Lil Rel Howery’s new HBO hour Live in Crenshaw is unlike any other stand-up special released this year—or any other year for that matter.
As the 40-year-old comedian and actor tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, he was so busy filming his many upcoming movie roles that he didn’t have any time to work out material before the taping. So instead, he just walked out on stage, put trust in his talent, and hoped for the best.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve been doing this way too long. It’s like breathing to me,” he explains. “So all I asked was, let’s make sure that crowd’s got energy and we’ll see where I go with it. Because I didn’t know where I was going to go with it.” Howery says HBO wanted to hear his jokes in advance, but he had nothing to give them. “I was like, I’m not giving it to you because I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he says. All he told them was, “Trust me!”
It was his friend, fellow comedian and frequent collaborator Jerrod Carmichael, who directed the special and had the idea to tape it in a high school gym. When Howery saw the big windows that lined one of the walls, he knew he wanted viewers to watch the sun set behind him as the show progressed. By the end of the hour, Howery is bringing down the house in near darkness. It’s not only hilarious but also beautiful to watch.
“The great thing about my career so far is I’m doing all these movies, I’m doing all this big stuff, that I could just do the comedy special how I wanted to do it,” Howery, who had scene-stealing roles in the hit films Get Out and Bird Box, adds. “I didn’t have to make it this big thing. It was just what I wanted it to be.”
In our last new podcast episode of 2019, Howery talks about how he pulled off this remarkable feat of stand-up comedy, shares stories from the set of The Carmichael Show and his Fox sitcom Rel, explains how Get Out transformed his career, and a lot more.
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, the Himalaya app or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On taking direction from Jerrod Carmichael
“He just trusted me. Jerrod believed in me in a way where he was able to convince HBO, Rel know’s what he doing. I know they were nervous, man, until the taping. It feels like afterward, everybody was like, phew, that was great! What you thought it was gonna be? A disaster? In this gymnasium? It’s hot! Jerrod wanted that sweat. Because it has that rally feel to it. When you see Dr. King doing those speeches in those churches, it just has that real feel. There’s something beautiful about seeing that because it seems real. That’s performance. Jerrod is just brilliant at knowing what environment is perfect for which comedian. Someday he’s going to get recognized for the brilliant guy that he is. I don’t think he gets enough props.
How Tiffany Haddish ended up on ‘The Carmichael Show’
“Tiffany was just our friend. She wasn’t even on the show. She just came in because the girl [Jerrod] casted at first was still doing this play and couldn’t come to none of the rehearsals or table reads. So Tiffany was just supposed to be at one table read and she was great and everybody loved her. And she came back because we needed some help with the rehearsals. It was crazy, because when [the original actress] finally came—and we had Tiffany for a couple of weeks now and we got used to her—it was just kind of weird. And this is a true story. I wasn’t even out of the lot yet when Tiffany called me and said she replaced her. I was like, ‘She’s still on set! Does she know she’s replaced?’ Jesus this is a crazy business. That’s why you better show up. Don’t let somebody read your part. I ain’t never seen nothing like that before.”
What he’d tell Eddie Murphy ahead of his stand-up comeback
“It’s so funny, you hear a lot of comedians go, ‘Yeah, Eddie Murphy,’ but if you watch their material you’re like, where has Eddie influenced you? I cannot wait to see Eddie Murphy come back. I hope he sees my special. He’s the only one I haven’t really had a real conversation with yet. Out of all my heroes, he’s been the only one that I just want to sit down and rap with. If you’re about to come back, I’m a good comic to sit down with it, if you want somebody to look at it. Because I know what this style is. Don’t go away from what made you the legend, man. I want to see him tell stories and do characters. Eddie is still hysterical. He’s still probably the funniest person in the room.”
On the original ending of ‘Get Out’
“I really booked the role, not even from the funny stuff, but when we did the original ending in the audition. That’s an intense scene. I remember at the time, it was very emotional and I was outside waiting on my Uber and Jordan Peele walked out and was like, ‘Look, I ain’t supposed to say anything, but it’s yours.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ I ended up walking down the street, I don’t even know how far I walked, because I was so happy. When I saw the original cut with the original ending, it was just a different feeling when you watched it. I was angry. I couldn’t even sleep. Because it was like, damn, man. I think it would have done well [with the original ending] but I don’t think it would have been as mainstream and Oscar-nominated. I don’t know if it would have happened if we had kept it that way.”