Jerrod Carmichael on His Family Relationships After HBO Reality Show

In the final episode of “Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show,” Jerrod Carmichael watches a scene from earlier in the show, in which he argues with his mother about his sexuality.

“Even if God doesn’t accept homosexuality, that still doesn’t erase your heart,” says his mom, a devout Christian, while trying to connect with her son. Then: “Whether you’re a murderer, sinner or chose to live the gay life, I love you just the way you are.”

Carmichael doesn’t exactly take it the right way: “OK cool, my mom accepts me as she would accept Jeffrey Dahmer.”

In an empty theater sitting next to the masked Anonymous, who may or may not be Bo Burnham, Carmichael eats popcorn and watches his life turn into content.

“When we made the show, it was important to me to remain a pure subject,” says Carmichael in an interview for Variety‘s “Making a Scene.” “I didn’t want to be involved in creative meetings. I didn’t want to think of my life as a season, or I didn’t want to think about these problems as having an arc.”

As the HBO series turns cameras toward Carmichael’s most vulnerable moments — following him in therapy and while he’s cheating on his boyfriend Mike — he had to put a lot of faith in director Ari Katcher, who made sure he knew that the series would not just show “the likable sides” of its subject.

Still, “It makes me a little bit nervous just as a friend watching somebody do that,” Katcher tells Variety.

“I was able to just trust the camera in the series completely,” Carmichael says, then, looking at the team of Variety producers behind this camera, adds: “In a way that, if I’m like here… you all seem nice but I don’t know.”

One reason Carmichael removed himself from the production process of “Reality Show” is to avoid “performing” for the camera.

“I was performing so often in my day-to-day life — harboring a lot of secrets and I just wasn’t being true — and I used the camera to make me accountable,” he says.

The idea to bring Anonymous into the theater with Carmichael ties back to the first episode, in which the masked friend warns Carmichael that the reality show cameras are not a “neutral eye,” and that this project might be “self-destructive.”

“This is not truth. … There’s public and private, and then there’s masturbatorily public,” Anonymous says in the first few moments of the series. “I care about you beyond this thing.”

Bringing him back in the final episode, Katcher was curious whether showing Anonymous footage of the series would change his mind. “He had such strong opinions about the show, and we want to include any point of view that strong. I love their chemistry,” he says of Anonymous and Carmichael. “They’re very combative as friends.”

Carmichael, who says he will never reveal Anonymous’ true identity, says of his friend, “Anonymous participates for the same reason anyone in my life participates: out of love. I’d like to believe that there is a curiosity there, because the show is a challenge. Can we find something that resembles truth? Can we find truth through such an artificial medium?”

But Anonymous still isn’t sold on “Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show” being such a good idea, warning Carmichael in the theater, “This is going to be viewed by the giant, revolting mass of people that is argumentative [and] insane … All of this is on a conveyor belt into fucking hell, which is the release. Fingers crossed that everyone is just watching TikTok and no one gives a fuck.”

Carmichael says that interaction with Anonymous was “kind of a realization, like, ‘Oh yeah, Twitter and TikTok and Reddit and whoever is going to react to this. And people in the streets are going to react to this … I was excited, but it was a little scary.”

As for the feedback that “Reality Show” is “exploitative” — of his parents, his boyfriend and his own trauma — Carmichael agrees.

“The show is very exploitative,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m paying for my parents’ life, and they have to be in my reality show because I give them no choice.”

But while most of the series shows the fraught relationship between Carmichael and his mother — and the resilient but seemingly hopeless effort to normalize relations between Carmichael’s parents and his boyfriend — there is a glimmer of optimism at the end. In a flash forward five months in the future, Carmichael returns to his parents’ home for Thanksgiving with Mike, whom Carmichael secretly films washing dishes with his mom.

“I had given up hope that the series was going to bring together his family and his new family in any way, and then he sent us that footage from Thanksgiving, and it was a little kernel of hope,” says Katcher, adding that the series was “hugely effective” for Carmichael and his personal relationships.

In Carmichael’s own words: “I feel like the conversations I had on the show were necessary … for my own healing. I wouldn’t have had them without the show. I know that’s crazy, but I would have lived in a space where I was just hiding myself and afraid of rocking the boat.”

He adds, “All we can do is keep trying … I felt like that was the happy ending. We just keep trying.”

Watch the full episode above.

Variety’s “Making a Scene” is presented by HBO.

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