The heart of this show revolves around the painful tension between family ties and personal growth, and the most burning segments focus on his relationship with his mother. Her reaction to his sexuality, which is rooted in her beliefs, leaves him cold. The fact that he loves her so much that he calls himself an echo of her in a way makes this even more poignant. This special, which finds its star hunched over in an almost fetal position at its climax, hits shrill tones unmatched in this form.
Not only is it emotionally raw, but it’s present and immediate in a way that a polished joke never will be. In a notable moment towards the end, he looks directly at the camera and I physically turned away, as if it was so private that it would be rude to look.
Art that awkward tends to have rough edges, and so does this particular one. But it’s artfully presented, almost to the point of failure. Burnham and Carmichael are artists so skilled and confident that it can be hard to believe them when they get messy. Carmichael tries less to tell an uplifting story than to tell a real one, and “Rothaniel” doesn’t build on a decent resolution. It’s raw, and you might have some questions.
I would recommend watching Carmichael’s lovely little 2019 documentary, “Home Videos” (also on HBO Max), filmed in his hometown of Winston-Salem, NC, with a chat with his mother to give her the same amount of time. You can see the warmth between them and his role as an addicted son who asks her if she’s ever done cocaine or slept with a woman. When she says no, he abruptly interjects that he’s dated men. In a later interview, he downplayed the comment as something he said at the time.
His mother has her story too, although this special isn’t about that. Earlier this week, Carmichael appeared at Union Hall in Brooklyn in preparation for hosting “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, an episode sure to be dominated by bits about the Oscars. He joked that he was the least famous person to ever host “SNL,” and that you only had to come out of the closet to get the gig. He said he hadn’t spoken to his mother in months, although he did once a day.
Once again he sat, less conversing with the crowd than delivering a set, seeming to be seeking something in the moment, a real experience, albeit one that might help him build a monologue. Carmichael asked the audience what he should be speaking about on Saturday. Someone yelled gas prices. “I’ve been rich for too long,” he replied.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/01/arts/television/jerrod-carmichael-comes-out-rothaniel.html Jerrod Carmichael comes out in Rothaniel, but there’s more to it than that