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Jerrod Carmichael and the Reality of Reality TV

Jerrod Carmichael has a new reality show, and it’s quite revealing. Is this enterprise a futile one that can can ruin his reputation?

Jerrod Carmichael doing stand-up in Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show (2024). Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck
Jerrod Carmichael doing stand-up in Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show (2024). Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck

If anyone has followed stand-up comedy recently, it would be easy to surmise many people know who Jerrod Carmichael is. Born in North Carolina, Carmichael has been very active as both an actor and a comic. His brand of humor has been very forthcoming, relying a lot on observations of modern life and his own family, and now on Max, he has brought that style to a controversial new reality TV show.

Simply titled Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show (2024), the series follows his life and how he navigates relationships, whether familial, friendly, or sexual. Some think this a bit of a left turn for Carmichael, but I hesitate to think so. To understand his new show, you have to look at Carmichael’s overall career.

How Did He Start?

Carmichael’s career began in 2014, when he starred as part of the ensemble for the Seth Rogen-led comedy Neighbors. That same year, acclaimed director Spike Lee directed his first special, Jerrod Carmichael: Love at the Store. However, his career would take an upswing afterwards. He co-created a sitcom based on his family called The Carmichael Show (2015-2017) for NBC.

He would be part of Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), and then got fellow comedian Bo Burnham to direct his next special, Jerrod Carmichael: 8 (2017) for HBO. That relationship led to him becoming a director. He directed comedy specials for comedians Drew Michael in 2018 and Lil Rel Howery in 2019. He directed and starred in his own movie called On the Count of Three (2021), which welcomed positive reviews.

And as an actor, he even co-starred in Poor Things (2023), a movie that got considerable Oscar buzz. However, it was his latest special that made people take notice.

Carmichael on the middle of thoughts in his special, Rothaniel. Credit: YouTube/Max
Carmichael in the middle of thoughts in his special, Rothaniel (2022). Credit: YouTube/Max

Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (2022) was once again directed by Bo Burnham. Shot intimately at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, Carmichael finally seemed to decide on his style of comedy: sitting instead of standing, encouraging conversation with the audience, and using comedy to weave through a complicated relationship with his family as he comes out as gay.

Many praised the special for being vulnerable and eye-opening, and it even won awards. Carmichael was able to receive an Emmy and a WGA Award for the writing in Rothaniel. It seems that because of how popular and eye-opening the special was, it seemed like the right way to approach this new show.

How Does the Show Work?

Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show has episodes that run at around the length of a half-hour. Each of them are semi-structured around stand-up shows that Carmichael does. Most of the episodes thus far deal with relationships with his friends and relationships with potential boyfriends. Some of the people are famous, like Tyler the Creator or this masked presence known only as Anonymous (most will correctly infer it’s Bo Burnham). Others are the friends that Carmichael has known since his youth.

Tyler the Creator opens up to Jerrod Carmichael on the show. Credit: YouTube/HBO
Tyler the Creator opens up to Jerrod Carmichael on the show. Credit: YouTube/HBO

Each episode is directed by Ari Katcher, who is a close collaborator with Carmichael for a lot of projects. Katcher’s direction seems to capture a lot of pleasing visuals, which is perhaps not the main draw to reality TV, but he does a good job of capturing the emotions of the participants, which is one of the main draws of reality TV.

Is Reality TV a Big Departure for Carmichael?

Many people have taken to social media to talk about the candidness of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show, saying how surprised they were with what Carmichael felt comfortable showing the public. However, if you see the evolution of his career, Carmichael hasn’t shied away from looking and examining his life. His NBC sitcom was loosely based on his real-life family and set in that state he grew up in.

His early stand-up was not afraid to touch on tough topics like R. Kelly, politics, and race with his distinctive tone. On the Count of Three is a tough dramedy about suicide. Rothaniel led him to come out in a public forum about his sexuality and talk about how the people he cares about dealt with it.

Moving away from performance art, though, Carmichael has also been candid about his life in other ways. In 2019, he directed two specials for HBO, Home Videos and Sermon on the Mount. What makes these specials different is that they aren’t comedy; they are documentary. The former tackles Carmichael talking with his niece, sister, female friends, and mother, while the latter examines more of the male people in his life, especially his father, and the attempts to examine why his father cheated on his mother.

Not only were these specials well directed, but they were an interesting probe into his family and their lives. They give insight into their experiences, and by extension, we get a glimpse into his. So, while I can understand initial shock, this sort of territory isn’t really new for this artist.

Jerrod Carmichael is intimate with a man on the show. Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck
Jerrod Carmichael is intimate with a man on the show. Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck

Is This Show Any Good?

Despite recognizing that Carmichael is used to examining himself in the content he chooses to produce, I will admit that Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show is a bit tough to get through. Perhaps it’s not the act of being candid that shocks me, but what Carmichael allows us to see.

The biggest example is in the second episode. Carmichael talks about how much he loves the act of sex, and we are shown how he tries to have a monogamous relationship with boyfriend Michael. What we also see is Carmichael cheating on said boyfriend because of the long-distance nature of the relationship.

I don’t know many celebrities who have a show of their own that would show their infidelity to the public. And what’s interesting is that I can’t tell if this is just Carmichael seemingly just dumping this on us, or if having something like this released is actually supposed to hold himself accountable and honest like he says he wants to be in the first episode. I think it’s that disconnect that not only confuses me, but also confuses others.

However, it’s not as if the show is one-note. The third episode begins with Carmichael missing a friend’s wedding where he’s the best man by nearly an hour and in the wrong dress code. By the end of the episode, he travels to North Carolina where his friend lives, in tux, and delivers the speech he would’ve given. To say that I think my image of Carmichael hasn’t changed would be a lie, but it is nice to at least see that he is somewhat aware of his faults, albeit in certain moments.

How Does It Stack Up to Other Reality TV?

The show definitely plays different than most reality shows. A lot are contest-based, feel over-produced, and are more about winning prizes or sponsors. You won’t find much dramatic stock music or seemingly manufactured drama in Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show. Of course, that could be a matter of presentation. However, the show does feel like there’s more of an “artistic” lens to things.

Katcher as director has the camera linger on moments that look like they’d typically be apart of scripted TV. When we discover Carmichael has cheated on his boyfriend, for example, the camera show them lying in bed, but far apart and obviously distant. It’s not a unique sort of shot, but it feels like a cut above the current crop of shows.

The title card from the Jerrod show's trailer. Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck
The title card from the show’s trailer. Credit: YouTube/TrailerCheck

Will Jerrod Carmichael’s Career Be Affected?

Social media is constantly judging the exploits of Carmichael as a friend and lover since the show’s launch on March 29th of this year. They also find jokes he’s made about romantic relationships to be patently offensive. All these sorts of reactions can come from an honest place, and I don’t blame them for sharing them. I myself, as I stated previously, have a different viewpoint of Carmichael. Perhaps sharing all of what goes behind closed doors isn’t the smartest decision he could have made. There’s no doubt some of the ways Carmichael acts here will make viewers see him as…unlikable.

Despite that, I’m not sure this will tank his reputation fully. All comedians go through a period of controversy, and I have a feeling the way Carmichael deals with the reception to this show after all eight episodes release will be key here. And, while it goes about things differently, most other reality TV is controversial in one way or another in the stories it shows.

Like it or not, controversy sells in entertainment. Aside from Carmichael’s flaws, the show is at least interesting to watch, and a glimpse into the mind of an undeniably talented artist pushing his limits in comedy. How he deals with the subsequent scrutiny will be very interesting to watch.

Written By

Hi, my name is J.D., and I'm a writer here at TrillMag, and as far back as I can remember, I've loved talking and writing about movies, TV, and the general entertainment industry. I hope to cover some current trends, and also recommend some things you might've overlooked!

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