“Did you meet Jerrod?” Zac Efron asks this question in a room full of journalists. He’s sitting at the edge of a table next to his co-stars in the new movie Neighbors, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, smiling saying, “He’s just…”
“Endlessly winning,” Rogen chimes in, finishing Efron’s sentence before Zac jumps back adding, “You just wanna be around him. He’s got a really funny outlook. It’s positive, but he’s um… Witty. What’s wrong with Jerrod?”
“Nothing,” Rogen answers, shaking his head back and forth. “He’s amazingly driven and funny and sweet, and literally one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
“I was a fan of his standup,” Rogen continues, as Byrne nods in agreement. “We were excited to get him in the movie in some capacity. I feel like he’s gonna be very… Like, I know he’s doing a HBO special that Spike Lee is directing. So…. Like he will be very, very famous soon.”
Huge words coming from one of Hollywood’s most powerful funnymen of the moment, about a young brother from North Carolina that some are calling “the next Jamie Foxx.” Jerrod Carmichael’s comedy has been described as being a casual, sorta sarcastic, laid back ode to Seinfeld. Using a simplistic knack for talking smack about the everyday moments in life that are often filled with absurdity, Carmichael is now headed to Hollywood’s “It” list. With a NBC TV pilot based on his life buzzing among those in the know, Carmichael’s HBO special directed by Spike Lee was confirmed weeks before his first film Neighbors hit theaters.
Starring Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse; 2014’s funniest movie to date features non-stop, laugh out loud moments when college kids ruin the quiet, picket-fenced lifestyle of a young couple and their newborn baby. Jerrod plays Garf, a silly, party-hungry frat boy in a role that helps shoot Carmichael’s glistening star further into universal spotlight.
In this exclusive interview with The Shadow League, Jerrod discusses Richard Pryor, Spike Lee, and the quirky outlook on life that keeps him grounded.
Raqiyah Mays: You’re the new kid on the block. How did you get your start?
Jerrod Carmichael: Yeah. Standup comedy. I moved from NC straight to LA. I was like, ‘If I fail in LA, then I can move to NY and stay on my Aunt’s couch in Jersey. So I just moved and just did standup and really focused on that. I turned down roles and all these things in television and film, ‘cause I just wanted to do standup and I wanted that art to be the best that it could possibly be before even exploring anything. And then once I got really comfortable with standup, I had an audition for this film and…
RM: Now we’re here today…
JC: I had a meeting with Seth Rogan’s company a week before the audition, and those things coupled together got me into the film.
RM: So this Neighbors movie is your big break.
JC: Yeah, I would say that. Because this is the biggest of course, I’ve done some things in television a little before, but this is the most exposure.
RM: When you got the call that you got the part, what did you do?
JC: There’s a comic, Lil Rel, a very funny guy and he gets angry with me, cause he says I take too much stuff in stride. And he yelled at me one day. He’s like, ‘When good news happens I go cry.’ And I’m just kinda like, ‘Oh, cool.’ ‘Cause Hollywood and the industry is so fickle, so you get the call and you’re like, ‘Alright.’ So immediately my mind goes, ‘Well, I hope this film is great. And how can we make it great.’ It’s almost too much work to be done to just… I’m not a big fan of the victory lap before it’s earned. So for me, it’s like, this is a fun thing. It’s a great opportunity. But by no means is it like, ‘This is the end! We’re in a movie!’ I’m writing the next film. And right now I’m focused on standup comedy. I [have] a special Spike Lee is directing…
RM: I keep hearing about it. Congratulations. How did that come about?
JC: Um… I called Spike Lee. (laughing) I did this TV show and one of my producers for the special knows his agent really well, so we kind of used that avenue. And next thing you know, I get this phone call from Spike Lee saying he would love to do it. This is post Neighbors. This is very recent. And it was just based off standup. I had the deal with HBO to do a special. And I wanted a director ‘cause I wanted it presented as art. I wanted it to be art, not just to be on television for the sake of being on television. Cause that’s how standup was presented to me. My dad showed me Richard Pryor. And it was like, ‘Oh, this is art.' This is a man’s genuine thoughts and feelings and I just wanted to be a part of that lineage of that art and have some type of artistic integrity. Spike lends a huge amount to that. So it was important to get a director that had vision, technique, the skill and could present it in a beautiful light. So with this film, it all just kind of comes together. And you just want to do things that are fun and truthful to you.
RM: What’s your earliest childhood memory of being an artist?
JC: I was just talking to my mom, and we were talking about how I always asked for microphones as a kid. Every Christmas, every birthday, the only thing I ever wanted was a microphone of some sort. And as we could afford them, they would get a little bit better. But always, in my room back home, there’s still a mic stand and a mic in it. I was always infatuated with the art of expression and saying your thoughts. At church every Sunday, when I was a kid, my mom would hold me up to the mic and I just wanted to talk into it. After service, when people were clearing out, before they shut off the sound system, my mom would literally hold me. She was an usher, and she would let me speak into the mic. I was just telling her that the other day.
RM: And then you move to LA. You didn’t go to college.
JC: I moved to LA. Didn’t go to college at all. You go and you just kinda explore. That’s my favorite way of learning. Just figuring it out, ‘cause you have to. College has been an excellent tool for a lot of my friends, but for me it’s like, if I have anything that even resembles a crutch, it’s never as good as, ‘We gotta get this right now.’ Like we have to. Like you don’t have a choice. And I love that.
RM: Plus you’ve got your family looking at you sideways like, ‘Um, ok boy…’
JC: (Laughing) Right. You’re moving across the country. ‘Don’t embarrass us. Or call and ask me for money. You’re 2500 miles away. Go.’ I love that. Yeah. That’s the fun, the high stakes.
RM: So I see you’re listed as a comedian, writer, and actor. Which are you first?
JC: That’s a great question. I’m in love with the title Executive Producer. That’s my favorite title. I love creating ideas and bringing people together on projects and stuff like that. But comic is the most important job. It’s the thing that will always be the epicenter of things, because it’s you. And in being a standup comedian, you are a writer, you are the director, you are the executive producer, the performer, you are all of those things. And whether it goes great or not it’s all on you. It’s a lot of responsibility every night to perform in front of people. And that’s what’s most important.
Neighbors Hits Theaters May 9.