Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Jermaine Fowler’s Give ‘Em Hell, Kid premieres tonight on Showtime, and the former co-star of truTV’s Friends of the People has emerged as a star in his own right. Fowler almost landed a sitcom on ABC’s fall schedule this year, then turning around and signing a brand-new deal with CBS that includes a second-chance at turning his life story into a primetime sitcom, plus this stand-up special on sister network Showtime. And the special itself is special.
Here is the introduction, courtesy of his grandmother, Dolores (for whom his production shingle is named):
Not only does his grandmother appear to help bring Fowler to the stage, but also, Fowler and his team cut away from the stand-up at several points — either to interview Jermaine’s twin brother, parents and other siblings, or to allow Jermaine to interview the friends who are subjects of his bits. There’s the white friend Fowler pranked as they drove by inciting a group of young black pedestrians with a racial epithet. There’s the other friend who got banned from their local library after one of their schemes went awry. And there’s the friend Fowler worked with at Quizno’s, which he jokingly and also seriously called his worst day job ever.
It’s fun to see how little Fowler exaggerates his onstage routines, as well as how much his father reminds me in looks, temperament and voice of Fowler’s Friends of the People co-star Lil Rel Howery. Fowler and I had fun discussing that on my podcast, Last Things First.
Weaving in the documentary element reminds me, too, of Kevin Hart’s seminal 2011 special, Laugh At My Pain — even if Hart already was playing arenas and returning home as a comedy champion, whereas Fowler is still at the nascent point in his career trajectory.
Which allows the pessimist to say of Give ‘Em Hell, Kid, well, it looks as though Fowler doesn’t have an hour of killer stand-up in him just yet. That must be why he incorporated all of the documentary interviews, right? To fill time?
As Fowler wrote on the caption to the video above, capturing the first minute of Give ‘Em Hell, Kid: “When I was 18 I knew where, when, and how I wanted to shoot my first comedy special. Since I started my career I’ve lost family members and friends to illnesses and murders, I’ve had friends who’ve been laid off jobs they’ve had for years, or even lost their parents I grew up with to illnesses. I’m sincerely happy to have these people be a part of the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. Spread love and positivity.”
So let’s be optimists, shall we?
Fowler is such a charmer, anyhow.
You can hear more about Fowler’s troublemaking ways, his earliest days in comedy in the D.C. scene, his many varied idols in stand-up, the lengths he went to open for Patrice O’Neal one weekend in Pittsburgh when Fowler was neither financially nor comedically prepared for the challenge, and how he’s sponged up advice wherever he can to make good — from John Mulaney to Patrice to Whoopi Goldberg to Keith Robinson. It’s all in the Jermaine Fowler episode of The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.
Here, two more teases from Showtime: