North Carolina clearly has no shortage of creative talent that has roots in the state.
Quadruple threat Ariana DeBose, 31, and now comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael, 35, are media buzz darlings.
DeBose is in the spotlight for her recent Oscar win as supporting actress in Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story and coming out during her Oscar acceptance speech. Carmichael has captured the media eye for his groundbreaking HBO comedy special “Rothaniel,” during which, you guessed it, he came out.
We explored DeBose’s Wilmington and Raleigh, North Carolina connections in a recent story published in Qnotes. Now it’s time to take a look at Carmichael.
A native of Winston-Salem, he hosted a student morning news show on his elementary school’s in house TV channel. In 2005, he graduated from Robert Glen High School in Kernersville. Two years later, at the age of 20 he was headed for Los Angeles. That was 2007.
Since that time, he stuck his finger in the stand-up pool and was relatively successful at various venues around the Los Angeles area. He also appeared in the comic showcase “New Faces of 2011” at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
His first shot at the big time came in the film “Neighbors” in 2014, starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. The following three years saw even greater success for Carmichael, as he co-created, co-wrote, produced and starred in the semi-biographical NBC sitcom “The Carmichael Show,” (set in Charlotte) which was well received and notable for its approach to such subjects as the Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBT issues, gun rights and multiple aspects of politics.
Most recently he appeared in the aforementioned “Rothaniel” on HBO and hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live.
In the special, Carmichael talks at length about his family life and how it connected to his own journey of coming to terms with his sexual orientation.
In a particularly poignant moment, he tells the audience a story about accidentally catching his father cheating on his mother when he was younger.
“After that was out in the open,” he recalls, “I was left alone feeling like a liar, because I had a secret. One that I kept from my father, my mother, my family, my friends, and you. Professionally, personally. And the secret is that I’m gay.”
For a brief period of time, the audience fell quiet, but then they began to applaud.
“I’m accepting the love, I really appreciate the love. My ego wants to rebel against it,” he said later during his performance, “I rebelled against it my whole life. I thought I’d never, ever come out. At many points I thought I’d rather die than confront the truth of that, to actually say it to people. Because I know it changes some people’s perceptions of me. I can’t control that.”
On the footsteps of the HBO special, Carmichael made an appearance as the guest host of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”
Carmichael stepped onto the SNL stage wearing a white double breasted suit with no shirt underneath and waited while the audience applauded. After thanking them for the ovation, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m not going to talk about it.”
Then in his typically stylized comedic manner, he proceeded to talk about not talking about it. “But do you want me to talk about it? Do you know how long it’s been? This is going to blow your mind. It’s been six days. Just six days. But doesn’t it feel like it’s something that happened years ago? To me it feels like it was something that happened between Jamiroquai and 9/11.”
As his monologue progressed he talked about going from being excited to the point where he had started to consider committing suicide (jokingly, one assumes), to a place where he made a vow to himself that he would never speak about it again.
That all changed when SNL producer Lorne Michaels said to him, “I think you need to talk about it. The nation needs to heal.”
“The nation needs to what?” Carmichael asked. “The nation needs to heal? You want me to do that? They don’t even know who I am. The nation has no clue who I am. I have to be the least famous host in SNL history.”
The audience laughed along with Carmichael and applauded as he went on to spoof what life was like since coming out on the HBO special and living in New York City. “If you say you’re gay in New York you can actually ride the bus for free and people just give you pizza. If you are gay in New York you can host Saturday Night Live.
“But heal the nation? I got so many homophobic cousins I can’t even heal my own family I don’t know how I’m supposed to heal the nation.”
Then came the monologue wrap up as he abruptly turned the focus of his talk to former President Barack Obama, addressing him directly.
“B, are you out there? What are you doing? I know you’re probably busy writing books. I bought your last one, but it was like 900 pages, you know, so anyway you got us all hyped up on this hope and change idea. I know you’re not going to like this but it’s not working out like we were all hoping for.
“I think you need to come back. I think you need to talk about it. The nation needs to heal.”
A matter of a few days was nothing less than a whirlwind for Carmichael. Nowhere was that more evident than in his scattered conversation with the host of “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” who asked Carmichael what prompted him to tackle the subject of his sexuality on the HBO special.
“I couldn’t think of anything else,” he laughed. “I’m so gay I just couldn’t,” he joked, while the audience applauded. “You know I keep saying I’m gay in New York and people keep clapping and it’s so nice but it’s like alright…I mean it’s very kind and I’m learning how to receive love. That’s something I’m learning to do now in life as a man. I definitely needed the supplement. I think there’s kind of a rift between me and my family, so I’ve been receiving love from strangers.”
Meyers interjected. “I’m really fascinated by this because you talked about that you didn’t come out to your mother before the special, so, you didn’t talk about it to her before?”
“Well, kind of, I have to renew it,” Carmichael replied. “My mom practices a lot of this cognitive dissonance or denial rather, so I have to come out every other conversation.”
“How did the conversation go?” Meyers asked.
“I don’t know,” Carmichael said, clearly becoming somewhat uncomfortable…I was nervous because my mom and my family can be kind of nice and smile and be polite and not talk about things … there’s a lot of elephants inside the room…we’re great performers … It was an emotional call. They expressed a lot of love, [and] it was almost very nice until my mom said ‘these sins are tearing the family apart.’ It just kind of speaks to the core of the problem, that there’s this insurmountable mountain of problems that we can’t get over.
“It was real dramatic and then the driver said we were here and I need to get out of the car now, and I’m here.” Carmichael glanced down at the floor and allowed his speech to gradually trail off before suddenly bursting back with an overly enthusiastic attempt at changing topics. “So that’s where I’m at! What’s up with ya’ll? Everybody cool?!”
Meyers replied encouragingly, but his concern for Carmichael was palpable. The comic assured Meyers he was okay. “I’m all right, I’m all right. My bad for bringing…this.” he said.
While Carmichael is riding a wave of success professionally, he appears to be coping with family turmoil in his personal life.
That’s not something you would expect a hot entertainer of the moment would want to reveal to a live audience, but perhaps it’s the very reason viewers are continuing to identify with Carmichael. While we’re all hopeful and confident things will work themselves out appropriately, revealing vulnerability takes strength.
Carmichael is using his own signature style of humor to cope with that in a manner that falls somewhere between amazing and admirable.
The April 2 episode of Saturday Night Live is available for streaming on the downloadable NBC app. All episodes of “The Carmichael Show” can be viewed on Hulu. “Rothaniel” is currently available only with a subscription to HBO Max.