Why Jerrod Carmichael Put Himself Under the Microscope in His Reality Show

TheWrap magazine: “I made this because of personal problems that I had and I like to use whatever tools I have available to solve them,” Carmichael says of his HBO show

Jerrod Carmichael in "The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show" (Max)

Jerrod Carmichael has never shied away from what he calls “uncomfortable truths.” But while he made a name for himself doing stand-up and creating and starring in the hot-button sociopolitical sitcom “The Carmichael Show,” audiences have never seen him turn his incisive, unrelenting gaze on truths that hit a little closer to home: his own.

Following up his Emmy-winning 2022 comedy special “Rothaniel,” in which he came out as gay and opened up about fraught familial relationships, his new eight-episode project with HBO is aptly titled “The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show.” The series puts Carmichael’s family history, personal missteps and burgeoning love life under a microscope for half-hour chapters that are as refreshingly boundary-pushing and “real” as they are uncomfortable. Watching the comic confront heartbreaks, force a road trip upon his father, play puppeteer to friends’ creative dreams and cheat on his new boyfriend makes for a rare kind of cringe comedy that’s born from a desire to better himself. 

We asked him if he had. 

I think a lot of people are wondering whether or not you accomplished what you set out to do with “The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show.” What were your goals, and in what ways did you hit them?

Let me think. Did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish? I believe so, but it’s too early for me to say that. I learn something new every week. I’m having a phase of realizations right now. I made this without considering public response. I made this because of personal problems that I had, and I like to use whatever tools I have available to solve them. So in this instance, it’s an HBO deal and cameras. Sometimes it’s the stage, but I use my work as a way to explore my own curiosity and to solve things in my life. And, you know, with this show, this is around conversations I was afraid to have, things I was afraid to explore and examining myself — just putting myself under the microscope. And it served as an X-ray. I think in the moment, I was accomplishing what I wanted because I was able to have conversations that I was afraid to have and to explore things deeply. And the camera made me feel not just safe, but it allowed me to stay true. 

You say you weren’t thinking about the audience when making the show, but what part of the equation did putting it out to the public play?

I never really consider the audience while making things. There is always a moment of realization that this is going to be released. I’ve had that with almost everything that I’ve made. There’s this moment where I go, “Oh, shit, people are going to watch this?” If I consider that in the process, I don’t know if I would have made the things that I’ve made. Often I have the idea … and then I move on from that. I stay away from the process. I’m not on the phone with HBO throughout the process, the team does that. I’m not in the editing room. I trust the talented people that I work with to craft story. I deal with my issues. I have to remain true. I have to stay in a place where I can be true. That’s the experiment for me. 

Cynthia and Jerrod Carmichael in "The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show" (Max)
Cynthia and Jerrod Carmichael in “The Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” (Max)

It’s interesting because you aren’t showing very positive sides of yourself all the time. People don’t really give a thumbs up to infidelity, for instance, and you’re interrogating these things within yourself. Was that scary?

Yeah, it’s scary and it’s an extension of therapy. In therapy, you explore your life and your history and motivations. I’m not celebrating these things, but I am curious about them. I’m curious about why I would fall in love with someone and then cheat on them. It’s a very uncomfortable thing to explore, but I’d rather explore than just be a victim of my actions. That’s part of the reason I stay out of the editing room — because there are unlikable things that are presented in the show. I don’t like them, let alone the audience! I don’t like them about myself, I don’t want to hurt someone I love. But if it is true, I’d like to explore the reasons why. 

I think it’s kind of the responsibility of the artist to navigate uncomfortable truths. It’s part of the reason I got into the industry. In the early part of my career, it was about exploring it in a global sense, in a political sense. Lately, it’s been about exploring it within myself. 

When was that turning point where you began targeting uncomfortable truths within yourself instead of on a larger scale?  Was it “Rothaniel”?

Especially being in my 30s, that’s where it hits you. You reach these crossroads where you better do some self-exploration before you get stuck. And I can see my father, who didn’t explore, and I can see the ways in which he’s stuck, and I don’t want to feel that way later in life. At some point, you need to look in the mirror and understand why you are the way you are — or at least try to understand.  

This story first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.

Hoa Xuande The Sympathizer cover
Hoa Xuande photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg for TheWrap

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