Lil Rel Howery has a hard time listening. At first glance you’d assume it’s because he’s so engrossed in his mobile device, which the actor/comedian’s eyes have been squarely locked  on since exiting his Lyft. As we try to make our way across the street, Rel is too focused on his text exchange to heed this journalist’s repeated warnings about the cars barreling down the block. In fact, he has to be pulled back on the curb at least twice to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic.

Once safely upstairs and tucked away in a quiet breakout room at Complex’s Midtown Manhattan offices, it quickly becomes apparent that distractions aren’t the problem. Lil Rel just doesn’t make a habit of listening to anything that detracts from his own vision. So starting a conversation with a question about why a 38-year-old man, with a scene-stealing role in the 4x Oscar-nominated Get Out, would continue to bill himself as “Lil Rel” instead of something more “professional” immediately gets dismissed.

People been tellin’ me to do that but nah, man—I’m not,” Rel says flatly. “The brand is what it is. The only thing I did was just add my last name, and that was my plan the whole time anyway—to make it ‘Lil Rel Howery.’ It’s a big thing about just being yourself. I never switch from whatever I thought people wanted to see; I been doin’ me this whole time and I believe that if you do you, people will create things for you.”

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