“The Carmichael Show,” on its face, feels very familiar: the laugh track; the multi-cam format; the family dynamic. But after watching any of the 19 aired episodes, it’s immediately clear how special — how important — the discussion being had every week is, especially for broadcast television.
Speaking truths is what matters to co-creator and star Jerrod Carmichael. The 29-year-old stand-up comedian is taking the observations, life lessons and general dialogue from his stage routines, dropping it into a group of opinionated people and finding honest answers to questions many people are asking every day. Oh, and he’s putting those crucial conversations on national television, and making them damn funny to boot.
IndieWire recently spoke with Carmichael about how he’s approached the transition from stand-up to acting and what drives the show from point to point, but first we dig into the topic of the season: Emmys.
There’s a lot of TV out there. If you had to pitch this, specifically, to the Emmys voters out there, what would you say to kind of get their attention and make them watch?
I don’t know! The truest emotions, removed from any of the bullshit rhetoric that you would hear is like, “Look, man. Watch it and I hope you like it. […] Just know that I made something that doesn’t lie to you. Know that I made something that I believe is one of the smartest shows on television, and a thing that I think respects you as a viewer, and something that I care about and really love.”
It’s like an artist unveiling a painting. You take the curtain off and look. I hope you’re looking and if you don’t, I’m kind of removed from it, you know? Whether you can vote for the Emmys or not, I hope that you see the truth in what we’re making. That’s all I care about. It’s genuinely all I care about. I mean, I like this conversation that we’re having, but — inside of the voting booth or not — I only care that it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the people that watch it. That’s genuinely what I think about, and that’s what I think about when I go on stage, you know? That people recognize truth and it doesn’t insult intelligence. And that it contributes, in some way, to their lives. That’s a long answer, but it’s just the truth.
What’s your approach to acting, coming from stand-up? Louis CK doesn’t seem to care for it, Eddie Murphy fell in love with it, Tina Fey makes fun of herself as an actress…
Acting’s fun! There’s an element of acting in stand-up, and that’s what makes it so great and unique — that it’s such a one-man show. You’re recreating these moments that you had, these thoughts, all these things onstage. So I think it’s a good training ground for you. So I approach it with open arms; really excited to learn and figure it out and read as much as I can and try and learn as much as I can. And absorb! I have these great examples around me, so I love it.
Speaking to what you’ve learned over the course of Season 1 and now pretty far into Season 2, what have you picked up and what are your goals for your own performance on the “Carmichael Show?”
For me, with this show in particular, it’s really honest. I want to keep my performances as fluid as they can be and as honest as it can be to me, and kind of to not act. Which is kind of true of all acting, I think — trying to have everything feel as natural as possible. But especially with these words, a lot of it is thoughts and intentions from my real life. I want to keep it as honest as possible and keep the dialogue and movement as true to me as I possibly can. So it’s always about trying to go deeper with that.
This has a rhythm in the dialogues and reactions. Was that kind of back-and-forth new to you in acting? Was it a challenge?
So when I do stand-up, at my best, I’m having a conversation with the audience, and it’s not even necessarily that they’re talking back to me — although some nights they are. It’s more that I’m picking up on rhythm and clues, and it’s all jazz. You know what I mean? It’s a jazz hall. It’s a song, and there’s such a flow and a rhythm to it that it’s fun to listen. We remind ourselves to listen to each other. I listen to David [Alan Grier] every time we go out. And I know that’s a basic fundamental of acting, but it’s such a good reminder to have.
Do you and your writers think of an issue and then try to build a story around it, or does the story come first? What’s that process like for you?
For me, it’s really honest. I want the show to be as topical as my everyday life, or, really, as topical as our everyday lives are. When you think about your conversations that you have throughout the day, you may talk about gentrification with one friend and Bill Cosby with another friend. So in writing, I just mine from conversation. I mine from everyday experiences and things, and I’m really lucky to be around a lot of really smart people constantly.
If you just pick topics, you’ll run out of steam because passion is really what drives everything. So if we were like, “Oh, we want to talk about this, what’s interesting about this?” — we’re not in a good space yet. But if you find a theme that you already have feelings toward, or you find a topic that encompasses certain feelings that you’ve been having, it makes it better. It’s just better episodes.
[Editor’s Note: Indiewire’s Consider This campaign is an ongoing series meant to raise awareness for Emmy contenders our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This contenders may be underdogs, frontrunners or somewhere in between. More importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they’re nominated or not.]