“The Carmichael Show” Returns With New Episodes About The N-Word, Assisted Suicide And Public Shootings
When BOSSIP dropped in on the cast of “The Carmichael Show” this February, the cast had only shot four episodes, NBC had yet to dole out a premiere date, the show’s star and creator Jerrod Carmichael still hadn’t premiered his HBO comedy special and audiences hadn’t started breaking records to experience co-star Rel Howery in his epic supporting role in “Get Out.” Fast forward a few months and the timing couldn’t be more perfect for the cast who are riding a wave of successes.
The series, which fans of the show will be quick to tell you, is seriously underrated, likely because the first two seasons aired during a tricky timeslot and, until this Spring, earlier seasons of the show weren’t available on Netflix. Jerrod Carmichael stars as one of two sons born into a tight-knit family in North Carolina. Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier play Jerrod’s working class parents Cynthia and Joe. Lil Rel Howery plays Jerrod’s brother Bobby and Tiffany Haddish plays his not-so-estranged that she’s not popping up all the damn time wife Nekeisha. The odd woman out is Maxine, Jerrod’s live-in girlfriend, played by Amber Stevens West, whose liberal, progressive, biracial, upper-middle class background leaves plenty of room for things to get pretty interesting around the dinner table.
“She’s the one real outsider of the family,” Amber Stevens West says to BOSSIP of her character. “Maxine sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s an honest perspective. I know a lot of people who feel like that when they go into their boyfriend or girlfriend’s family. It’s also a perspective that no one else shares who is on the show so it’s important that she shares whatever she thinks about it too.”
It sounds like the perfect setup for a family comedy, but “The Carmichael Show” isn’t formulaic in the least.
“This is not a mindless show,” Stevens West tells BOSSIP during our set visit.
Indeed it’s not. Almost immediately on arrival, we learn that this season will include episodes about the N-word, gun issues and assisted suicide. But despite the serious topics, Carmichael is positively jovial about the new season.
“We’re coming in fun,” Carmichael promises BOSSIP. “This is going to be fun. We have a lot of fun here. It’s still from real life, still from a real perspective, still for the sake of challenging. It’s been fun. They’re great and they are such an amazing cast and they’re hopefully having fun. It’s not for the sake of shock with the intention of saying something and having a perspective, we’re just trying to find a fresh, honest way into any topic. We got to say ni**a like six times a couple weeks ago and that was my favorite.”
If you think that’s something, just brace yourself.
“Most episodes there is something,” Carmichael tells BOSSIP. “The first episode we taped this season was assisted suicide on Joe’s mom and they’re like ‘Whoa we’re gonna watch a woman kill herself? Marla Gibbs is brilliant in it. That’s not regular sitcom fare. It’s always something when you go from a joke to a concept. It’s all worth fighting for and if you’re going to articulate the argument about why you should do it it’s probably something you should be doing.”
Talking to the ensemble cast it’s clear that Carmichael is the fearless leader.
“Jerrod is the centerpiece of our show,” Loretta Devine agrees, talking about Carmichael’s character initially, more than his real-life persona. “He is a young man that is into things that this family isn’t, so he is the one that brings the issues and forces us to look at the new world, the world with the internet and the world with the race problems and the things that are really happening. We are very current with what’s going on, that’s really happening, the stuff with Trump that we already did and we hope when we air that everything is still hot and happening.”
“It’s great because he’s really fearless when it comes to writing this show,” Amber Stevens West explains to BOSSIP, continuing, “but as actors, sometimes we come in and we’re like nervous and the audience sometimes will have a reaction that’s not laughter and they’ll be like ‘OOOh’ and the rest of us are like ‘Ahhhh’ and Jerrod will go ‘That was great! That’s exactly what we want. When they make that noise it means they feel something and they heard and then we’re all like we can relax and breathe cuz he’s just very confident and he knows what he’s trying to do and get a reaction at home.”
Taping in front of a live studio audience is key for the show as well, something that Howery and Haddish also mention when we interview them about the new season.
“When Marla Gibbs came out from the back, the audience applause, I just had to wait for it,” Howery recalls. “I remember telling Jerrod ‘That was surreal,’ for a second I forgot I was on the show. This is Marla Gibbs standing in the living room. They were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ I almost started clapping til I was like ‘Oh. I’m on the show.'”
The audience element is something that sets the show apart, although there are a number of things that make this show extremely different from other sitcoms about the black family.
“There’s some dope things on TV,” Howery agrees. “It’s dope to see people you’re friends with and fans of all on television at the same time. It is kinda tough because the way we’ve touched on stuff — I’ve heard people talk about other shows and I’m like ‘Naaaah, that’s a single camera sir.’ Norman Lear shows had the audience. You had to bring them in and it takes a certain kind of writing to do that and to be honest I don’t think anyone else is doing that right now. I don’t think anyone has been able to touch on certain things that we have.”
David Alan Grier agrees.
“It’s all in the name, it’s “Black-ish,” Grier tells BOSSIP of that other popular black sitcom. “Their show is a different point of view of blackness. If you would rename our show I would call it “Black-er,” because it’s a middle-class black family. Unashamedly black, it’s got nothing to do with us trying to find our blackness. it’s gonna be different.”
“What David said is so true,” Loretta Devine co-signs her castmate. “This family doesn’t know a lot about white people, except what they know and the thing that’s so important is it’s them talking about it in their own home as if no one was listening when in fact everyone is listening, so it’s from our point of view as a race that’s not in the corporate white world.”
For Carmichael himself, it all boils down to one very simple thing. Truth. He’s just here every episode, telling his own personal truth, in the voices of the people he knows best. His family.
“There’s so much truth in the show,” Carmichael admits to BOSSIP. “With any character, black or white, what makes a Martin Scorcese film is it’s so honest and true to the culture as he knew it and this is honest and true to culture as I know it. Growing up and just these beautiful black characters who don’t even have to discuss it and talk about it, they’re just themselves and that’s the important thing. Just like the black people I grew up with, everything doesn’t come from because I’m black, it comes from ‘I’m a human being. ‘ I like writing things that my mom says and my dad says and Nekeisha, she doesn’t know this, is based off my cousin April. It’s honest. It’s really really truthful. I don’t write from an aspirational angle. None of the characters are victims and none of it is lying. It’s truthful and as I hear it and saw it.
It doesn’t get any more raw than this, but in the midst of the often shocked audience and the very real, very black characters, there is a whole lot of laughter. It’s endearing to hear these actors talk about the joy they get from stepping on set together. We have to ask, before we go, how do they get through shooting without bursting into laughter.
“It’s hard not to laugh when you got David Alan Grier, who can just make a face,” Rel Howery says.
“Girl we be laughing,” Tiffany Haddish tells BOSSIP. “We can’t help ourselves. We try to control it But sometimes you just gotta laugh because otherwise the snot gonna fly out. Let the laugh go, okay? And then we cut and we start over. I guess that’s the beauty of TV, they can edit out your mistakes. That’s what’s great about it. It’s a great job, it’s so much fun.”
Will you be watching? The Carmichael Show airs tonight, Wednesday May 31 at 9pm EST/ 8pm CST on NBC.