In Conversation: Jermaine Fowler and Lil Rel Howery
In Issue Three of Us of America, Jermaine Fowler, the 29-year-old standup comedian currently starring on CBC’s Superior Donuts and in the yet-to-be released SWX hit Sorry to Bother You, spoke with best friend Lil Rel Howery, the Chicago-based actor/comic best known as Robert Carmichael in NBC's The Carmichael Show and TSA officer Rod Williams in Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning psychological thriller Get Out. The two friends and fathers shared with Us the joys of fatherhood and comedy, and what they hope to achieve next. Read an excerpt from their conversation below.
* * *
Lil Rel: [...] I've been enjoying seeing you become a new father, which is amazing. I wasn't sure what type of dad you was gonna be. But so far it seems like you're really excited. So, what’s the best thing about being a new father?
Jermaine: Man, there's not a word that explains how I feel. There are so many things I feel when I see my baby. I guess the best thing would have to be just waking up and seeing her smile. When I wake up, she's giggling at whatever she's giggling at—I don't know, maybe my Mom, I have no idea. Seeing her smile first thing in the morning is so motivating. It's the best thing to wake up to. It's just this baby that unconditionally loves life. It's gonna make me cry. It's beautiful, man. I don't know what she's laughing at—that's what makes me laugh. She's laughing at something, I'm, like, "What the hell is so funny? Air?” You know what I'm talking about.
Lil Rel: That's your kid, though. I can see that. I've seen you laugh for no reason.
Jermaine: Just laughing for no reason. Exactly. It's stupid, but I get to have conversations with my kid without her judging me. I can talk to her, she don't have an opinion. She don't judge me for nothing. I can tell her anything. She just looks at me with spit on her face, like, "Okay." I'm, like, "I know, right?"
Lil Rel: Let me ask you this too, Jermaine, about Superior Donuts. I know you're starting up Season Two right now. Are you doing a different approach for Season Two than with Season One story-wise, or are you keeping everything pretty much the same?
Jermaine: This season we are still tackling a bunch of issues, and trying to keep it socially conscious. What we're gonna do is try to stand more on the conversations we opened up on the first season. At the same time, stand on the background with some of the characters that we got. We had an episode where Randy, Katey Segal's character, gets shot. It's weird, because, before that, me and Randy had an argument about how she was caught on camera, pretty much brutalizing this kid in the neighborhood that I knew. Then that night she gets shot. So I'm kinda confused as to whether I should celebrate her being a cop, because her getting shot doesn't negate or erase the things she did before. It was this conflicting thing that my character was dealing with. Not only are you going to see those topics on those issues, but we're definitely gonna try to explore some of the emotions and the psyche of our characters and really expand on the backstory. That's what I wanted to do in the first season, but the first season was still introductory.
Lil Rel: That sounds amazing. You know, what's dope about that is that you have a chance to speak from the police officer's perspective. We don't see that in a lot of stuff. It's gonna be interesting, especially with your character. It’s a balance of being a black citizen when your friend is a cop. I'm gonna get graphic with you real quick: you're one of my favorite standup comics. One of my favorite specials was Give 'em Hell, Kid.
Jermaine: Oh, thanks, man. Thank you.
Lil Rel: You know what I see? You were very personable on that special. This is what I love about you, actually. You're so funny, man. Even recently, your Mom passed away. You were going through that, and you're still one of the funniest people in the world. I'm being straight up. I don't even know if I told you this: you're one of my best friends, and I don't know if I've ever cried for anybody else, anything, and it was really fucking with me. When you do this next special, are you gonna get even more personal?
Jermaine: I have to, yeah. That's what my Mom would have wanted. I feel like everybody's so political these days, and everyone's picking sides. It seems so divisive. There are a lot of things that are going on right now. You can have your point of view, but my main thing is just giving my fans and the people who watch my standup context of where I come from. The more I give that, the more they respect my point of view. That's what my goal is for the next special. I want to wear my heart on my sleeve and talk about how much my Mom meant to me. She was a lesbian, so it felt like while all things that were going on lately about discrimination with all these people who are gay and lesbian and transgender, it really struck home for me. My twin brother's a Muslim. It felt like I had to stand up for them because I love them. I want them to be happy and feel comfortable when they walk out of the house. On the next special, I want to dive a little more into how I'm feeling now with this whole atmosphere that's been ploughed into so many people nowadays. If I didn't talk about my Mom being a lesbian, my brother being a Muslim, and my little sister going in the Army, I’d feel fake. All of those things make me who I am. I have to talk about it. It's part of my life.
Lil Rel: That's what makes comedy believable. I think the great thing we do is that we don't know whose lives we touch when we're just being ourselves. You just finished [filming] Sorry to Bother You. Was it a drama?
Jermaine: Yeah. It was a dark comedy, man. Me, Lekeith [Stanfield], Tessa [Thompson], and Steven Yeun. We had Terry Crews come in, and Danny Glover did a little cameo too.
Lil Rel: Wow.
Jermaine: It was great, man. Yeah, it was my first movie. The best play. You get a cast like that, that's unbelievable.
For the full feature, pick up Issue Three, available on select newsstands including Barnes & Noble nationwide. You can also buy a copy here.
Words: Sarah Sahim