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Jerrod Carmichael on coming out, his movie about depression and pandemic survival

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Q: What are your thoughts, though, on the safety of performing stand-up right now in light of the Oscars slap and the recent Chappelle attack?

A: I think a lot of people are making the decision to perform their anger, which is dangerous and unfortunate. Because, to me, that's no different than the assassinations of the '60s. Not to be overdramatic, but it leads to such things, and those thought patterns are dangerous. I don't like those thoughts, I don't like the thoughts that beget those thoughts.

For the Dave thing, it was a rapper that wanted some attention. But that's what I'm saying about the danger of that thought process, right? Because we mock the ass-whooping, but it's about the intention. John Wayne Gacy or the Vegas shooter, people who are on these crazy suicide missions, don't mind the attention.

I don't reward the dude that did that to Dave, I don't reward Will Smith for that. If you're mad and you want to box, go box.

Q: To what extent do you think the violence of the moment is informed by the climate of extreme political correctness in the wake of cancel culture?

A: People instinctively will rebel. We create team sports. One thing contributes to the other. It's just performing. It's performing loyalty for your team. If you tell me I can't say this, I'll say it. Tell me I shouldn't do this...

For myself, I'm trying to move past that. My consequences and my stakes are all personal now. So it's like, my high-wire act is me working through my own s—.

Q: Did you expect the conversation about the slap to continue for so long?

A: [Laughs] Were you tired? I got into real arguments. My friend Avery, she felt strongly about [Will] defending Black women. I'm arguing from the perspective of a performer. It was spirited for a few days like Monday, Tuesday, even Wednesday. It was exciting — and then at some point, it was like, I'm not f—ing straining a friendship over this, it's not that deep. So ultimately, like a lot of things that aren't Ukraine or whatever the f— is actually pressing, it's like, who cares?

Q: How do you feel the news of your coming out has been received?

A: I felt a lot of love in the room, in the special. And I'm happy the friends that I have ... they've meant a lot to me. I'm not the first gay man with a chosen family, but yeah, I get it.

Q: How did you feel after filming the show? Was it cathartic?

A: Me and Bo and Lorene and Eli had Prince Street Pizza. There's one in L.A. and one in New York. And we tried the Little Prince and it's this square pizza: thick crust, sauce, cheese, more sauce. So good, so thick and rich. It was the best pizza I've ever had in my whole life. That's how I felt immediately after taping that night. It was beautiful.

And then Bo got COVID and we just had an "Odd Couple" [situation] the whole week.

Q: What made Bo right to direct the special?

A: There's two ways to talk about Bo. As a comedian or writer or director, he's incredibly thoughtful. He's one of the few artists of our time that I believe is of our time, that embraces modernity and embraces the current feeling in such a truthful way. I think he looks for truth in his work and within himself and it can't be said enough that he's a genius. I truly believe that to the fullest extent of the word. That's kind of why he directed, but it's really because he was there for me as a friend.

I needed him a lot over the past couple years and he has been there and he's listened to me go through all of it. And it is not easy when a man in his early 30s is going through puberty. A man who works in words for living and has got a lot to say and has a lot of feelings. He's been an amazing friend and just held my hand through a lot of it.

 

And taping was very easy because we've obviously had a lot of creative conversations leading up to it and during it — but while doing it, while performing, my best friend is there, you know what I mean? That gave me [the space to have a] no-think trust fall, which I think can make some great art. The director doesn't have to be your best friend, but I think that symbiotic trust just breeds creative work. You can tell when an actor trusts the director or when they're fighting it. You can see it. Fear shows on camera. I was just with someone that made me feel fearless, even just for a couple moments in New York. [Laughs].

Q: How did you come to the decision to come out in this moment in time? Was it a response to reflecting on the men in your family or did that come after?

A: I felt tired of lying. It just became too much lies. Lies beget lies. Secrets feel gross and once you're aware of it, it's just a burden. Sin is its own punishment. The punishment for lying is that you're a liar. It's its own hell and I just grew tired of it.

And I'm very thankful that I was in an environment and a place where I felt safe, because I don't know if I would have come out in North Carolina. I don't see the route to that. Perhaps I would have, and things are changing, but I don't know if I could have been that close to my family and this close to myself. I don't know if those two things could exist. I mean, I wonder.

Q: Do you have a preshow ritual?

A: A lot of this hour came together free associatively. I was very into clear thoughts, so staying clear. I listened to Harold Budd's "Rosetti Noise/Chrystal Garden and a Coda" over and over. It's all I listened to. Airplane mode probably for hours before the show. Sometimes coffee. No weed. No one backstage.

I don't like people backstage because it makes me angry because I then become accommodating. I have to become fake and my voice changes and then I have to undo that before I go on stage. And it's no one's fault but I just need to be left alone. I have one agent who's a f—ing lunatic, he only knows how to hit me [up] and to stop by at the wrong time. Love him, well-intentioned guy, but I truly want to kill him.

Q: You never drink or smoke onstage or before a show?

A: I may have, on the day, a little bit to drink. Even backstage some shows, maybe a little bit to loosen up. I don't think it necessarily makes me better. A lot of shows — and especially those in which I am determined to work through something — no. But everything should have a purpose, you know what I mean? I don't think there's anything wrong with it. You just shouldn't lose yourself in it. I've definitely gone too far before and I've been on stage slurring and embarrassing myself and I would like to never do that again.

Q: What was it like living in New York when the pandemic hit?

A: I had just moved to New York. February 2020, just in time. I actually kind of miss dystopian New York. I think that's when I really fell in love with it. It was just empty, cold, Gotham, desolate. A trash bag blows in the wind in an alleyway — kind of like really cool, cinematic. That was nice. If you think you love Times Square, I highly recommend Times Square empty. Times Square empty, I dare say, is the only way to see it.

Q: What borough do you live in?

A: Manhattan, like a privileged f—. I'm in the West Village. Harlem has some incredible places, actually, but then I don't know if I'm contributing to the problem or not. Like is it gentrification if I'm from the hood and made it? I don't know. What are the rules? Who knows what the rules of gentrification are? So I live in lower Manhattan, that only gentrified the Irish in like the early 1900s [laughs]. That's some gentrification we can live with.

Q: Did you pick up any pandemic hobbies?

A: You know, it's funny. I'm thinking of what was the pandemic to me? It was deliveries from the Polo Bar, Ralph Lauren had this beautiful green packaging. It was hookups. It was me playing "Dragonball Durag" by Thundercat for hookups. It was popcorn. It was long walks in the cold, cold city. That's pretty much it.

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