Berkeley-bound Comedian Jerrod Carmichael fell in love — and that’s funny – The Mercury News

Berkeley-bound Comedian Jerrod Carmichael fell in love — and that’s funny – The Mercury News

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Jerrod Carmichael’s standup comedy has an intimate, confessional style that makes it feel as if he’s laying all his thoughts and feelings out there, even when he’s not.
His longstanding open, contemplative style made it all the more striking when he finally came out as gay earlier this year in “Rothaniel,” his third comedy special on HBO, revealing just how much he’d been holding back. It’s an often hilarious and masterfully constructed hour of soul-baring reflections that won the comedian who comes to Berkeley Repertory Theatre Nov. 8 an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special this September.
“That was a very scary off-limits piece of me and my life,” Carmichael says on the phone. “And when you are a performer whose act is built around telling the truth of who you are, and you’re hiding a big piece of yourself, then you’re working with a handicap. And so I think I removed a handicap.”
Now Carmichael, 35, is bringing his latest show, “Ari told me I lack focus,” to Berkeley Rep Theatre for a short weeklong run.
“It’s focused on relationships and the outsourcing of self to others in a broad sense, but more specifically me falling in love and understanding what that means,” Carmichael says. “I came out late in life, and I feel like I’m kind of going through an adolescent period in my 30s — which makes me feel trapped, but also makes for some great comedy.”

It’s an unusual show for Berkeley Rep audiences in that cell phones and even smart watches and other accessories are not allowed inside the performance space. All such digital devices have to be placed in locked Yondr pouches that viewers keep with them but cannot open inside the theater.
Carmichael has played comedy clubs in the Bay Area before, but this will be his Berkeley Rep debut.
“I’ve always had a good time there, and I’ve always really appreciated the audiences,” Carmichael says of the Bay Area. “Even earlier on, doing standup, I always thought that the audiences were more open and intellectual. And I think I always sought an openness from the audience, for reasons I didn’t even know early on in my life. Berkeley’s always been almost like a European audience in America. And so I’m very excited to come there specifically.”

Originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Carmichael came up in comedy in Los Angeles in his 20s. His first HBO special, “Love at the Store” in 2014, was directed by Spike Lee. He had his own NBC sitcom called “The Carmichael Show” and a memorable role in the 2014 movie “Neighbors” and its sequel. He directed the autobiographical HBO documentaries “Home Videos” and “Sermon on the Mount,” and this year he directed and starred in the film “On the Count of Three,” a dark comedy about best friends settling old scores before a suicide pact.
Carmichael has never shied away from uncomfortable topics in his comedy, but really opening up about love is new territory for him.
“Because I hadn’t experienced true feelings of romance until late in life, I don’t think that I’d really experienced heartbreak,” Carmichael says. “My friends who experience heartbreak later in life, especially by their 30s, at least have enough context to know that whatever feeling they’re going through isn’t forever. But I was definitely just a big baby wallowing in my own sorrow and despair, and it took a while for me to dig my way out of that. As much as contentment is a work in progress, I think I went through an adolescent period of sorrow, and I think I’ve found a way out. So I just want to talk about that.”
Contact Sam Hurwitt at shurwitt@gmail.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.
Performs “Ari Told Me I Lack Focus,” presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
When: Nov. 8-13
Where: Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
Tickets: $23-$81; 510-647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org
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