Jerrod Carmichael on the Rare Honesty of His New HBO Reality Series: ‘Nobody Wanted to Do It’

Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” can trace its origins back to at least one unlikely source: disgraced former U.S. representative Anthony Weiner.

Before the series from creators Carmichael, Ari Katcher, and Eli Despres, which premiered at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival, Carmichael’s pie-in-the-sky idea was to play a version of Weiner in the project that ultimately became “Reality Show.” And that prospect was initially even more compelling to the creators than the series that resulted.

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“Can we just make a movie of Jerrod trying to get ‘Weiner’ made?” Despres recalled onstage after the series’ SXSW premiere.

And while that premise isn’t without its intrigue, the “Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” that eventually came to be is something else entirely. It is, simply, a docuseries about the comedian’s life that dwells deeply, sometimes uncomfortably, on his relationships with love, sex, and loneliness. The three episodes shown were “Emmys,” “Mike,” and “Road Trip” — named for critical events and people that lead to intimate conversations and conflicts.

Interspersed throughout the series is footage of Carmichael performing — not standup, per se, but sitting in front of a crowd, talking into a microphone about what was going on in his life. Katcher described it as like performing a new standup routine every day, prompting the team to find places for that material and footage to live. Then, there were ideas stemming from “Couples Therapy” and “Weiner,” and producers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman coming on board.

“I really liked the idea of someone who’s telling the truth despite himself, and I tried to do that with stand-up, and I wanted to do that with my life,” Carmichael said after the premiere.

Carmichael had written fictionalized versions of his life before, but between those iterations and social media and what he feels is a general dearth of honesty all around, the discomfort of being exposed in a series like this one started to make more sense.

“Eli made work that I was inspired by, and I was like, ‘OK, well, the camera is like a lie detector. It’s something that can capture the truth, and can it hold my feet to the fire?'” he said. “Reality has captured my attention in life.”

Despres recalled that Carmichael was “bursting at the seams” when it was finally time to consider the conversations and settings he’d put himself in. After the vulnerability of talking about coming out to his mother in his HBO comedy special, 2022’s “Rothaniel,” these episodes see him confessing romantic feelings to a friend, admitting to cheating to his partner, and confronting his father about years of infidelity.

“Nobody you see on screen wanted to do it,” Carmichael said, greeted with laughter. “I think that’s why it made good television because nobody wanted to do it, nobody wanted that type of attention — even the public figures didn’t want any part. I’m still dealing with the fallout. I still deal with a text a day from someone who has second thoughts about the whole thing.”

Carmichael’s career-long confessional style once again yielded laughter, gasps, and some uncomfortable silences from the SXSW audience — and a standing ovation when he came out on stage.

One of the key challenges of the show, he told viewers, was “seeing if was I capable of change and if I could change people — and the show kind of presented me with the really hard answer: ‘No.'”

And while the show dared Carmichael’s closest to be themselves on camera, making the series confronted the comedian with situations and conversations he admittedly might not have had otherwise. It helped that he considers co-creator Katcher a close friend and knew that he could trust the environment — even if other people didn’t exactly feel the same.

“Truly if you want to test and see who’s lying to you in your life, just as ask them to be a part of your reality show,” he said.

“Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” premieres March 29 on HBO.

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