Jerrod Carmichael might be the 10th-billed actor in the new movie, Neighbors — 11th if you count both of the babies playing the infant child of Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in what already is the funniest film of 2014.
He’s certainly the least recognizable of the four main fraternity brothers plaguing the couple next door (look at him laughing it up in a photo session with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco and Zac Efron). But he’s likely the most memorable of the four. Even despite Efron’s abs.
You’ll watch his scenes with his frat brothers, or a delightful tangent of a scene between him and Hannibal Buress as a police officer, and be struck by how flat-out-funny Carmichael is.
You’ll be going, who is that guy who played Garf? Garf?!
You’ll soon be seeing a lot more of Carmichael.
He has a pilot presentation under consideration with NBC for a sitcom pickup. Last night, he taped his first HBO stand-up comedy special at The Comedy Store on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, directed by Spike Lee.
Carmichael started the biggest week of his young life and career running stand-up sets Sunday night at The Comedy Cellar in New York City. In between, he sat at a table with Lee exchanging notes upstairs at the Olive Tree Cafe.
Afterward, Carmichael sat down with The Comic’s Comic.
His Neighbors co-star, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, also served as his comedy running buddy over the weekend, laughing from the audience during his shows around NYC and also helping guide him through the press junkets and red carpets. I wrote about his big breakout role as McLovin in 2007’s Superbad. What was Carmichael doing back then? “Just in North Carolina, just not doing really anything,” he told me. “Not doing much of anything. Just graduated from high school…”
So not already doing comedy like this kid (pointing to Pete Davidson, sitting next to Carmichael)?! “This guy. What year did you start?”
See, he started at 16.
Carmichael: “What year?”
Carmichael: “OK. Yeah, I wasn’t already doing comedy. I was working at a shoe store. I was helping friends sell weed.”
Davidson: “The nicest weed dealer ever!”
Carmichael: “You know, just kind of, bouncing around.”
When did you move to L.A.? “2008. Yeah, 2008. Just really started getting into comedy then. Yeah, went up – the first place I went up in L.A. was The Comedy Store.”
And that’s where you’re filming your HBO special this week. Did you pick L.A. over New York City because you wanted the whole TV/movie/Hollywood experience, filming movies with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, and not just for the stand-up? “I picked Los Angeles over New York because of family here (in NYC). It seemed more difficult to move to L.A., so I chose L.A. If nothing else, I could move home in with my Aunt Beverly in New York, stay on the couch and do comedy. But I didn’t know a single person in Los Angeles so I decided to move there first.”
Was that always part of the plan, though? To get cast in movies like this and pitch your own sitcom to the networks, like you’ve done this past year? “I’ve always loved film and television. I ignored a lot of it early on because it was important to me, if you’re going to do something, you want to try and be great at it. You know. And you want to be the best that you can possibly be and the best doing it. So I focused a lot of my – all of my energy and attention on just doing stand-up comedy. So I didn’t want to do television. And then, you couple that with also some issues I have with how stand-up is presented – which is the art form that I hold very dear. And I think it’s the purist art form and I’ve loved it so much that I didn’t like the way we were being presented on television, so I didn’t do stand-up on television. I ignored a lot of those things until I could create opportunities that were better.”
I ignored a lot of those things until I could create opportunities that were better.
“But I always wanted to do film, and I always wanted to do television, and stuff like that. But it’s a need for me to have a hand in the creation of my own outlets.”
How were you able to do that from the start, though? How did you get into The Comedy Store, for instance?
“Open mic! First time I went up at The Comedy Store was in the summer, it was in August, I went up first at the open mic – there were no audience members there. Only comics in the back. I talked way too fast. I got no laughs. You know what I mean? Then for some reason just doing it again, and again, and again. Every spot. And then it just evolves. Then people start respecting your work, and more opportunities come.”
Is Tommy still the guy to go through?
“Yeah, Tommy is still there. He’s still the talent coordinator there.”
So how long did it take to impress him?
“I was passed at The Store two years after starting at The Store. So, it was a couple of years. Look, I know it’s fast for a lot of clubs – it was pretty fast, just for the basics of starting comedy and evolving to that. But it was a couple of years.”
And now you’ve got the HBO special filming Wednesday there with Spike Lee.
How did you hook up with Spike Lee? “I reached out to him.” You did. “Once again, look. Stand-up is so important. People, certain outlets don’t really preserve the amount of integrity in like a special I think should have. So it was important for me to have a special and an outlet and a director and a vision that was beautiful. So I reached out to Spike – who has a distinctive view – and I reached out and sent material, and he responded very well to it. And he was excited to be part of the project.”
So how did you reach out exactly? Person to person? Snail mail? Email? “We went through a couple of co-producers that I have, and I have another producer that I have on another project that I’m working on, that knows his work…so I had a mutual guy that we know, reach out and be a liaison for us. So yeah. I just sent him material and he responded well. A couple of mornings later I got a call from a Brooklyn number. You know. And it was Spike.”
So you had people to vouch for you, though? “We made him an argument that he couldn’t refuse,” he says, half-jokingly.
Did you make him a pitch video? “No, no. We sent him material. We just were very honest about what it was and what the intentions were, and so…”
Since your vision is important to you, how important was it to have Spike Lee specifically present and introduce your stand-up to viewing audiences? “Spike is very important. I think Spike – I grew up watching his films. Michael Che and I were just singing songs from School Daze, probably 48 hours ago (Friday night). I’ve always loved his work. For me, it was just having a director that had a certain amount of integrity. Spike just fit that description. You know what I’m saying? He fit that description of someone with a clear vision and a distinct style, who really captures the essence of what something is. I was really more inspired by his documentaries than anything. His work with Kobe, with Hurricane Katrina, with Mike Tyson. And so, it was important for me to have that, so I reached out.”
And, of course, Spike Lee also directed The Original Kings of Comedy. “He did Kings of Comedy, too! Yeah. That was in theaters! Which people don’t – I know Kevin Hart did it recently, but very few comics do it in theaters. But there are very few comics who have a true vision behind it, and it looks really beautiful. And that was most important to me.”
Where did that importance of beauty and vision come from for you? That idea… “Because the specials that I loved and remembered. My mother introduced me to Bill Cosby: Himself. My father introduced me to Richard Pryor: Live in Concert. And these things had these beautiful shots. They looked great. And you knew that you were watching an artist. You knew you were watching someone who commanded the room and deserved the respect of an audience. And I wanted that. It was important for me – presentation is everything. Look. I’ve seen great comics have specials that don’t serve them well. So Bill Cosby – it was an episode of The Cosby Show. He was talking to a guy that wanted to marry his daughter. She just threw it on him that she was engaged, just out of nowhere. He was at dinner with the guy and he said, ‘Imagine your favorite meal. Imagine if I get a porterhouse steak, and I serve it up with all the sides that you love, and right before I serve it to you I put it on a garbage-can lid. And I give it to you. You don’t want to eat that, do you?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s how you were introduced to us, on a trash-can lid.’ And that’s how some amazing stand-up comedy is presented to the world, on this trash-can lid. It’s just like, I don’t want to sound like I’m just rebelling. It’s these brilliant minds. And I was more frustrated with the outlet. The comics were fine. They were great. It was just the outlet didn’t serve them well. I think it’s important for us as stand-ups to take control and have a vision behind what we do and the outlet.”
So what about the Original Room at the Store speaks to your vision for this special? “Well, of course, it’s sentimental to me. An important first in my life. Also, just I love that room. We’re at The Comedy Cellar now, and I’m in love with this room. I think it’s one of the greatest rooms for comedy ever. Compared to theaters. Compared to anything. There’s a reason Chris Rock comes back here, Louis C.K. comes back here, these people that don’t have to – they live very comfortably and they do – but The Comedy Store is that for me. There’s an energy in that room, you can feel Richard Pryor in that room. You can feel Eddie Murphy, and all these things. There’s a special energy there; a special vibe. So it’s just like here. Here. It’ll be the first special, hopefully shot there. It just felt right. A natural circle, for my special to be there.”
Are you ready for your career to take off now with the HBO special and Neighbors and whatever else may come? “Well, hopefully. Hopefully! Thank you very much. It was a lot of fun, shooting this thing. Made great friends of mine. Chris Mintz is downstairs right now. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is downstairs. He loves the Cellar as much as I do. It was a lot of fun. Look. Most importantly I just hope people enjoy the film, and I hope it does well. If people enjoy me in it, then it’s a blessing.”
Do you hope more movie and TV scripts pile in? “That’s not a huge concern for me.”
Is it more important to get a recurring character on Davidson’s FOX sitcom (pilot), Sober Companion? I joke. Hahaha. “This guy! I’m excited to see that.”
“No. I don’t care about all this, whatever, any offers that come from it. If something great comes across, then hopefully, we’ll do that, too. If not? The beauty of being a stand-up is I write. I create my own opportunities for things. But look. If something cool comes across and makes sense, I’ll do it!”