Comedic star Lil Rel Howery gets real about hip-hop, Phife Dawg and Chicago
April 04, 2016 at 12:30 am
We watched Kevin Hart years ago as he made his ascension through the ranks of comedy. Now there is a new star on the rise of the comedic front — Lil Rel Howery. Kevin Hart has already provided his stamp of approval by producing Howery’s standup comedy special RELevant on Comedy Central. Howery currently stars in the hit NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show, where he plays the lovable, outspoken Bobby Carmichael.
I had the opportunity to speak with Lil Rel Howery about a few things, including: Jerrod Carmichael, who is a friend and co-creator of The Carmichael Show, new fame, Phife Dawg, hip-hop and more. Howery has something he needs to get off his chest. Check it out.
Chris Marvel: Lil Rel Howery, thank you for joining me. I’ve been a fan for a while and was excited to do this interview. Let me get right to it because I am sure a director needs you on set somewhere making the world laugh. Can you recall a time when you looked at the script and said WHOA we are going to discuss this?
Lil Rel Howery: Thanks for having me, Chris. Nothing surprises me because I know its Jerrod Carmichael’s voice, and the dude is bound to say anything. I would actually be surprised when I read something safe. Honestly, I can’t sleep until I read the new script. I don’t care if it comes at 3 o’clock in the morning. A lot of this stuff is from conversations I’ve had with this dude or as a cast.
I remember we did the Cosby episode (“Fallen Heroes” from season 2), Loretta (Devine) was like, “We are not doing that!” So we went to brunch and talked about it as a cast. That’s what makes the delivery dope. It’s not just one opinion. Some shows are just one opinion from a few writers. On our show, every character has their own opinion. No real family has the same opinion about something. That’s not real life.
CM: So I will toot the horn for you, how does it feel handling fame and stardom being the guy from Chicago?
LRH: Honest to God man, it has taken faith because I knew I would always be here because God showed me who I was. I am doing what I thought I was supposed to do. It is interesting that you asked me that. Everything going on in Chicago, I was watching a docu-series on ViceLand about Chicago, and I recall watching that and being in tears because it’s so many young people who don’t know who they are.
One thing about me and Jerrod (Carmichael) is that we will hang out in the dressing room and talk about believing in ourselves and coming from these dope families. Becoming a star feels surreal sometimes. Like when I did my special and Kevin Hart produced it. In Chicago, theaters sold out for two shows. The line was around the corner. It’s a lot of moments I had like “this is how I dreamt it.” It’s easy to convince someone what you want to do when you saw it first.
CM: What was your vision for the standup special?
LRH: I wanted my special to be like Raw or Delirious with just a curtain behind me. I wanted the focus to be on me because I had a vision for it. Then after delivering it, I remember Kev was surprised at how good it was. I already knew what I was going to do; I knew they were surprised, but this is what I saw.
CM: Your character rocks a dope looking chain and reminds me of Rick Ross style wise. How would you say hip-hop has influenced your character Bobby?
LRH: (Begins laughing) You know what’s funny, the lady in wardrobe tagged me (in a Rick Ross photo) on Instagram and said, “This is your influence,” and I remember laughing almost in tears. Think about this, most black people with a lot of money dress like their favorite rappers, I don’t care where they work or what they do for a living. No matter what, they will do whatever to get the chain and the shoes.
CM: Would you say that when you read the script a hip-hop influence was present in the character or did you bring that?
LRH: I remember I didn’t have the money to buy dope sh*t, but it was places to buy it. Bobby doesn’t have a consistent job, but he will get what he’s supposed to wear every day. The hood is about being hood rich. You think about all the people buying things for Easter and they don’t have much. They are dropping a few hundred easily on a little kids Easter suit. I like to buy my kids Jordans, but my son loves wearing these Karate shoes because he goes to school with kids that are all different. I’m like put the Jordans on, because when I grew up what you had on was a big deal.
CM: Is there freedom in hip-hop that allows your role to come alive?
LRH: Definitely, bruh. It was a time people thought that hip-hop wouldn’t last, but now it controls everything. As long as struggle is here, hip-hop will never leave. Hip-hop influences everything. Me and Jerrod just sit back and listen to samples. Jerrod went and found samples from Kanye’s new album (The Life of Pablo). Even to our shoe game. Bobby and Jerrod shoe game is crazy. The Jordans we have in our wardrobe is insane. Sometimes I wear some of the shoes off the set like “let me leave my shoes here and let me take these with me, they go better with my outfit.”
CM: There was a moment I thought gave light to the fear black men have in society last season. Your father on the show, Joe, says, “That is one suspicious walk you got there, son! You always walk like that?” He continues, “I’m your father, and I would never shoot you, but that’s one aggressive stroll you got. I blame it on the hip-hop.” Can comedy take the weapon of racism of America’s hip?
LRH: It does a good job of it if we think about some of the greatest comedies we have seen, like Sanford and Son and All in the Family. Comedy makes you think about the issues. It was so dope for Joe to say what he was saying because we have some old school black people who honestly think everything happening now is our fault. That moment in the show showed people how they look when they say certain stuff.
So you think someone has merit to shoot me because of what I wear and the way I walk? What hip-hop gave us that scares people more than anything is confidence. Some people think, “why black people so confident and still think they can make it after what they been through?”
CM: I remember listening to black Author and Psychologist Dr. Naim Akbar, I recall him saying “Black people were never meant to be prosperous in America…the plan in the beginning was for us always to be the working class.”
LRH: It’s like when Phife Dawg died. Tribe Called Quest — to me — started the backpack movement. I remember in high school, and everybody was into P.E.(Public Enemy). You had groups like Tribe Called Quest for the nerd who loves hip-hop this way and didn’t mind complimenting a woman or didn’t have to say the most vulgar thing. The wordplay of what Phife Dawg was saying was so dope. I am smart enough to come up with different ways to say things. Hip-hop is responsible for so much dopeness. You still need the Master Ps of the world too, but at the same time, you need A Tribe Called Quest. They made me want to read so I can say dope things. The book bag generation is who is leading everything today. It’s interesting how we segregate ourselves sometimes because someone is articulate, knows his voice and can write well. That’s why I’m proud of the Black Lives Matter Movement because it’s being led by young people who come from nothing. They know how to articulate the message.
CM: I am from Cleveland and every summer violence spikes. You being from Chicago, what are your thoughts on how hip-hop hurts or helps shape the minds or is it something else in the Chi?
LRH: It’s so funny you ask me that, cause the ViceLand joint I was watching was talking about Chief Keef and the Drill movement. It all comes from a real place. That’s why it’s crazy to see all these politicians say dumb sh*t. They stopped all these programs for people and it’s like they should be getting work for people. When you don’t have the right food to eat and don’t have sh*t else to do in a crazy environment, it changes everything and creates bullsh*t. These as*holes who are positioned to do it are only thinking about the Olympics. It’s insane because there are people here who are hurting. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. It’s a Midwest thing and I love performing there. My shows always sell out and I am supported so well. My agent tells me Cleveland wants me, and I say YES, Cleveland damnit. I love my Midwest cities cause I relate to them. Because my comedy is what we see and this is what the f*ck is going on. People are hurting bruh, and after I watched that documentary, I sat in silence full of emotion thinking ‘they need hugs, man.’ These kids are asked to be grown too early and make real life decisions. It’s about survival, and it’s sad to see. Chief Keef can’t even go back to Chicago and he wants to, but it’s so many factors making sure he don’t. Y’all mad at this man for rapping about some sh*t that is what it is. He tried to do a ‘Stop the Violence’ concert, and I talked to his manager about how he is trying to do the right thing.
The police shut down a hologram since he couldn’t come, do you know how insane that is? The police tried to say they thought it would be violent, and the whole crowd was a bunch of white kids. They were probably going to put handcuffs on the hologram. They were like ‘we have to get a green screen too, let’s get a hologram cop.’
CM: Kevin’s Hart is a force in the comedy show era today. You all worked together on your last standup special RELevant. How has Kevin helped comedians when it seems a few comedians aren’t excited for his success?
LRH: I’ve never seen a top comedian being attacked like this. I think it’s because of the bitterness of these guys remembering when he (Kevin) was new. It’s that crab in a barrel bullsh*t. This dude opened for a lot of these guys and they are mad at him for becoming a star. It scares me a lot of the time, because what’s going to happen to me when I take that spot? Are they going to start talking crazy about me? Nobody stays in that position forever because it’s always rotating. Whatever position you in right now, you the reason, fam! It’s about the work ethic, and Kevin works really hard. Plus he’s likable and smart. That’s what I like about the Kings (Kings of Comedy). The OGs of this sh*t, the Ceds (Cedric the Entertainer) and Bern (Bernie Mac), like they in they own lane. I am interested in seeing how Kevin reacts to the position change. He’s being attacked, but he also reacts to everything. It makes me nervous, like why do you care what the f*ck they are saying about you, bruh? If I’m in that position, i’m not even reacting or putting out a statement. I don’t think Kevin is so defenseless, because Kevin says things sometimes too where I don’t necessarily agree with everything, and its like, fam, watch what you say because you don’t want Lil Rel to get in for real ’cause I’m very opinionated.
CM: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, much success to you. Keep killing it on NBC and across the country.
LRH: I appreciate it.
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Chris Marvel currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio with his loving wife and son.