Lil Rel Howery stole Get Out as the comic relief TSA agent. At the same time, TV critics were trying to get people to watch The Carmichael Show, in which he played Jerrod Carmichael’s brother. Carmichael Show was cancelled after three seasons, but Carmichael produced the new show for Howery, Rel.
Rel is based on the standup comedy of Howery. Rel is trying to pick up the pieces of his life after a divorce, date again, and get along with his father (Sinbad). Howery spoke with reporters after a Television Critics Association panel for Rel. Rel airs Sunday nights on Fox.
A lot of the classic sitcoms always say “based on the standup comedy of” whoever the star was. Do you think every standup has a sitcom idea in them?
Lil Rey Howery: “I think so. It’s kinda tragic for a while, they went away from giving standups sitcoms. We started just seeing comedic actors star in everything and not the guys who go on stage every night and tell you where they’re from and who they are. Hopefully I’m able to, I think Jerrod [Carmichael] kicked it off, but I think we’re on a cool run now. It’s happening where standups are getting shows and making really good shows. If you look at someone even like Donald Glover, give it to the comedians again. Let the comedians make comedy.”
Was the success of Get Out instrumental in convincing Fox to give you a show?
Lil Rey Howery: “I think so. I think between Carmichael Show and Get Out was a great balance for me, because we would pitch this maybe a few months after Get Out. I told Jerrod I had this idea for a show. You know what’s messed up too? These are my friends so I pitch stuff and they’re like, ‘Rel, you gotta do this.’ Dude, I was talking to my friends. I don’t want to make up a show.”
Is it easier to do films and not do a series?
Lil Rey Howery: “Yeah, but it’s a dream. At the end of the day, as an actor, as a dreamer, I want to do what the dream is. To be honest with you, I have a bunch of movie offers but I put all that to the side. I remember telling my agents, ‘I know I could make a lot of money doing movies, but the little kid in me that started this business always wanted a sitcom.’ And I got it.”
When you were watching Jerrod do it, were you figuring it out?
Lil Rey Howery: “I think we would always have conversations while we were doing Carmichael Show, to be honest with you. I think the greatest thing was me being able to work with him. He’s very experienced. He’s so smart. He knows how to talk to a studio and network. He knows how to get what you want done. Jordan Peele had a great idea for a show and J.J. Abrams approached me with another great idea about a show, but I wanted to do my version of a show first, and I wanted to do it with my friend who I think is one of the smartest, most talented execs in Hollywood to be honest with you.”
Are J.J. and Jordan still going to do those shows?
Lil Rey Howery: “I think so. I think he should. Jordan is brilliant. This idea is so funny though. I’m not going to say it, but it was one of the most original. If I wasn’t doing a show, this would be the show I’d be doing and it’d be a hit show.”
What is your favorite TV sitcom?
Lil Rey Howery: “Family Ties. That episode ‘My Name is Alex’ made me want to be an actor. I was like, ‘This dude’s going to be a star,’ because it was so beautifully done. It was like a one-man show. But it was beautiful. It was funny but had so much heart in it.
Gerry Cohen is my director. He did Married with Children. Fox molded my sense of humor to be honest with you. The Simpsons, that’s why I got Mike Scully. I’m a Simpsons man. To have Gerry Cohen, Martin, In Living Color, Fox literally, the first thing I really laughed hard at was Bart singing Jingle Bells, ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells.’ That’s the first hard laugh where I was like, ‘If this is what comedy is, I’m in.'”
How old were you?
Lil Rey Howery: “Oh my God, I had to be like seven, eight.”
Is it surprising that a whitebread sitcom like Family Ties would really resonate with you?
Lil Rey Howery: “I’m glad you said it, but the heart was there. The heart was beautiful in Family Ties.”
Is that how you want Rel to resonate with people?
Lil Rey Howery: “It’s heart. That’s a human thing. It’s not a color thing. I think that’s where the episode I’m literally writing that’s just like ‘My Name is Alex’ where we’re kind of modeling the format of it. It’s going to be so beautiful. I would love if Whoopi Goldberg was in it. It’s going to be hilarious, it’s going to be beautiful. It’s even weird writing it. It’s a little emotional writing it, but I think people are going to really enjoy it.”
How’s the workload as creator, producer and star?
Lil Rey Howery: “It’s fun. First of all, I like going into an office. I love going to the office. I love pulling up at the studio, going to my office, seeing Rel on the door. It just makes me really happy. I’m in a writers room with my friends. It’s really fun. Look, man, when you come do open mics on the chitlin circuit, you can’t wait ‘til you just get a pass and go in somewhere and have a desk and an office and a phone. I like all the regular stuff. I got pens, everybody. I got my own pens!”
Did people in school say, “Oh yeah, you’ll be an actor someday?
Lil Rey Howery: “I don’t think so. I wasn’t an actor yet. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school. I used to do characters in class. One of my homies was a class clown. He was the funniest dude at school but with me it was always like Saturday Night Live/In Living Color funny. I would impersonate teachers and have everybody dying laughing. I think it wasn’t until I did the play my senior year that a teacher let me write my own jokes and everything. That’s when I knew I wanted to do it. I’m 17, did this play and I was like well, this is it.”
Who got you the best at the Bruce Willis roast?
Lil Rey Howery: “Everybody did, man. I had so much fun. Martha Stewart. It was so funny, Cybill kept talking about me and I forgot to roast her back. I roasted up there and at some point I’m sitting there like why am I here? I don’t know any of you people. This is insane. You guys couldn’t find nobody else? It was Martha Stewart. I told her that because she was all nervous. I’m like, ‘Martha, you’re probably about to kill all of us so don’t do that. I know you, don’t be humble.’
That California Raisin thing was so funny to me. It was based off a character I played on a show Friends of the People. I played a California Raisin so she researched that. So, it was also an honest fact but it was really funny at the same time.”
Is there anything too embarrassing from your life to use in the show?
Lil Rey Howery: “Nope. Nah, I’m not afraid to talk about anything. I think that’s the great thing about standup. That’s where you experiment. You have some comics that want to look cool. I don’t care about looking cool. I think it’s funnier me going through stuff, people messing with me. Think about this, I let people roast me on my show. I don’t care. I just think it’s funny.”
When you did Get Out did you have a sense that it was going to break through?
Lil Rey Howery: “No, because you don’t know. You do a bunch of stuff. I had a series, Friends of the People. I was in the In Living Color reboot. I did The Carmichael Show. We don’t know what’s going to be that thing where everybody’s like, ‘Ah.’
The same thing with Tiffany [Haddish]. You don’t know and then one day it’s like boom. We didn’t even know if people were going to go see Get Out. You were either going to love it or hate us for doing it.”
When you do such personal projects, how do you avoid being wounded if it doesn’t succeed?
Lil Rey Howery: “Just move on though. I think that’s what so interesting. We did The Carmichael Show and that was a good show. All of us loved that show, but me and Jerrod were going to have a fancy dinner somewhere like, ‘Yeah, we’ll be all right.’ You just move on. The thing about being a standup comic, if none of this works, I’ve always got that stage.”