Lil Rel Howery has been making giant leaps in the world of comedy. Not only is Lil Rel mastering the art of stand up comedy, but he has also made his way into America’s living room, by co-starring on NBC’s hit show, “The Carmichael Show” as Jerrod Carmichael’s older brother, Bobby. As Rel prepares for a season 3 of the sitcom, we caught up with him to talk more about his career and shares his new series with MTV called Acting Out.
By Corey Tate
CH: You’ve been making a name for yourself for a while now. For example, you did Bill Bellamy’s televised comedy show, “Who’s Got Jokes” about 10yrs ago. But in the last few years, your career has been taking off at a rapid speed and now everyone is starting to know who you are. How does it feel to be having such a grand amount of success?
LR: It feels good. It’s definitely been a build up over the years. For example, you mentioned the show, “Who’s Got Jokes”. That show was a great mark in my career at the time. I competed against some really talented comedians and met people who I’m still good friends with now. Like my Carmichael Show co-star, Tiffany Haddish. It feels good to have experienced so many cool things and to be where I am in my career right now. And I knew it would happen like this, because once you get the ball rolling, things begin to happen for you.
CH: Your jokes tend to have a timeless feel to them. You could listen to a Lil Rel joke, 10-20 years from now and it will still be as just as funny. How did you develop such classic, timeless material?
LR: I’m a big fan of Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. And what I’ve learned from these guys, is that when you’re personal and honest, you will create timeless material. Topical material has a limited shelf life. But Richard Pryor’s material still holds up, because he talked about his life. So, that’s what I try to do. I try to be personal and honest.
CH: On the sketch show, “Friends Of The People” you played a lot of characters. And in your stand-up, you do a lot characters. The way that you do characters is reminiscent of when Martin Lawrence, when he played characters in his sitcom, “Martin” and Eddie Murphy in movies like “Coming To America” and “The Nutty Professor”. Do you plan to create your own TV or movie projects based around your ability to play characters?
LR: I would love to do an animated project. I think that would be the best way for me to play multiple characters and voice all of the characters. Creating something based around my characters is definitely in my plans.
CH: If someone were to look at your Instagram, you appear to be having lots of fun on the set of The Carmichael Show. What’s your favorite part of working on The Carmichael Show?
LR: I love the fact that we do a live taping in front of a studio audience. I’m a huge sitcom fan and working on this show has helped me figure out sitcom timing. I’m developing the skill of figuring out when to deliver a line and how to deliver a line and I think that’s a valuable skill to have. I also like looking at the production side of things. I like watching our director, Gerry Cohen direct scenes and how he sets up the cameras to get certain shots. It’s exciting to observe all the elements of a sitcom and how each element is just as important as the next. It’s like being a kid sometimes [Laughs].
CH: You’ve worked with people from the new generation like Jerrod Carmichael, but you’ve also worked with veterans like Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier. Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with yet, that you want to work with?
LR: I would like to do a movie with Ice Cube. I hope that someday I’m one of the comedians that Cube wants to work with. And this next one might sound random, but I would love to work with Susan Sarandon. I’m a huge fan of Susan Sarandon. I would love to be in a touching, dramatic film with Susan. I don’t know what the movie would be about, but it’d be a movie where I cry in a scene with Susan Sarandon. [Laughs].
CH: In your comedy special, you made a lot of references to Chicago. Like the “Stick Man” and the old man wearing the Pelle Pelle jacket. These are things that are specific to Chicago. Do you ever fear that your characters won’t translate to people who aren’t from Chicago? Or does it always translate because of the honesty?
LR: I describe my Chicago references so well, that even if you’re not from Chicago, you’ll get where I’m coming from. If you look at New York and L.A. comics, they talk about where they’re from so vividly, that even if you haven’t been to these places, you’ll get it. And this is because they do a good job at explaining their experiences. For example, going back to Richard Pryor, Richard was from Peoria, IL. Peoria isn’t a mainstream town, but the way Richard talked about it, you felt like you could go to Peoria and know what’s going on there. I’m glad I never changed my style to fit a certain audience. I remember when I did the show, “Who’s Got Jokes”, people were saying that my success was only because the show was filmed in Chicago and my jokes were specific to Chicago. But that’s not the case, because I’ve done this material in New York and gotten standing ovations. Charlamagne Tha God told me that when he watched my special, he felt like he was in Chicago. That’s the biggest compliment that you could pay me. Essentially, I like being able to bring people into my world.
CH: You’re based in Hollywood now. Before this, you were based in New York City. And before that, it was your hometown of Chicago. How has all of these places shaped you to become the comic that you are?
LR: New York City has helped me to see that the world is bigger than black and white. New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world. It’s a melting pot full of different cultures and I got a chance to meet so many different people and this helped me shape my material. And as far as L.A. goes, the weather is just amazing. Good weather makes you feel good. I love riding around with my top down, bumping Chance The Rapper, feeling that warm L.A. weather [Laughs]. As for Chicago, that’s home. That’s where it all started. That’s my foundation.
CH: What’s next for Lil Rel? Any upcoming projects that your fans should know about?
LR: I have an upcoming series on MTV called, “Acting Out”. We just shot 10 episodes. The show’s premise is that stand up comedians do their sets and while they’re doing their sets, the jokes are being acted out. The comics were amazing and I had a fun time hosting the show. It’s a fresh idea that I’m excited about and MTV is excited about also. Another upcoming project, is a movie titled, “Get Out”. This movie was written and directed by Jordan Peele of Key and Peele. The role I play in the movie was perfect, because it allowed me to show my range as an actor. So I’m very excited for people to see it. Hopefully, it propels me into a position to work with Susan Sarandon [Laughs].
You can catch Lil Rel on The Carmichael Show on NBC, which has just been renewed for a 3rd season.
By Corey Tate