Back in 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO and all-around not-nice person Dan Cathy had some pretty disgusting things to say about same-sex marriage. The only problem? To quote Jerrod Carmichael, “Chick-fil-A’s sandwiches are so good.” Such is the type of uncomfortable, yet funny dichotomy that best describes the 27-year-old comedian’s philosophy of stand-up, which he says “comes from a really honest place.”
With an HBO comedy special, Love at the Store, directed by Spike Lee and a scene-stealing role in the 2014 film Neighbors, Carmichael is about to flex his comedic muscles even further in The Carmichael Show on NBC. Ahead of the new sitcom’s premiere on Wednesday, the North Carolina native geeked out with us over Chick-fil-A, stand-up, and the art of the discussion.
One of The Carmichael Show‘s first promos features a Seinfeld-esque synthesized bass track. It seemed oddly appropriate…
It seemed oddly appropriate or inappropriate?
That’s hilarious. They like to add music to those things. I will say, if it was up to me, it would just be a scene that played without any music, but they really like the music.
You worked on a pilot back in 2014 with NBC. Is this a continuation of that, or something entirely different?
It’s newer. It’s kind of both. I met NBC in 2011, we did a presentation in 2013, and then a pilot. This is a newer thing, a newer idea, but it’s still kind of a continuation… It honestly depends on which lawyer you talk to.
Seems like you got a boost from Neighbors and working with director Nicholas Stoller.
Yes! We had what I like to call one of the more “interesting” weeks ever. When NBC decided not to go with the presentation that I did, it was the same week that Neighbors came out, which was also the same week I shot this HBO comedy special, Love at the Store. Just this crazy week. That’s why I said it was a continuation because, afterwards, they were like, “Ah, we’ll keep figuring it out.” Then Nick Stoller came on board and helped out tremendously.
He’s executive producing, but he also wrote the first show, yes?
He helped write the first show, is the executive producer, and contributes. We actually wrote the pilot together.
You’re obviously front and center on camera, but you’re also working behind the camera in the writers’ room.
It’s so important to keep the vision all the way through and be involved with every step of it. Especially being a stand-up comedian, having that amount of control over my words is really important to me.
Has it been difficult to switch between the two?
They both use the same muscle, the same part of my brain — being a stand-up, and being a part of the show. My stand-up comes from a really honest place, and I tried to keep the show in that same zone. Not necessarily listening to the rules of sitcom or the rules of structure. Instead, it’s just my honest thoughts and feelings. When I was coming up with the show, I would have these great conversations with my family and friends, and there’d be these great lines that were said. I didn’t just want to go to the writers’ room, turn that part of my brain off, and write a sitcom with jokes. It was important for me to have these moments, and I tried to keep as many of them in the show as possible. That rule permeated and dictated my writing.
Comics with sitcoms often, but not always, fall into a routine where they just repeat what they’ve already said onstage in front of the camera. The show and Love at the Store share a few beats, but not many. Seems more like they both emphasize this honesty you’re so focused on.
I appreciate that. It means a lot. You don’t want to repeat something just for the sake of repeating it. We do squeeze in a couple of bits here and there, but what was really important for me was… when I write stand-up bits and those types of things, it most often comes from conversation. So, the show really is this extension, or a continuation, of that. My stand-up is just my part of a conversation. With the show, I’m able to put the other half of that in there. It’s the rebuttal, the full conversation.
It’s definitely fun to see the “other half.”
Listen, that genuinely means a lot. Thank you very much.
You’re welcome! I’ll put it to you this way — I’ve never actually seen Neighbors. I just know you from Love at the Store…
I like that!
I’m more of a stand-up comedy nerd, and I remember seeing a clip of you at the Laugh Factory back in 2012, discussing the backlash Chick-fil-A got for its stance on same-sex marriage. It’s all so terrible, but Chick-fil-A is so good.
That was fun to put out there because I had that thought the day before, and they recorded it at the Laugh Factory the next day and released it. I’d only said it then. That was just a new thing. Then they released it, and I was like, “Great! It’s out there for people who know and appreciate Chick-fil-A. They get it. They understand it. And people who don’t will be introduced to it.”
I mean, what their CEO said back in 2012 was horrible, but Chick-fil-A’s chicken sandwiches are so good!
It was a funny, genuine, moral dilemma that I was going through. It’s hard, it’s hard.
Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier play your parents in the show, and it looks like you were all having a lot of fun.
We really are, and I know that’s the thing said the most in interviews like this. But it really is this great, fun environment where we’re always making each other laugh and singing and dancing and listening to music. Right before action, a lot of times, we’re mid-conversation. We’re in the middle of joking or yelling at each other about something funny. It’s a fun energy.
Did the cast stick to your scripts? Is there any improv in the show, or is it a mix of the two?
People were pretty close to the script, actually. David and Loretta, they add their own elements in many other ways. They’re actors. These scripts came out very close to showtime, mind you. They stuck to the script a lot. They added a line here and there, but they really made it their own. Through their inflection, tones and timing.
Your parents in the show are named after your parents in real life. Have your parents seen the show?
They came to, which taping did they come to? They came to the pilot, and they came to the protest episode taping. I tried to send them some episodes, and they said, “No, we want to watch them with everybody else.” So they’ve seen a couple.
What did they think?
They like it! They’re really happy to have David and Loretta, especially, playing them. Or playing versions of them. As a household, we all grew up watching their movies and television shows, and always loved David and Loretta. So they went crazy over that. They liked the material. It’s pretty accurate to the principles of our home, which is discussions and arguments and conversations over everything. It was encouraged in our household.
The show is very timely, not just with big events like the Ferguson protests, but real-world events in general. Presented in a comedy, mind you, but along the lines of the honesty you mentioned. What kinds of response, if any, have you seen to that?
Most of the people who’ve seen it have really liked the way we handled it. I’ve seen a couple of things where people were justifiably afraid or terrified, because these kinds of topics aren’t punchlines to them. They all need to be handled with the integrity and the respect that they deserve, and it was important for me to make sure that humor came — not from those things — but from the situations and conversations around them. I think people haven’t seen this format tackle these types of subjects, but it’s so important because the American television audience is smarter than the content that’s being provided for them. Especially for sitcoms. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some amazing things on cable and the Internet. But, in sitcoms, it’s usually this watered down version of real life, and I did not want to do that show. I wanted to do a show that existed in the same world that people exist in. That’s the fight.
Are you working on anything else at the moment, or is everything about the show at this point?
It’s all the show, for the most part. I’m jumping back into stand-up. A lot of stand-up comedy now, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully I’ll record something else soon. Really, though, I just finished editing the sixth episode, and I’m ready for people to come and see it.
“The Carmichael Show” premieres Wednesday, August 26 at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. Here’s a preview…