a lot of guys and women my age struggle with. I'm just really open and honest about it. The fun thing is playing these struggles out in front of an audience. So maybe.Who knows?
It could happen one of these days.
Yeah, I was just telling my friend last night isn't it crazy that you could miss out on the love of your life by not going to the grocery store. Like, just by not going to the grocery store one day I may have missed my wife.
This special was filmed back in December, about a month or so after Trump got elected. I don't want to say I was surprised, but it was interesting to see that there was only one key sequence of Trump jokes in there. Do you ever feel like you should be adding more Trump material because that's the conversation everybody is having right now, or is that something that you're going to delve into more with the third season of The Carmichael Show?
Well, I just think about perspective. I just try and find what I'm feeling and sort of acknowledge what I'm feeling. Look, with Trump, it's like, well what is the perspective? It's like, you agree or you disagree. I mean, the guy writes his own punchlines, so what are you supposed to say? It's not nuanced enough to just lend yourself to the discourse that Trump is bad. And it would be just disingenuous to take this Devil's Advocate approach of supporting any policy. So it's fine, it takes time and true perspective. I'm curious as to what everyone is talking about but I just don't want to say what everyone else is saying.
Have you thought about anything that you'd want to tackle on the show that would be either Trump-related or what's going on in "Trump's America" now or is that something that's not even on your radar yet?
I actually had a conversation about it last night with a friend. Just gauging how we felt and where we are, and there are a couple ideas that I have, more reflected on us as a culture and society and how we are responding to it. [We're] developing ideas, but again it is really early on and you hope things work out, but it is really early.
Speaking of the show, is there any word on when season three would air or how long you guys were in the process of getting the show to air?
We're still figuring that out. Just kind of creating it. I don't know, I just allow it to be, hopefully as timeless as it can be. We like to talk about a lot of things happening in the world, but I think this season is a bit more timeless and a bit more personal as well. I don't know.
We're in constant discussion about what the plan to roll out will be, I think with the network there's a lot to figure out. The network is still, as a whole, definitely champions [the show], I think [they are] still [trying to] understand what the show is and what its impact can be. There's a lot of conversation happening on that end. I'm just really happy with what we're making. I'm just so excited by it, even if you have to come to my living room to watch it this year.
Maybe you can pull a Louis C.K. and just sell it on your own.
Just what, hit the streets?
That'd be amazing. Just hit the streets have a couple DVD and flash drives, you can only buy them in barber shops. Actually, that would be pretty cool, "Carmichael Show season three, only available at your local barber, beauty salon..."
Or at the very least, have a premiere party at the barbershop.
Oh yeah. That's actually not a bad idea.