Rolling Out

Lil Rel talks ‘Acting Out’ and his big screen debut

Lil Rel doing standup at his special at the Chicago Theatre - Photo Credit: Brooklyn Wheeler
Lil Rel doing stand-up at his special at the Chicago Theatre – Photo credit: Brooklyn Wheeler

Lil Rel Howery will not be stopped. His star continues to rise. His success on “The Carmichael Show” allowed him to enter into the homes of millions and this has resulted in new comedy shows, a stand-up special and his transition to the big screen. We spoke to Rel about his ascension, his newest show, “Acting Out” and starring in his first movie, Get Out, written and directed by Jordan Peele.

What does it mean to share your success via social media?

It’s something I do to motivate other comedians, actors [and] writers — mainly my Chicago family. When D Cole or Dray share their experiences, it motivates me. The way Kevin Hart uses social media is not bragging it’s motivating. With social media, we are able to do something dope by showing people that they can actually obtain the same thing we can. I think when we grow up watching TV, the stars seem like stars. You don’t know what they went through. You don’t know how they got it. It almost seems unattainable. With social media, we are able to show people if you work hard that you can literally do the same thing.

Talk about your new show “Acting Out” and the concept.

Acting Out is an amazing show. It’s where comedians get to tell their stories and do their material, but at the same time while they are on stage their jokes and their materials are being acted out in sketch form. I’m a storyteller, this is why this show is perfect for me. It’s dope to see the stories come to life. In my brain, I know what it looks like. I try to be as descriptive as I can to my audience so they can picture it too. It’s even more fun to literally see it for yourself. I am in awe at some of the stuff that was done for my bits. It one episode we do this joke about my mom “Can I have, I want” and to actually see it being acted out was surreal and weird at the same time. The actress reminded me of my mom and the kids reminded me of my brother. I got a little emotional on the real. I had to take a break. It was like watching my life.

I’m proud of all the comedians that participated in this. They are all so funny. I’m so excited because I haven’t seen all the sketches yet. I’ve seen the stand-up, just not the finished product. I can’t wait to see how these stories come to life. The biggest difference in our show is that the comics actually participate in the sketches.

Talk about the transition from the small screen to the big screen.

It feels dope. It’s one of those things where I want to make the best decisions about what I choose. When you do your first big movie I wanted to make sure it wasn’t silly. I want to do something that had some real depth to it and Jordan wrote a dope script. When I go to a lot of auditions I might mess around a little bit, but when I read this script I knew I had to get this [(part]. I really focused on the character and into the story and I got the part. It was surreal seeing the trailer. I was eating my hot dog and then bam I’m like “That’s me!”

How has the experience on “The Carmichael Show” changed your approach to comedy?

It hasn’t changed my approach to comedy. It has challenged me to really think more. This is because of Gerrod. He challenges everything. The script challenges all of us to think outside of our own understanding. We have our own opinions of how things should be and how things should go, then you have this 29-year-old dude who is making us look at something differently.

How is it working with David Alan Grier?

David is one of the most talented actors I have ever worked with. I was a big fan of his way before “The Carmichael Show.” A lot of my cadences I got from watching him. To see it in person it’s hard for me not to laugh. I try not to look at him when we are filming because I try not to laugh.

How has stardom affected the relationship you have with your children?

My kids are really dope. I was just at home in Chicago and my daughter Brittany was interviewing me. It was like I was on Oprah. She wanted to know my experience. I like the fact that they are both fascinated by what I do. I let them participate. This last season on “The Carmichael Show,” I paid my daughter to be my assistant. It’s so important to include your kids in what you do.

What has been the most impactful moment of your career thus far?

Great question. I have had a couple of them. There are certain moments when I’m like “Is this really happening?” I remember doing the funeral episode of “The Carmichael Show” and Marla Gibbs was the guest star. Norman Lear came to the taping of that episode and Marla didn’t know Norman was there. So when we were doing the curtain call and Marla Gibbs came out, she saw Norman. They haven’t seen each other for a few years. To witness [them] seeing each other for the first time after a few years was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my whole life. I couldn’t even imagine when I was sitting at home watching Marla Gibbs on a show written by Norman Lear that I would be in the moment when I see two friends reunited after so long. It was an emotional moment. I couldn’t believe I was seeing it. That was one of those moments where I was like, “Yo, I’m really doing this.”

OK, this question is going to break the internet. Name your top five comedians in no particular order. 

My top five in no particular order are Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Damon Wayans, Ellen Degeneres, and Bernie Mac. I think Eddie Murphy is the greatest comedian. I do think that Richard Pryor is the Godfather, but Eddie Murphy, in my opinion, has every comedic category in his arsenal. He can roast you, he can freestyle, he can host. He was LeBron James before we even saw LeBron James. I add Ellen to my top five for  a few reasons. She did something to change the world. When she did that it wasn’t like it is now. Right now she is one of the most likable people in the world now. When she came out back then she was one of the most hated. She has a heart in her material and [it] comes out in what she does. For a long time, Robin Harris had my last spot, but I gained an appreciation for how good Bernie Mac was. A lot of the stuff he went through I found myself going through being that we are both from Chicago. He was a genius. There was not one movie that he was in that he did not kill. I’m a student of this and let me tell you, Bernie is one of the greatest to ever do this.

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