Review: Jerrod Carmichael: “Love at the Store” on HBO

Jerrod Carmichael told me back in May that filming his first stand-up hour would be special to him, not only because Spike Lee would direct him but also because the location, The Comedy Store, was sentimental to him. Where Carmichael first broke through in Hollywood. Where he feels most at home in Hollywood.

“There’s an energy in that room, you can feel Richard Pryor in that room. You can feel Eddie Murphy, and all these things,” Carmichael told The Comic’s Comic. “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.”

In Jerrod Carmichael: Love at the Store, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on HBO, you see Carmichael in the darkened space of the Store’s “Original Room,” illuminated only by two bright fluorescent white lights from the ceiling, and the cursive pink neon names of comedians from the Store’s first glory days, the comedy boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Pryor and Robin Williams to one side of the stage. David Letterman, Garry Shandling and Andrew Dice Clay to the other. Where does Carmichael fit in among these stand-up stars? Where will he fit in?

But first, here are a couple of short clips to whet your appetite and give you a sense of Carmichael’s comedy:

These two bits are more innocuous than much of what Carmichael digs into for premises and punchlines over the course of 52 minutes.

While Katt Williams worked up a sweat with his frenetic kinetic energy in his 2014 HBO special, Priceless: Afterlife (also directed by Lee), Carmichael remained so at ease in this shining moment for his career that he could open with a crack about trying out new jokes, then late in the hour break open his notebook from his back pocket to prompt a couple of additional one-liners and thoughts.

Along the way, Carmichael retained a sense of joy and amusement at his own explorations of somewhat off-putting ideas — whether it’s how much money is “enough to beat the case” (and what that case might be), how he chastises his apartment building’s security guard for not stopping him when he wears a hoodie, or how artistic talent can compensate for moral failings in that artist. He since expanded on much of this in the hour I saw him performing later this summer at Montreal’s Just For Laughs.

The truth is, he explains, that we’re much more selfish than we’d like to have everyone else believe.

He illustrates that by asking you how you’d think about the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 if, that day, you’d also been diagnosed with herpes? He turns the question on himself with a joke about how Sept. 11, 2001, also was the day Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint” album dropped. “Events happen. Tragedies happen. Every day. And we all pretend to be mad. All pretend to be mad. You know why we pretend to be mad? Because we don’t want to appear like monsters in front of our friends. But these things don’t affect us. A lot of times, things don’t affect us,” Carmichael says.

Success at a young age certainly may have changed Carmichael.

He’s quick to joke about that reality himself. But he also already has thought about what it now means to be poor in America. Eating McDonald’s because you’re poor, he understands, even if his suggested slogans for McD’s aren’t quite as marketable to families as “I’m lovin’ it.” Voting Republican because you’re poor? That Carmichael just can’t quite understand. “Poor Republicans? That’s stupid as shit!”

His onstage hate for poor people who vote for the rich, or his “15 reasons why niggers won’t overcome” don’t pound the audience over the head as dramatically as Chris Rock’s “Niggas vs. Black People” routine from Rock’s iconic 1996 HBO special, Bring The Pain.

But Carmichael isn’t trying to reintroduce himself to audiences, as Rock was in his post-SNL career. Nor is he trying to provoke you, no matter that he tells The Comedy Store’s audience that “”your groans will only make me go deeper.”

No, Carmichael’s aim when he imagines a discussion between Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr., when he then imagines an elderly MLK as a commercial TV pitchman, when he suggests that Beyonce’s listeners are not the girls who run the world, or even when he alleges that “Middle America’s” problem with gay marriage would be eased if they saw less flamboyant gay parades and more “Tom Hanks in Philadelphia” — even in that joke, he tags it with a disclaimer, “That’s not me, that’s America.”

No. Carmichael’s aim, his hope, is to tell that same America that there’s a new young black voice in comedy. That he’s going to be a star. And that you can rest assured, as easily as he’s assured of himself onstage, that he’ll be welcomed into your living rooms for years to come.

As he told me, again, back in May, about placing so much importance on how his stand-up special looks and sounds:

“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. …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.”

Look again at the names in neon along the walls inside The Comedy Store. And stick around after the credits of Carmichael’s HBO special to see his name added to those walls.

Will Carmichael’s career take the paths of Williams and Pryor? Or will he be another Jimmy Walker or Yakov Smirnoff? Or an Argus Hamilton? Michael Keaton?

The Comedy Store’s Original Room walls bear the signatures of those who made us laugh most in that room, or of those who meant the most to the comedy club’s history and longevity itself.

Certainly, Carmichael already can add his name to that list. Where he goes from here is up to him and his ambitions.

Jerrod Carmichael: Love at the Store premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.


Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →

32 thoughts on “Review: Jerrod Carmichael: “Love at the Store” on HBO

  1. I saw him at Oddball, along with Hannibal Burress and Michael Che and thought there had never been so many great young black comics (add Wyatt Cenac).

    Jerrod and Joe Machi are the best pair of offbeat comics since Steven Wright and Mitch Hedburg.

  2. This HBO special was middle of the road. Jerrod’s a nice guy, but there were only a few original premises within the entire hour. He felt like a comic who was going out of his way to be edgy/shocking. The nonchalant, detached persona is a bit tired without a high level of cleverness in the material to coincide. The small slice of crowd work and spontaneity was open mic. I know this sounds like I am hating, but these are crutches you see someone who is struggling on stage use. (ie, talking to a woman after the show, and singling a person out of the audience who is laughing because they are the only one laughing).

    I think he did say some things that took guts and a strong conviction, but it lacked honesty behind it.

    The reviews on this special should be honest too: this was no breakout special.

    1. Totally agree with this. I kept hearing all this hype about Jerrod leading up to this special and was really excited to be blown away and laugh a lot. Five minutes in, ten minutes in, twenty, a half hour.. The realization finally creeps in..oh, this is really all he’s got. He’s about as deep and versatile in his comedy as your average radio shock jock.

      To say I was underwhelmed with this ‘new face of comedy, ‘ whose name is spoken in the article (mostly by Jerrod himself) alongside true genius like Pryor and Cosby, is putting it gently.

      His comedy was derivative and transparent I’m surprised he was even given an HBO special. It was so uninspired a performance it seemed better suited to Comedy Central. Maybe it was part of a package deal Spike Lee made along with Kat Williams Afterlife. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure it’s the last time he will appear on HBO

      1. i am totally on the same page as you Michael, you hit the nail right on the head. I have met him & he is the nicest guy in the world, so it’s hard to say he really didn’t bring it and have a break out set for his 1st HBO special, I understand having a muted low key style in your comedy, but this was reaaaally laid back, Like a open mike set with a comic who didn’t have the linear thought together. I have seen him and the hype was maybe too much to live up too.

        1. I’ve seen you Shang and you are funny! What sucks is I want to like Jerrod and he’s a great guy but it seems he is being given a red carpet welcome into the world of the big leagues, an HBO special, talks of a show etc 5 years into his career! All it’s doing is hurting him IMO. I know road comics who are twice as good but because they are seen is road comics they won’t get 1/2 the breaks. Shame that’s what it’s come to.

  3. Carmichael has a new voice, but I had difficulty understanding where his humor is really coming from. His low-key dry humored style is fine, but his material is not sharp enough to make it work. I have the feeling that he’s trying to get at something — to convey a unique perspective through a somewhat twisted logic (and I appreciate this twistedness) to get a deeper meaning across — but it misses the mark; it does not quite get there. I like his intelligent and I think he has an impressiveness, but his material lacks something.

  4. Seriously…that was 20 min of my life that I will never get back because I couldn’t even stand to watch for an hour…he is an insult to comedy…how dare you read notes on the stage like an amateur. ..I tried to support your bland jokes but couldn’t find the punchlines. .maybe he should’ve included them in his notes.. I’m not sure how good his head game is but I deserve some for having to put up with that awful display of bullshit…shame on whomever funded this nonsense. ..if you are going to throw away $ you might as well have donated to the 700 club…at least that would’ve been more entertaining to watch…Jerard find a new act on Venice Beach or something because you definitely don’t belong on tv…

  5. Oh and did I forget to mention that the only time this show should be aired is when it’s time to put my preschoolers to sleep…zzzzzzz!!!!!…

    1. I agree lazaire – I only made it 21:00 into the worse stand-up I have every seen from a so called professional. I honestly was shocked at the favorable reviews more than his lack of comedy.

  6. His lethargic mundane Quaalude delivery seemed to wear on the crowd that was there to see him, The extremely minimal response he got from a audience was proof of that. It was really really insulting to strong stand ups every where in the world to pull out notes during a HBO special, it was like he was doing a open mike. I guess HBO doesn’t care about actual laughter anymore or a comedian ripping a room anymore. it was a bad set, period & anyone that says it was ground breaking or on the level of Chris rock Or Richard Pryor, well they are fucking nuts & need to punched in the brain basket.

  7. It seemed very open mic’ish. The special was probably part of a development or package deal intended to make Carmichael more profitable.

  8. Not sure where the hype is with Jerrod. Maybe because he’s black and not going in the direction that a lot of black comics do ie the urban comics, I don’t know but I’m just not seeing it. It should’ve been a 20 minute Comedy Central special but instead it was an hour of 1/2 worked out bits. There are Road Comics with 20 years or more of experience who would’ve blown Carmichael off the stage. Maybe we’re in this era with less emphasis on the laughs and more on the abstract, weird, left of center directions that is catapulting these type of comics to the forefront. Like Shang said Jerrod is really a nice guy, but so are many other comics.

  9. Wow. So many people here who just don’t get it. Guy is incredibly funny. Nothing open mic or typical about it.

    1. I don’t think you get it. It’s an HBO special and it came off as unpolished, incomplete and not worthy of a full hour of attention. Had it been a Comedy Central 1/2 hour special many of us would be more forgiving. I mean really- there are comics out there IMO who are more deserving of an opportunity like that.

  10. I actually went online specifically to look for reviews of this guy primarily to confirm my thoughts after watching his special. The somewhat positive reviews left me puzzled but the feedback here pretty much substantiates my opinion which ultimately was, “why and how did this guy get an HBO special?” In his defense he’s a younger guy and perhaps this will serve as a lesson, resulting in Carmichael eventually learning how to hone his craft and not come onto a stage presenting rather lackluster material strung together with four, maybe five average one liners. Michael hit it spot on in his assessment. Jerrod provided one decent laugh and the rest of the time I found myself wondering where he was going in his set and intentionally going out of my way to find the humor. Crass and offbeat is funny when there’s some effort and quality demonstrated in the writing and the delivery. He’s clearly very confident on stage which is huge and I can see some wit and cleverness in his material, but it still came off quite unpolished and amateur. Like I said maybe he’s just a product of being too young to understand the significance of the moment but for all I can tell, it seems he shit the bed in a moment where he could’ve shined.

  11. I agree with the general theme of the comments on this board. His act was incredibly disappointing. It was slow, bland, and not sharp at all. I haven’t seen someone fall this flat in years. I couldn’t get through 30 minutes of this supposed new young talent. He had a golden opportunity and bombed. It was like a guy who finally made it to the big leagues and in his first critical game, goes 0 for 6 with 3 errors. What a disappointment… Oh, and I know how people always talk about how comics should be able to say what they want, including shocking material, but any reference to the Sandy Hook massacre is just uncalled for…

      1. Jerrod has no talent. He couldn’t shine the toe of one of the masters! Garbage!

  12. Just saw his special last night and was left perplexed. Googled his name today and was equally perplexed by the lack of genuine criticism amid the cacophony of promotion. So, thanks to this page where I saw some of my own reactions given voice.

    He is like a very low key Dave Chappell with a heavy dose of Larry David and not much life experience, so some of his musings remind me of those of some college-age libertarians I have known.

    This was my first experience with him and I could not distinguish whether his schtick is satirical or straight. Is he Dennis Miller or Stephen Colbert? A male version of Sarah Silverman? I couldn’t really laugh at the Sandy Hook joke or the Hitler joke whether it was meta-satirical or not. I had a few moments of wryness, like his line about not wanting to give back to his community of origin because the community once stole his bicycle. I think there is something worth exploring there, at least, what it feels like to pull yourself out of a bad neighborhood and really leave it behind.

    So, if leaving the audience a little challenged and perplexed was his goal, he met it. I then flipped over to a Dane Cook show and laughed at his simpleton jokes about text emojis for about 10 minutes.

  13. I laughed but, he made way too many old dull celebrity scandal references about Michael Jackson, Donald Sterling, Woody Allen, and R. Kelly that I felt like he could have talked about more of his own personal experiences. That would have interested me even more. His persona on stage looked really boring. He could have added to the “giving back to the community” joke where he said he hated the term giving back to the community because they stole his bike. That joke was insuffiecent. He reminds me of a really shitty Dave Chappelle.

  14. Wow, I am gonna have to disagree with the majority of the opinions here. I enjoyed Jerrod a lot! I remember watching him first in the movie “Neighbors” and he is honestly what shined in that movie. The movie was poorly written, but he was hilarious. I enjoy these timid, soft spoken comics. Comics like Louie and Tig Notaro. They talk about very controversial subjects and play devil’s advocate, not to get people laughing hysterically, but to skew and challenge people’s beliefs and personal views on things. The audience pauses, they do not know whether to laugh or protest, this uncomfortable atmosphere of the audience is what he thrives on, and it is truly what makes his set great. I enjoy Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, and sure their deliveries were great, but I like a calm comic, I like the awkward way he talks where it is like a kid trying to stand up for himself and say, “Well I kinda look at it like this and here is why.” It is different compared to the constant yelling that Rock and Chapelle do. He is smart and clever, and the fact that he brings out the notebook is GENIUS, sure if he were to pause and not find anything it would be weird and almost like “Oh my gosh this guy is stuck!.” However, he was not stuck, it was meant to be slow and he intended for that pause. I believe he did not even read the words off the notepad, I think he already knew what he was going to say and I think it was great. This glance at his notepad made the act that more uncomfortable and awkward, much like Notaro’s act that was considered to be one of the best acts in a long time. In the end I think Carmichael has something, and the fact that he has an almost cute, devilish smile, makes it that more great, his presence on stage is very confident and almost like he is lecturing or having a discussion with the people. But I don’t know, that is just my opinion, and I should probably watch more stand-up and go from that. Thanks for reading, don’t be too harsh on my opinions, however feel free to contest, that is why I put it up.

  15. I am a huge fan of many styles of comedy, but this “special” felt like a chore to watch all the way through. I have never been more disappointed in an hbo special in my life. There are 15 minute comedy segments on hbo in the middle of the night that consistently blow this “special” out of the water. Most of his material was spun off of other REAL COMICS’ material, but his delivery was so apathetic and unprofessional. I grew more and more frustrated the longer I watched the “special” and I hope that this momo is never handed such a rare opportunity again. I honestly don’t want this guy to ever go on stage again. The fact that this shmuck has a special and a comic such as Joey Diaz does not is an absolute slap in the face to real comedy fans. I’m absolutely disgusted by this guy’s lack of effort and spike lee’s manipulation to get him such a coveted opportunity.

  16. he jokes about the possibility of slapping a white woman and doing minimal jail time as a marker of success. i do not need this shit in my life.

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