Already known for his introspective and revealing brand of comedy, Jerrod Carmichael is making perhaps his most personal revelations to date on his new standup special, Rothaniel.
The special, which premieres on April 1 on HBO and HBO Max streaming at 9 pm, deals heavily with the topic of secrets – family secrets, open secrets, taboo topics we know full well in our communities, but know better than to openly speak about.
I had the fortune of being selected to attend a taping of the special, which took place in mid-February at the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City. In a shock to many in attendance, the comedian used his platform to publicly and definitively come out.
With much of the standup exploring coming to terms with oneself by coming to terms with one’s lineage, Carmichael dropped the revelation amid an anecdote about discovering his father’s infidelity, and working up the nerve to tell him to reveal it to his mother before he would do so himself. After the situation was resolved, Carmichael says he began to feel like a fraud himself due to hiding details of his own romantic life.
“After that was out in the open, I was left alone feeling like a liar, because I had a secret,” he said, leaving the crowd in brief suspense. “One that I kept from my father, my mother, my family, my friends, and you. Professionally, personally.”
“And the secret is that I’m gay.”
Though fans will have to wait for tonight’s premiere to see the reaction chosen for the final cut of the special, in real-time, the audience attending the first taping was immediately receptive to the revelation, lavishing the comedian with applause for candidly sharing his truth.
Alternatively, Carmichael’s revelation that his first official same-sex relationship was with a white man drew an audible reaction of shock mixed with light dismay from some members of the audience – a comical note that Carmichael said he fully expected and embraced, particularly from Black women discovering the news of his sexuality. He used this personal detail to delve deeper into the complexities of Black men in entertainment often having interracial partners (that they sometimes try to hide from their largely Black audience).
Though undeniably laugh-out-loud funny at several points, Carmichael’s exploration of family secrets and the pain of keeping things hidden versus revelations and the pain of dealing with hard truths was resonant for much of the audience, made most obvious by Carmichael’s invitation for call and response with the crowd. With tones shifting seamlessly between comical and serious, the material often toed the line of an open therapy session as the comedian worked through his most personal and pivotal experiences, thoughts, and emotions.
Even the special’s name, Rothaniel – which I’ll leave you to watch to find out the relevance of – is a source of conflicting emotions that arguably lie at the center of much of the comedian’s story.
Rothaniel premieres Friday, April 1 at 9 pm EST on HBO and HBO Max streaming simultaneously.