Jerrod Carmichael works it out in the open.
For much of his new special Rothaniel, Jerrod Carmichael adopts the posture of someone having a difficult conversation. Deep sighs, chin rested on a half-open palm propped up by his elbow on his thigh. Running his hand through the tight coils of his hair and sticking his hand in to his really nice red shirt, and for the final third of the special that actually happens. He responds to some questions asked by members of the audience.
More and more, comedy is becoming a space where comics work through things that they are dealing with, Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk writes brilliantly about it here. Comics build an hour around something in their life they are dealing with at the moment, often it centers their relationship with the medium, many times it involves mental health, most times they are writing or at least seem to be writing with some distance to the events they are talking about and that’s very normal. It’s in the general ethos of the way we tell stories, we meet our hero, they face a challenge, they overcome the challenge and they grow.
With Rothaniel, Carmichael is still firmly within his material. Soundtracked by Bill Evans’ gorgeous piano, director Bo Burnham and DOP Sam Levy bookend the set by sneaking Carmichael into the corners of several frames of a beautiful snowy New York night on his way to the Blue Note Jazz Club, a pretty intimate set for an HBO special. Carmichael is still on the Journey of figuring out where he fits within the context of the family and that special is just one stop on that journey.
In another world this special is probably called ‘Secrets’ Carmicheal quickly lets the audience know this is what he’s here to talk about. Life within a family, a large black one at that, is sure to come with tons of those and Carmichael intersperses them with incredible jokes and impregnable silences. He masterfully contorts his face after many punchlines, giving jokes something of a cherry on top.He opts for a low seat for this special, and coupled with the close quarters of the Blue Note Jazz Club, the extensive use of close ups, Carmichael and his collaborators take what is already a pretty intimate medium and bring you even closer to his reality. Lighting Director Marc Janowitz, contributes to this beautiful set, planting a gorgeous blue light onto Carmichael's face and body creating what is easily the best looking comedy special stage I have ever seen.
As the blue lights danced on his body, Carmichael took questions from the audience, I assume they were pre-arranged as special tapings are really meticulous events, and he didn’t have any straight forward answers and really seemed to be working through his thoughts in real time. They weren’t however, the ramblings of someone in pain or deep sadness but rather someone navigating the kinks of doing life with others.