Jerrod Carmichael works mainly in stand-up comedy, though he has recently begun to branch out as an actor and a writer. His work includes the TV series Loiter Squad and Lucas Bros Moving Co, and he makes a huge splash this summer in the new Seth Rogen comedy Neighbors, playing a pot-addled member of a college fraternity who moves in next to an older married couple. In an exclusive interview with Mania.com, he talked about the role and his thoughts on comedy in general.
Question: How did you get involved in the film? What was the attraction of the role?
Jerrod Carmichael: Simplest reason ever. It seemed funny and it the humor seemed rooted in character rather than pratfalls. I fell in love with some of the unnecessary depths these characters sink to. The bits that are off, that are a little naughty, but that have characters at their base. Look at the scene with the 3-D printer, when we’re all getting our junk scanned and printed. It’s funny because it’s ridiculous, but it’s how they’re reacting to it that makes the humor. You’re not laughing at the dicks, you’re laughing at how these guys react to it all.
Q: And you have to cry in that scene…
JC: That was my idea. I asked if I could cry because I thought it would be really funny. Hope it was.
Q: Is comedy easier or harder than drama?
JC: Comedy’s harder than drama, at least from my way of thinking about it. A great comedian and a great comedic actor can do what a dramatic actor does and then take it a step further. Comedy is just drama where the tension is broken. You create the tension and then you break it. In that sense, comedy is just drama with an extra step.
Q: Is comedy something you feel you’re married to? Could you see yourself branching out into drama?
JC: I do a lot of stand-up so I really love comedy. I’d be perfectly happy doing comedy for the rest of my life. I love the control of it and I love the challenge. But frankly speaking, as long as they want me to do it and as long as there’s truth in the character, I’ll be happy to do anything they want.
Q: What is it about fraternities and the frat life that makes for good comedy?
JC: It’s a group of people who take absurd things very seriously. That isn’t limited to fraternities, of course, but everyone knows the fraternity template. And there’s the sense of devoting yourself to this endeavor with your whole heart, your whole being, and it only lasts for a few years. Then it’s gone and suddenly those things that you thought were so important don’t matter at all. There’s an absurdity that where you can really go to some funny places.
Some of it’s fear too. Fear is funny, and humor is a way of dealing with fear. The real world isn’t as scary as we sometimes believe it is, and yet when something scary happens, we all freak the hell out. All of us, everyone on the planet. That’s funny. Here, you have this couple, Seth [Rogen] and Rose [Byrne] who are afraid they’ve lost their youth. And on the other side, you have this fraternity who is a little afraid of winding up like Seth and Rose someday. They all kind of let their fears run away with them, which forms the basis of the humor.
Q: Was there any kind of catharsis in this? A sense of being back in school?
JC: There was. I never went to college, so this felt a little bit like my chance. And I don’t just mean that in the partying sense, because that onscreen partying is actually a lot of very careful work. But I felt like I learned a lot on this shoot. I picked up so many things, I learned so much about how this process works. And yeah, I got to play this character who smokes a lot of weed and doesn’t think there’s gonna be a tomorrow. Enough shades of that irresponsible guy came out of the process to lend a harmless sense of what that might be like.