Carmichael, a 27-year-old from Winston-Salem, N.C., mixes pop culture with personal experience to craft hilarious anecdotes delivered in a slow, sly style. But it’s his commitment to spontaneity that sets him apart. Whether that means performing without a set list or inviting a hip-hop MC to share the stage, Carmichael’s comedic mandate is to keep things fresh at all costs.
Carmichael spoke to WW in advance of his Portland appearance Monday, June 23, as part of the standup showcase Funny Over Everything. As FOE producer Sean Jordan says, this might be the last time you can catch Carmichael for only $10.
WW: What’s it like working with Spike Lee?
Jerrod Carmichael: He has a vision for things. And you want to make Spike Lee laugh. He’s not someone who is easily impressed. If Spike’s laughing, then I know we’re great. He served two purposes, as a director and a gauge.
At the Laugh Factory in L.A., you brought hip-hop artist Fatlip onstage to tell a joke. How did that happen?
I was standing offstage talking to one of the managers, and we were both like, we think that’s Fatlip from Pharcyde. The spontaneity of the stage is something that excites me, so I just asked him if he was Fatlip. We had a fun back-and-forth. I actually ran into him a few months ago, and we had a great moment outside the Comedy Store. There was a brief delay, but he remembered me.
Is he a big comedy fan?
Look, he was sitting in the confident seats. He was sitting on the side of the stage. You only sit in those seats if it’s your first time or your 50th. When you’re sitting right at the stage, there’s no middle ground there.
You’ve talked about doing shows without a set list, so how do you write jokes?
Trial and error. I’ve written a lot of jokes, but it’s really worked best when I go onstage and be honest.
Was your prep different for the HBO special?
I wanted to keep it as honest to how I perform normally. I wanted to bring that experience to HBO, so it was pretty similar to any other normal prep.
You played a frat boy in Neighbors. What was it like working with Seth Rogen?
It was really fun and exciting. It was amazing. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it really was. I learned a lot of things watching Seth. It was a new world. It was my first time really exploring film and that process. They were very welcoming and they answered all of my million and one questions: What does this machine do? Why is this camera here?
You’ve toured with Daniel Tosh and Aziz Ansari. What did you learn from them?
With these massive touring artists, there’s so much that goes into it. They’re marathon tours. Daniel and I did something like 65 shows in 33 days. You watch and you learn how to condition yourself to to perform at the best of your ability every night. You learn a lot just being on the road. And being around those guys is fun: You laugh, you riff and you eat at, hopefully, the best restaurant in every city.
In his current tour, Ansari calls people up to the stage and reads their text messages. Why do you think that bit works?
He had done it in some smaller venues, but I was there when he first started doing it in the theaters. That’s an orchestration in itself because you open up the floor to 4,000 people. That’s a whole fucking monster in itself. I can’t say “fucking” in this paper. (Editor’s note: Yes, you can.) I think it’s a testament to why the truth is funny. There’s always something new and funny and exciting, because it’s a truthful conversation. It’s a highwire act. It could go wrong, but it doesn’t, because truth transcends everything.
SEE IT: Jerrod Carmichael performs at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., 281-4215. 8:30 pm Monday, June 23. $10.