We are nearly weeks away from the 2018 Emmys hosted by Colin Jost and Michael Che. This year, Donald Glover is up for several nominations thanks to his hit series, ‘Atlanta FX’. Despite the latest season of Atlanta FX ending in May, people continue to discuss one of its episodes, the ‘Teddy Perkins’ episode. The episode which told a story about a man in a mansion with a sketchy past would stand-out as completely original and borderline scary. Comedy Hype would discover that the story would end up featuring comedian and actor Chris Jarell in the pivotal role as a young Benny Hope. As Jarell put it, the role was his smallest speaking wise but probably his biggest role to date.
In our conversation with the Philadelphia stand-up comedian; we would learn more about his story in comedy, his experience with Donald Glover, Teddy Perkins theories, and his game plan to excel in acting & stand-up.
According to Jarell, Glover has to win an Emmy for the Teddy Perkins episode that has everyone talking.
CH: So are you a stand-up comedian or do you consider yourself as an actor?
CJ: I consider myself a stand-up comedian who’s an actor. I do both, I’m an entertainer. I try to stay away from labels and titles. I started with stand-up in my hometown of Philadelphia at The Laugh House. Without comedy there is no actor, I believe. Its kind of like one helps the other.
CH: When did you really start getting into stand-up?
CJ: I have been off and on with stand-up for years. Started in 2008… I kind of gave up on comedy a little bit… but then I took it seriously in 2013 after I dropped out of school. I was really successful in Philly but then I went to New York. I ended up linking up with Rip Michaels, Spanky Hayes, Jimmy Martinez, and Capone. They were all doing a show. I had linked up with someone who introduced me to all of them… and they were like, “Aye give the young guy a shot”.. I was going to get put on. It was an arena show and Capone was supposed to be headlining. We got there so late that Capone had to go up … so we had to follow Capone! I had to follow Capone … he’s like a vet! I’m not a seasoned comic at this point and I ate one to the face. I got booed for the first time ever. When I heard the boo I was like that was a weird laugh…. I was kind of in shell shock.
CH: Do you think acting is still apart of the formula for a stand-up comedian to blow-up?
I feel like most people are doing comedy to eventually get on TV. But you never know because some people are satisfied with doing comedy. Everyone has different goals.
CH: Yeah, it appears that acting helped propel comedians like Martin Lawrence and even Bernie Mac.
I would definitely say that acting does propel you because it takes a long time for people to know you just off of stand-up… One of my friends said comedy is like “a 10-15 year unpaid internship.” I’m like 10 years in and you didn’t know I did stand-up… you knew me from ‘Atlanta FX’.
CH: Speaking of Atlanta, how did you land the role of young Benny Hope?
I auditioned for another role at first and didn’t get it…. then the young Benny role came through the line.. and it was very vague on what character was doing. I was like this is weird, am I going to be a glorified extra or what? I didn’t know what was going on. But I think that’s apart of the genius behind Donald. How he jigsawed the whole episode together. Giving as less detail as possible to anybody. You can’t ruin that moment. He had me do what I was supposed to and everybody else does what they were supposed to do. Then I read in an article that he was in character the whole time… and nobody knew he was Teddy Perkins. He did a great job in piecing that together to make it extra special.
CH: Saw that Donald was with you on set while you played the role of Benny. What were some of the insight that you got about the character to help you perform?
When I read it… it was like young Stevie Wonder, young Michael Jackson… so I went into the audition with that type of vibe. They wanted me to pretend to play the piano and cry. I did that, and I had to get emotional. I actually had to pose for the pictures in the audition room. When I had booked it, It was like, “wow.” I was extremely excited. It’s one of my favorite shows and Donald Glover is like one of my favorite entertainers to date.
CH: So you get the role… how many days were you on set?
It was one day on set…. they had everything blocked out for me to do everything top to bottom. It was pretty dope. I think the dopest part about it was they let me take my Bluetooth speaker on set and let me play a bunch of 70’s RnB music to get into the vibe of it. Hiro, the director, he was cool about that. Everybody was feeling the vibe of that.
CH: You didn’t speak at all in this right?
Me crying on the piano was the most noise I made…. this was the smallest role speaking-wise but it ended up being the biggest.. which represents that, “There is no small role.” Now I know what that means.
CH: Did you have an idea on what the episode’s story would be about?
That’s apart of his genius (Glover), I saw it just like you guys. I didn’t know to what effect how the pictures were going to be portrayed. I think the first time you watch it, its hard to focus on everything because it blows you out of the water. I met Donald in the production office… told him, “I don’t want anything, just want to pick your brain.. but what’s going through your head when you write something like this?” I think it really catches you by surprise.
The Teddy Perkins Episode was full of different interpretation and theories. Jarell would open up about what he took from the episode along with whether Teddy Perkins was actually Benny Hope’s dad. Listen below.
CH: What were some of the reactions that you got out of the show?
Everyone was pretty much happy. Everyone was asking questions. A rapper came up to me and was like “Good sh*t on Atlanta…. so what happened?” [Laughs] I’m like, I seriously don’t have an answer, I’m at the same place you guys are.
CH: So there wasn’t a big reveal to you on what the story was about?
No…. But I think it’s dope that way….I didn’t even know, I just did what I was supposed to do.
CH: What was your personal favorite moment from the episode?
Well of course when Benny was in the basement with the chalk and you were like, “Woah what is going on?” There were a couple of things.. can’t be one. That’s not fair.… the ostrich egg, then the blood with the piano… then the gift shop. I think the suicide thing had to be at the top because you were not expecting that. That threw everything for a loop.
“….The fact that you can keep peeling back layers is exactly what the episode was supposed to do. I personally feel that’s why it has to win an Emmy… it has to.”
CH: So coming off of this role, what does your momentum look like now?
My momentum is looking good. After this episode aired I produced my own live comedy show. If you check out my Instagram page you can see ‘Chris Jarrel Presents Underdog Comedy Jam’. I just shot a movie in Buffalo, NY … I think when it comes out is going to take things to another level to… I think my momentum is pretty good. I’m constantly working on my comedy so that when my TV moment does come that my comedy will equal that.