Jerrod Carmichael freely admits that he isn’t going about finding TV success in the simplest way, but the stand-up comic turned co-creator and TV star has a bigger wish: He wants to start conversations. Not fires or controversies, conversations. In the first seven episodes of NBC’s The Carmichael Show (which officially returns on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET), the series has done exactly that with storylines centering on protesting, guns, and infidelity. On Sunday, Carmichael’s show will continue that trend by asking its viewers to consider whether you can separate the artist from their work when the family discusses their apprehension about going to a Bill Cosby concert. The episode is likely to piss off some viewers, but that wasn’t enough to deter Carmichael from talking about it. In our interview, he discusses fear in television, not coming off as preachy, pushing out episodes at a faster pace, and why his show is more conversational than topical.
What are some of the positives associated with doing the show in front of a live audience?
We have a cast that are all performers. That, either through stand-up or on Broadway or other outlets, are used to coming alive in front of an audience, so I think it really awakens the best part of my cast. Also, you get an immediate gauge on how people are receiving the content, you know? A lot of times, if you’re doing single cam, then there’s a bit of a delay. You have to kind of edit and screen before you can get a true response from people who aren’t involved, but we get this immediate response so you know how things are playing almost immediately.
Is there any frustration associated with tackling topical material without the ability to be on in an instant? Something like The Daily Show, obviously, they can be on it the same day or even South Park, which can get an episode up in about a week. How long does it take, usually, for an idea to get to a point where it’s shot and ready to air?
Yeah, there’s a bit of a gap right now. Hopefully, if we move forward, I would like for it to be closer. I would like more of a two-week period more than anything. Just in case it is something topical that we want to cover. I mean, that’s just the beauty of South Park. It’s just like piecing together an episode of things that are happening right now in culture, so we’re a bit further out than I’d like to be, but I wouldn’t want to do same week and I wouldn’t want to do live. But a little bit closer.
So there’s been no want to do a live episode at some point?
I mean, if it feels right. I wouldn’t do it for the novelty of it. I mean, we want to piece together the best show possible and I think there are benefits in editing and benefits in getting takes and having alts and piecing together certain things, but if it made sense. Listen, I definitely have a cast who are capable of it and that would be excited to do it, but I would only do it if it made sense.
What, if anything, has changed going into season two?
I think it’s just a bit more comfort. A bit deeper in the exploration of things. Even more comfortable, just like anything else, where you get like really excited about … For instance, we all knew each other and all love each other, so now, it’s even more so. I think the relationships grow and I think that translates on camera.
Is there a possibility in the future of seeing your character’s work situation and introducing new characters?
Yeah. It’s like we try and make it as organic as possible. We wouldn’t [do it] to show the office just for the sake of that’s what you do, you know? There’s a chance for a lot of things. If it feels right and if I can think of an exciting perspective or story of what we could gain from that, then absolutely. I would love to show Jerrod’s work, whatever that is.
Obviously, there’s always that line between smartly tackling an issue and seeming preachy. I don’t think The Carmichael Show has crossed that line, but is that a conscious concern?
Yeah. We want to make sure that the perspective is as true as possible and that it reflects those topics in a real life conversation. You’re not preachy in everyday conversation. You’re analytical and you have an opinion. You have a point of view and you express that. You argue that, but I think it’s not the intention for any episode to have a lesson or a moral or something to gain from it from that perspective. My intention is to explore. My intention is to explore topics or explore something and to come at it from all angles, so I think it’s as preachy as The McLaughlin Group. You know what I mean?
Yes. I forgot that was still on.
Yeah, yeah. Oh, come on. You can’t forget about John McLaughlin!
Guys gotta be like 150 years old.
Why is it such a novelty for a sitcom to actually tackle serious issues now? Because, obviously, there’s a long history of shows doing that, but it seems like it kind of stopped for a long period and The Carmichael Show is bringing it back. Why is it so rare?
Because of fear.
Look, it is much easier to attract advertisers if I did not do an episode around the topics that we choose.
Television used to be radio performers, vaudeville performers, actors, and the writers that came to the media and broadcast networks. Now, it’s people who come from television. It’s kind of feeding off of itself, so the further removed from art it gets, the further removed from truth it gets. I think that we’re creating or writing, I’m trying to use my skill as a stand-up and as a performer first before letting that layer of fear keep us from talking about anything real.
Now that level of fear, I would imagine it’s been formed somewhat by public opinion and just the reaction to these episodes. You have the Cosby episode coming out. Obviously, the reaction is going to be mixed. There are going to be people that think…
But that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing.
Yeah. No, absolutely it is. I just wonder if you have to consider that reaction when you’re thinking of ideas. Does that make certain topics off limits? The fact that there might be a negative public response?
No, because we wouldn’t bring up a thing for shock value. As a comedian, when I get on stage, I only talk about a topic that I have perspective on because, right or wrong, it’s your perspective. You know what I mean?
If you have perspective, genuine perspective, then no. There’s no topic that’s not… I mean, let’s be honest. The things that we cover, could we get more? I mean, I think we’ve kind of already touched on the things that people would be most afraid of. No, I can’t really think of anything that people would be more afraid of than kind of what we’ve started covering already.
That’s a good point.
So, yeah, nothing is off. We wouldn’t inhibit ourselves out of fear of backlash.
Is there anything that you’ve pitched to the network that hasn’t been able to get off the ground or have they been completely supportive of every idea at this point?
I mean, they’re as supportive as a corporation knows how to be. It’s support with a bureaucracy of caution, but they’ve been nice and there are champions within the system that I think are really great. I try and appeal for, even to the network, realizing that it hopefully is with a group of people who are excited to work in television and in turn appeal to that. To go beyond the executive nature of the job and just think about the fact that they’re about good television, you know? I think even as much as the Cosby episode produced a wave of caution amongst lawyers, I think amongst creative executives, it appeals to why they got into the business in the first place.
If you can, tell me a little bit about why you wanted to do an episode that focused on the Bill Cosby question — about separating the artist from the man? Why you wanted to tackle that topic.
The topic itself is because, I mean, there isn’t an American that hasn’t talked about it in some sense with their families, with their friends, with their coworkers, so it’s just the proof of its existence in culture and its existence in all of our lives and all of our conversations. It was unavoidable. In perspective, it reflects … I do a bit in a stand-up special that I did a couple years ago. It was a bit about talent versus morals and that it’s just a true perspective that I have on trying to separate the two. It was kind of a marriage of those two things in perspective in the topic.
Is what you said on the show the same way that you feel now about Cosby?
Yeah. I mean, I think the difficulty in separating the two is such a true emotion. It’s such a real thing that I think that maybe you didn’t go through it with Bill Cosby. Maybe you went through it with Michael Jackson or maybe you went through it with Woody Allen or maybe you went through it with, you know, pick a name. I think it’s just a true perspective and it is hard, you know?
Out of curiosity, if you got a call from his people and he wanted to be on an episode, would you bring him aboard for an episode?
If I got a call … I mean, listen, we’re open to anything. I mean, if it made sense. Once again, not just to put him on because that’s crazy! This isn’t you know, wrestling, but if it made sense and he was willing to come on and do something that would honestly portray the reality of his existence on there, then, yeah. I mean, why he would forgo Barbara Walters for us? I don’t know, but you created that world. Not me.
Is there going to be a Donald Trump episode at some point?
To start off with the Donald Trump of it all, it’s a tiny thing. I mean, obviously, I have perspective on it. We all have perspective on it. We all have a feeling. A fear, and excitement, a weird combination of both.
Fear and also more fear.
I would like to find it. It should make sense. If there’s a way to find it. I wouldn’t want to do it just because it’s topical but because I do think that Donald Trump’s existence in this election really holds a mirror up to America in a weird sense, so if we found a way in then we might talk about it. But, you know, with politicians, same thing as celebrities, same thing with events, same thing with these things we talk about. It’s like, if it affects everyday life, if it’s a thing that you discuss with your friends and family, then there is a chance we’ll discuss it on the show.
Do you feel like the show has — since it’s a more topical show — a responsibility almost like a Saturday Night Live or like a Daily Show to inform people about these things and have a stance with regard to politics?
I mean, we just have a responsibility to reality It’s the same thing when I do stand-up, I don’t search the newspapers for a thing to talk about, but if my friends and I are talking about a thing, then that will make it’s way into my stand-up. It’s the same thing with the show, where it’s like it’s not scouring the papers and looking for our next topic. I honestly don’t even know if … I wouldn’t describe myself as topical. I would describe it as conversational and sometimes conversation is topical, but not always.