“What’s that officer? Oh yeah, the car hopped the curb and hit her, yeah. How’d I survive? Oh, I had on Nikes, she had on high heels. You can’t dodge a car in pumps.”
– Jermaine Fowler, Stand-Up Performance at Comic Strip Live
Daffy Duck?! Seriously? I ask Jermaine Fowler about his artistic influences and he mentions Daffy Duck? Where do I go from here? Assess the situation. I know that people want to understand his guy. They want to like him. Hell, they already do. He’s been cast in a brand-new remake of In Living Color. The original version was my favorite television show as a kid. His new web series is pushing the boundaries of sexuality and race at a seamlessly intelligent and hilarious level. It’s obvious that this guy knows his craft well. With that said, how do I reckon with the fact that beside great names like Eddie Murphy and Tim Burton, the comedic mind of Jermaine Fowler is being brought to you in part by a spit-slurring cartoon talking bird? I choose my next moves wisely.
I breathe. I stretch. I shake. I sip from my energy drink stash. I stare at my notes for an angsty minute or two. And then I perform the simple action necessary to open up my understanding of this man and his special power. I lean back in my chair. I swivel a bit. And eventually, I laugh.
I laugh out loud. I laugh at the Duck thing, at myself for worrying about it in the first place. I laugh at the fact that taking a peek into any creative mind is an adventure, but when one makes the decision to foray into the mind of a comic, one must always remember the magic rule. The point is to laugh. Nothing more. No matter how mind-tangling the artist’s work might be or how many quirky horizons the artist may force you to cross. To understand Jermaine Fowler, all you have to do is laugh.
Besides the aforementioned, Jermaine Fowler seems to come from a place with no rules at all. He turns the classic tale (a 20-year old kid from D.C moves to New York to make his way) on its ear, by actually becoming a success in the process. In the three years between then and now, Jermaine has raked in accolades, from the Silver Nail Award at Aspen’s Rooftop Comedy Festival to a spot in the New York Post’s “50 Funniest Jokes.” Just recently, Jermaine made his way into Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival under the event’s “New Faces” banner. Now we find Jermaine here, at the kind of evolutionary moment American comedians dream about. He’s been selected to work as a cast member on a nationally televised sketch comedy show.
In Living Color reminds us of an amazing time in Black television history—when brothers Damon and Keenan Ivory Wayans were carving out their thrones as entertainment royalty. Jim Carrey took a chance with his Fire Marshall Bill character and it launched his career. A young and already dangerous Chris Rock coined the phrase “Good lord, that’s a lot of money!” by way of Cheap Pete while speaking for a generation chafing at the all-too-slow trickle-down effect of Reaganomics. And just before the commercial break, audiences watching at home got to meet a Fly Girl named Jennifer Lopez, who always had a special something about her that made her shine among the other dancers under the brilliant choreography of Rosie Perez.
The mere fact that the show has been remade is amazing news for us, the viewers. We can’t wait to see what this new show will be like, what new stars might be born here. But for those talented few individuals selected to form the cast of the new show, some pressure might emerge. What plan of attack might be needed for such a grand opportunity? Where will the motivation come from? Fowler didn’t seem bothered too much.
iLikeZach: What made you want to get involved with In Living Color at this stage?
Jermaine Fowler: Keenan Ivory Wayans told me he’d let my family go if I’d join the cast.
iLZ: As an artist, what are you attempting to do with comedy as it exists now?
JF: I’m not trying to do anything with comedy per se. But I do know what I’m doing is different and fresh.
iLZ: What’s it like to be a comedic actor in front of the camera compared to being a hilarious comic on stage?
JF: The only difference is that on-camera there are so many technical aspects to consider while delivering a joke. The best part is that you can do take after take then choose the best. But in stand-up, you only have that one moment.
iLZ: Jermaine, where do jokes come from?
JF: My jokes come from personal experiences growing up and non sequitur ideas I have plaguing my thoughts. But mostly my jokes come from Africa.
Of course, as illustrious as it is, this television show is not the only thing Jermaine has cooking right now. He’s been airing episodes of a web series he created with Kevin Barnett called “Homo Thugs.” So far the show chronicles the picaresque adventures of two gang bangers who can’t seem to set the record straight about their sexuality. The show speaks heavily to the warped ‘hood ethics concerning displays of homosexual tendencies and gay-on-the-down-low motifs. Fowler’s character, with a naked behind protruding from sagging jeans, and a comfortable willingness to perform simulated fellatio on a gun in episode 2, brings a lot of complexity to the table in terms of what comedy, especially black comedy, is ready for.
iLZ: The Huffington Post is talking about “homo thugs” in the same breath as President Obama’s support of homosexual marriage rights and Frank Ocean’s coming out of the closet. How comfortable are you with your comedic work playing an active role in the Black Gay Movement?
JF: I believe, “Homo Thugs” doesn’t just play an active role in the Black Gay community. “Homo Thugs” is more than just for Black People or just for Gay People. It’s for everybody to enjoy. I just hope the series also plays a role in the progression of entertainment.
iLZ: What do you seek to destroy?
JF: Stereotypes and smallpox.
iLZ: What do you seek to build?
JF: An academy where mutants can learn how to hone their skills and function in society.
Jermaine has his work cut out for him. He’s a new young voice with a great big platform. He’s proud of who he is, so much so that he shares that identity with his audience regularly on the stand-up comedy circuit. He’s willing to put himself out there for better or worse. He’s sometimes misunderstood but if you look close enough, it’s always clear that his efforts come from an honest place. Hmm, I think I get it now.
iLZ: Who are some of your artistic influences?
JF: Tim Burton, Eddie Murphy, Nickelodeon Cartoons, and Daffy Duck.
With Jermaine Fowler in the game, I think we’ll all be laughing for a while yet.