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Jerrod Carmichael made his return to The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Friday as part of the talk show’s final season. While there, the duo opened up about their shared high-profile coming out experiences and the impact DeGeneres had on the Rothaniel comedian.
Carmichael opened the honest back-and-forth, explaining his desire to connect with DeGeneres the last time he was a guest on the show, promoting his NBC series The Carmichael Show. The actor, writer and director admitted that because he was “closeted” and “really, really afraid,” he didn’t say what he had wanted to.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like I had so much to say to you and you were definitely such an inspiration — in a specific way — and I almost missed that opportunity to come and say it to you, and it’s like really nice to be able to be here again. I’m very thankful for that,” he told the host.
He went on to say that he was “specifically thankful for you,” explaining to DeGeneres how her decision to publicly identify as gay 25 years ago had a direct impact on him, before jokingly calling her “a gay white Desmond Tutu just spreading love.”
He said, “We both faced whatever obstacles coming out and everyone has their own personal journey, family things and personal things to overcome. But you faced coming out at a time when, I mean, it just was impossible. There was no precedent. There was no Ellen DeGeneres to come out to show you what it’s like.
“I watched it with my mom. I watched all of it. I watched your sitcom. I watched you talk to Oprah. I watched the interpretive dance in the special,” he continued. “My mom watched you and she laughed at you and you were welcome in the home. It’s no small thing. I don’t want to discount that, because it’s really huge. Being Southern and Christian and these things — the idea of having a gay person welcome in my mother’s home — it seemed impossible. And you did it.”
In turn, DeGeneres Carmichael “my hero” and revealed she had texted the comedian “right away” after his special debuted, before asking him about the emotion he was feeling during the live comedy show, to which the Rothaniel star said he felt “very terrified” and “a release and a relief.” The Ellen Show host also shared her surprise that the contents of his special didn’t get out before it was released on HBO Max.
“You shot it in February, and then it just started airing recently, so that’s a long time,” DeGeneres said. “I can’t believe it didn’t leak. I can’t believe that didn’t come out until right before you hosted SNL.”
DeGeneres then spoke to her experience of seeing people who are not publicly out being afraid to touch anything around being gay for fear of being associated with it, pointing to Carmichael’s first special, in which he joked about the best way to come out. “Why would you do that unless you were floating the idea out there to see how people would react?” she asked.
“I mean, it’s all part of removing myself from it. I felt distant from it. I think a lot of my act was that it wasn’t personal. It’s all projection,” he said. “So I’m saying things about gay people the way I would say things about relationships or women or politics or anything.
“I’m sure some of the bits and things in my life that I deeply regret were a product of like self-hate and denying who I really was,” he added. “So I think the material and a lot of those things — like when I wasn’t talking about myself, I was talking about everybody else outside of myself, just throwing punches and missiles as much as I could. All smoke bombs, all like distractions from who I really was and the thing I was afraid of.”
The two ended their conversation by touching on the response from Carmichael’s family, who the comedian has previously said have not quite accepted his identity. He told DeGeneres that’s “not easy,” but that the distance between them is “OK.”
He told DeGeneres, “I’m making the decision to be sturdy, kind of accepting things that are and things that I can’t change,” then joked, “[I] sound like I’m just saying the serenity prayer right now.
“But it is a long time coming for me to be able to be in that position. It means some distance from a family, but that’s OK. It doesn’t have to be. I hope that it changes, but that’s what it is right now. It doesn’t mean it’s a sacrifice of happiness and I think that’s really, really important to say as well.”
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