'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Jerrod Carmichael ('The Carmichael Show')

The 28-year-old co-creator, writer and star of NBC's acclaimed multi-camera comedy reveals how his life changed in a Winston-Salem shoe store, why he turned down 'New Girl' and what it was like skewering Bill Cosby on the air.
Miller Mobley
Jerrod Carmichael

"I wanted a show on NBC since I was 13 years old," says Jerrod Carmichael — the 28-year-old comedian who now has one: The Carmichael Show, which was just renewed for a third season, and which many are likening to Norman Lear's multi-camera/live-audience series of yesteryear that took on serious issues in hilarious ways. As we sit down to record an episode of the 'Awards Chatter' podcast, Carmichael relishes the comparisons, largely because it is his goal, as it was Lear's, to disregard political-correctness and frankly discuss things that matter, something that has happened on TV less and less in the years between their respective eras. "It went too far in the other direction," Carmichael says mournfully.

(Click above to listen to this episode now, or click here to access all of our episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven SpielbergAmy Schumer, Louis C.K., Lady GagaWill Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Harvey Weinstein, Jane Fonda, Aziz Ansari, Brie LarsonJ.J. Abrams, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Stewart and Michael Moore.)

Carmichael's passion for comedy may date back to his childhood, but his path to a career in the field was anything but paved. The product of a smart and opinionated family — just like the one portrayed in The Carmichael Show — he was born and raised in Winston-Salem, where he was working in a shoe store when a client from L.A. convinced him that a relocation would be easy and worthwhile. "Growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in," Carmichael says, "what you expect from the world and what you think you're capable of are kind of naturally inhibited — that's the biggest fight, just to break down that inhibition." Nevertheless, a couple of months later, on Aug. 8, 2008, he packed his bags and made the move.

Further testament to his courage, he hit the ground running. "I arrived here on Friday, went to The Comedy Store, watched the whole show, stayed 'til 2 a.m., and then that Sunday night I was doing the open-mic there," says Carmichael, who had never performed stand-up before. "I figured it out pretty fast," he says, noting that "at its best, it's the most fun thing in the world." He quickly garnered notice as an up-and-comer, and in 2011 he was offered a part on the Fox sitcom New Girl — but, despite the prospect of a big paycheck, turned it down. "It just wasn't for me," he explains. "It wasn't the thing that I'd set out to do. I wanted the show that, ultimately, I'm doing." He adds, "I just didn't see it directly contributing to what the ultimate goal was."

To see through that goal, he met with NBC in 2012 to pitch a comedy series about Carmichael and his family. At the time, he conceived of it as a single-camera show in which his character worked at a shoe store. He was authorized to go off and make a pilot — but when he showed it to the network in 2014 it was rejected. Carmichael didn't even have time to feel demoralized, though, because later that same week his career experience two massive boosts: the film Neighbors, in which he does scene-stealing work, was released nationwide, and Jerrod Carmichael: Love at the Store, his first comedy special for TV, was filmed for HBO under the direction of Spike Lee. Suddenly, NBC reconsidered, asking him to take another stab at a pilot.

This time, Neighbors director Nicholas Stoller partnered with Carmichael on the effort, and this time they decided to employ the multi-camera/live-audience format, sensing that it was built for a stand-up comic's momentum-building humor, and focused more on Carmichael's own family (he used their real names to demand "accountability" from him, he says). Shot in 2015, this version was picked up for a six-episode first season in which the network aired two episodes at a time, on three nights, spread over three weeks in late August. "That's how you know they love you," Carmichael jokes about the obvious burn-off attempt. "But it worked to our advantage."

The show survived — and continued to thrive after being picked up for a 13-episode second season — because of word-of-mouth and viral Internet buzz about how different it is from just about everything else on TV. It has dealt with topics as wide-ranging as Bill Cosby (who had hosted Carmichael at his home prior to his recent slew of legal trouble), #BlackLivesMatter, transgender issues, Muslim neighbors, morning-after pills, gun rights and depression — and it has looked at them in balanced, unusual, fascinating ways. "These arguments and these episodes come from real conversations, and real topics of discussion that I've had amongst my family and amongst my friends, and things that have existed in culture" Carmichael says, "so it comes from a real place. And it can't be 'too edgy' if it comes from a real place."