Comedian Lil Rel Howery has his first hour special premiering on Comedy Central, executive produced by none other than Kevin Hart. He plays the brother of his real-life friend Jerrod Carmichael in NBCs new The Carmichael Show and acts/writes/executive produces the weekly sketch comedy show Friends of the People that is currently airing its second season. This standup comedian is having one of the biggest years of his life while raising two kids he’s trying to create a legacy for.
I spoke to Lil Rel about juggling multiple projects, Mexican food, and real-life bonding with the cast of a show.
How did you decide it was the right time to do a special?
It’s just a good time to do a good quality special. Timing is everything to me, so I just felt that it was a good time. A lot of people are taping one hour specials; Comedy Central puts one out for four or five different comics each year. I finally had some material that was hot and thought I should do it.
How did you prepare for it?
I just take care of my kids. I was never really like, “Let’s get ready for a special” I just went to open mics to work on the material. I feel like all the stuff I’ve been doing was ready, and I just went out and did it.
How did you get connected with Kevin Hart?
We have the same managers and agent. I wanted to be presented by a big comic and get the stamp from somebody who people really respect. I reached out to some comedian friends but things fell through. I came to a meeting with my agent and manager that asked who I wanted to produce it. They asked me if I had thought about asking Kevin, we’ve been cool for a while and he jumped right on it.
That stamp of approval means your fans will see it and hopefully the other person’s fans too. How did you get involved with The Carmichael Show? Were you considered for a role since its inception?
Pretty much [laughs]. With Jerrod [Carmichael], he had a pilot presentation that I auditioned for. I changed the role and put it at my own speed and NBC loved me. I wasn’t in the pilot, he rewrote it after they gave him the pilot, did a whole script change and everything. He called me and said he wrote a part that would be perfect for me and I was like, “Alright, I can be his brother.” I went and did the screen test and all that good stuff to show that I could play the role. Shooting that show is one of the most fun times I’ve ever had.
How is it working with a close friend?
I miss my other show Friends of the People, I worked on that show with six other people I was really good friends with. Which made The Carmichael Show interesting because you’ve got David Alan Grier, Loretta Devine…I know Jerrod. I am in his dressing room every day when we have breaks, just sitting and talking for twenty minutes. All of us are really close as a cast; that actually blew me away. I didn’t think I would have all these good, random conversations with Loretta Devine, going through stories and talking about the day. You watch TV and it looks real and the actors say, “We love each other, we’re the cast!” Alright, whatever. But that is really us, we’re really tight. Everybody enjoyed each other’s company. You could knock on anybody’s door and just chill.
It makes it much more fun going to work.
And it comes off on screen. I was reading a review today about The Carmichael Show and that’s one of the things they said, that the chemistry is crazy. Jerrod is a genius, I think he’s gonna be the next big comedy mind.
It’s a big deal to get a pilot, have it picked up, and film it all too – it doesn’t happen very often.
It doesn’t happen often at all actually [laughs].
How has this busy year been for you? Doing the sitcom, your sketch show and a special?
I like to win [laughs]. It’s just been really fun. I mean, I’m working with these cats here and in the last few years having conversations about this stuff before any of it every happened. To see it all start to happen, well… That’s why I tell people, you never know who you should be friends with. If you’re a crazy person who acts like they can’t speak to people, that you’re better than them – you’re living life like a maniac. I’ve been friends with all these people and it helps a lot. I didn’t grow up with a lot of these guys; it’s just me really being friends with them. And to see everything that’s happening, I pinch myself every day.
You don’t want to work with terrible people even if they’re talented.
Cause it’s annoying. We do have a lot of that, people who’re arrogant and stuff. For me it’s a little annoying, but for the most part it is what it is [laughs].
What are your plans for the future; do you want to pursue more acting or focus on standup?
Standup will never stop, that’s something I will always do. I did have some tacos last night, those were excellent.
So, more Mexican food?
That Donald Trump, if he had it his way he would never enjoy some of the best food you could ever have. He don’t care, he’s rich.
He’ll fly it in.
[Laughs] He would. I am just really enjoying what’s happening now and I am already thinking about the next stuff. I want to start producing and directing things. Somebody like Ron Howard who started as an actor on Happy Days, is now one of the most respected directors in the game. That’s what I wanna do.
How do you juggle the role of actor, writer, producer, director?
It’s tough, but it’s not tough. I like working so it’s no big deal. I think for me it is just more tough cause I’m a dad. I love being a father and it’s tough not being able to spend all the time I can with my little people. At the same time I’m setting up everything for their future. I’ve been trying to work hard and leave a real legacy. There are some selfish people out here who become stars, they don’t develop or do anything so someone in their family could follow up on it. They just die [laughs]. It’s kind of messed up, you aren’t gonna leave any legacy? That’s insane. I’ve always said that all my focus is gonna take me to the next level. I’m excited, cause I’m really focused.
RELevent premieres Saturday September 5th on Comedy Central. The Carmichael Show can be seen Wednesdays at 9:00pm EST/PST on NBC and Friends of the People airs Thursdays at 10:30pm PST/EST on TruTv. Follow Lil Rel on Twitter @LilRel4 and Instagram @comedianlilrel.
Photo by Matt Marton.