'Carmichael Show' Star and EP Break Down Bill Cosby Episode: "It's Not an Easy Thing"

"It wouldn't be our show if we didn't talk about it," co-creator, star and executive producer Jerrod Carmichael tells THR.
Courtesy of NBC; Getty Images

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Carmichael Show, "Fallen Heroes."]

Bill Cosby returned to NBC Sunday, but it was far from a heroic homecoming for the former must-see TV star. The beloved comedian turned alleged rapist was at the center of a heated debate on Sunday's episode of sophomore comedy The Carmichael Show.

"I think that this show should both live in the real world and that it should treat audiences like adults, and I think topics like these do both," co-creator, executive producer and star Jerrod Carmichael tells The Hollywood Reporter when asked about his motivations behind the episode. "It's a thing that we're all talking about, and it wouldn't be our show if we didn't talk about it."

In the episode, the issue of Cosby, and specifically Cosby's body of work, arises when Jerrod buys tickets to see his stand-up routine. His girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West), not only has no interest in going — she jokes that, ironically, the only way to get her to go would be to knock her unconscious — but also tries to turn the rest of the Carmichael family against Cosby and subsequently Jerrod. His mother, Cynthia (Loretta Devine), and his brother, Bobby (Lil Rel Howery), also agree not to go to the show. His dad, Joe (David Alan Grier), jumps at the chance — that is until they get to the venue, where parking costs upwards of $20, and he realizes he can't stomach seeing the disgraced comedian after all. In the end, Jerrod comes home halfway through the show, his heart heavy with the knowledge that he can't enjoy Cosby's comedy like he once had without also thinking of the 55 alleged victims.

"I think this has happened to everyone," Carmichael says. "We've had this dilemma before and everyone handles it different. I mean, it's not an easy thing; that's what the show explores. It explores how uneasy a switch it is, and that's how I feel."

It was not only shocking to see Cosby's longtime network home confront the allegations against him so directly, but almost equally shocking that it was just the eighth episode of The Carmichael Show, ever.

Although the show has already addressed plenty of hot-button issues like guns, gender, religion and the Black Lives Matter movement in previous issues, NBC initially rejected the writers' pitch for a half-hour centered around the Cosby scandal. With time, Carmichael and the writers were able to change their minds.

"We both understood that this could be an important episode of television; important for both the topic and the genre doing it and the conversation we're having," Carmichael says. "Having done the episodes that we've done so far, I think we've earned a certain amount of trust with the network, and so that's what they said to us. We earned a certain amount of trust and they trust us to cover these topics as delicately as you have to."

The issue of talent versus morals is one Carmichael has tackled before in his own stand-up. In a memorable bit from his 2014 HBO special Love at the Store, he argued that the victims of Michael Jackson need his music more than anyone — a joke that also made its way into the episode. And Jackson and Cosby weren't the only ones cut down to size during the episode. Other targets included Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Mark Wahlberg and even another NBC Must See TV star, Seinfeld's Michael Richards.

"We were never out to do just Cosby," showunner Danielle Sanchez-Witzel says. "We walk around being hypocrites and these are the conversations that, when we get into in the writers room, we get excited about because it's like, 'Yeah, I have an iPhone in my pocket. I can say whatever I want, but I have it and I know what the business practices were, and I like [the iPhone] more than I care about what's going on ethically.' It's very much about the world being gray and how you navigate a gray world and how we all have to define what matters to us and call ourselves out for being hypocrites and admit when things are wrong.

"Every day we're making choices and having to live in this gray world, and that was certainly the inspiration for Cosby at least. To be able to tell a story about why that's hard."

Although the episode intentionally did not rule on whether Cosby was innocent or guilty of the crimes he has been accused of, one line seemed to veer away from the gray. Toward the end of the half-hour, after he's come home with his hat in hand, Jerrod says it's a "shame" about the women. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Carmichael said that the line had been added on the fly and he was unsure whether to leave it.

"We say TV Jerrod vs. real-life Jerrod because they are two different people, and [the writers] thought it was OK for television Jerrod to make a statement like that after he had just gone on a journey in this one episode and really talked out his feelings," Sanchez-Witzel says. "He came out of that feeling like it’s a shame that what we loved is tarnished. We're all TV writers, so part of what was interesting for us is we are all devastated. … That was everybody's TV dad, and there is something sad about it."

With the exception of some legal questions the network had, Carmichael said the episode remained largely the same from its earliest concept to the version that aired Sunday. "They kind of let us go and let us handle it the way we wanted to handle it," he says. "I think that as long as, legally, we were able to do it, we were going to do it."

The Carmichael Show airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on NBC. What did you think of the Cosby episode?

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