Jerrod Carmichael and A$AP Rocky on Masculinity, Fatherhood, and Fear
It’s finally Jerrod Carmichael’s moment, and it couldn’t feel more right. The comedian-turned-auteur was always known for finding humor in the tragic and discomforting, and those dueling obsessions have crystallized into a diptych with the back-to-back releases of On the Count of Three, a dark comedy about two friends making a suicide pact, which Carmichael starred in and directed, and Rothaniel, his HBO special in which he stunned the industry by coming out as gay. In both projects, Carmichael mines the dark contours of the mind for lucid comic brilliance, turning our collective death drive into something with a prescriptive feeling of levity—all while mining tropes of masculinity and male intimacy in a way that feels refreshingly anti-conventional. In a year when the foundations of comedy are being shaken and people have lost their senses of humor about serious issues, Carmichael—long a favorite in tastemaker circles—has arrived, and not a moment too soon. Count A$AP Rocky among the celebrants. —PATRIK SANDBERG
JERROD CARMICHAEL: Yo, Rocky. What’s up man?
A$AP ROCKY: What’s up, Jerrod? Long time no speak.
CARMICHAEL: It’s funny to catch up with you like this. Congrats on everything, man. You’re going to be a dad, that’s so awesome.
ROCKY: Thank you.
CARMICHAEL: I learn about all of your movements through Vogue. When I want to know how Rocky’s doing, I just check Vogue.
ROCKY: [Laughs] I should be telling you congratulations, bro. The stand-up special, all the way to the film. This is crazy.
CARMICHAEL: Thanks, bro. Where are you in the world right now?
ROCKY: I’m in Malibu.
CARMICHAEL: Oh, I’m in Santa Monica. I didn’t know you were out here.
ROCKY: I better see you.
CARMICHAEL: We’ll meet at Erewhon.
ROCKY: [Laughs] The usual spot.
CARMICHAEL: I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I just did a photo shoot for this story. I should have called you for tips. I was trying to get in touch with myself on camera, but being honest on camera is hard. I just kept taking my shirt off.
ROCKY: Yo, listen man, you got to be feeling yourself. If you don’t celebrate you, who will?
CARMICHAEL: God bless.
ROCKY: I got a couple of questions for you.
CARMICHAEL: Wait. You know why I was excited to talk to you? Everyone knows Rocky is the coolest man on earth. But it’s like, I released a special, right? And in it, I’m coming out, which is really hard to do. It’s really hard to say, “I’m gay,” in a comedy special. Because comedy, like rap, is very masculine and cool.
CARMICHAEL: I was like, “Will people still fuck with me? Or are they gonna be on some ‘no homo’ shit?” I thought people were going to turn it off, for real. Because the thing is, I was—and I’m using air quotes here—“straight” a long time, bro. So I heard everything. I know how niggas feel.
ROCKY: [Laughs] But you want to know the funniest part? When I watched the special, I kind of felt like I was one of the homeboys you was referring to, like, “The whole time nigga? You was gay the whole time?”
CARMICHAEL: Yes, bro. That’s why I needed to talk to you, because you are the homeboy I’m referring to in the special, and I still need you to think I’m cool! Your opinion means a lot.
ROCKY: But you got to know this: You finding yourself, and really becoming yourself, and being proud of that, is the coolest shit ever. I fuck with you so heavy, bro. And who gives a fuck? If people you know are concerned about that, you don’t need those motherfuckers in your life.
CARMICHAEL: No, you’re right. It’s just a hard obstacle to overcome. It caused a rift with me and my family. It’s a deep-rooted thing that some people can’t get over. You and I are from different hoods, but I think it’s a similar mentality sometimes.
ROCKY: But that’s just close-minded people. You was like, “Yo listen, I know I’m a comedian, but I’m deadass serious about this.”
CARMICHAEL: People thought I was joking.
ROCKY: When I saw the special—the earrings, nigga, the earrings; the pizzazz, the posture, the fade—I was like, “Look at my nigga!” Papa’s got a brand new bag!”
ROCKY: I can’t express enough how happy I am for you, because I’m an advocate for being yourself. You know the real me. You know I’m a fucking goofball—we’ve chilled without no cameras. I’m myself. I don’t give a fuck. I’m not a tough guy. I’m none of that shit. I’m just me. And you’re you.
CARMICHAEL: I have to ask, you’re in this space of, like, cool niggas who are so cool—like you, Hov, and Obama are three niggas I couldn’t imagine with mustard on your shirt.
ROCKY: [Laughs] Nigga said Obama!
CARMICHAEL: It sounds like a joke, but I mean it. Do you find it hard to maintain an image? How conscious are you of being A$AP Rocky?
ROCKY: I don’t think that the world knows how much of a fucking goofball I am. That’s the mystique that people can’t see behind, but I’m not hiding. I’m not going to sit here and act like my shit don’t stink, but if I got a mustard stain, Imma rock it. That’s going to be the new shit for 2022.
CARMICHAEL: [Laughs] I feel you.
ROCKY: You told me about this movie shit in 2019. What was the thought process behind that?
CARMICHAEL: The film is about two angsty 30-year-old friends who decide to end their lives, and they make a pact to live one last day. It’s about them trying to tie up all their loose ends and fulfill their dreams before ending it. It’s about the freedom of that—what if you had one day to do every deep dark thing you’ve ever wanted? It was where I was in my life at the time. I felt stuck and I felt like I needed to make a leap.
CARMICHAEL: To a lot of people, 30 feels like the death of your youth. The movie feels like the culminating moment of youth anxiety: the fear of the 30th birthday, feeling anxious that my life isn’t what it was promised to be, trying to fulfill the promises you made to yourself as a teenager. A lot of people can’t see over that hill. I made the movie a couple years ago, and then I made Rothaniel pretty soon after. But the movie came out after the special. Rothaniel is a special about a man in his thirties contending with himself, which makes sense, given that I made it afterwards.
ROCKY: This is crazy.
CARMICHAEL: Let me ask you a question about growth. How do you feel growing older in rap?
ROCKY: Rap is in its adolescence and it’s been stuck here since Soulja Boy. Before, everybody looked 35 and up. When Lil Wayne and Jay-Z and T.I. and Jeezy and Ross was on, rappers looked old. Like, we had Lil’ Bow Wow and that was it. That all changed with the internet and self-releasing. Now, rap is stuck in this braggadocious, adolescent space. It’s not as mature.
CARMICHAEL: Jay-Z was the first rapper I ever listened to who was talking about family.
ROCKY: For real. But the thing is, being a rapper now, you don’t want to exclude anybody or neglect any demographics. As somebody that people look up to, there’s a responsibility to put people on the right path.
CARMICHAEL: That’s the thing—responsibility. I’m torn sometimes. Is the responsibility to myself or outside of myself? Because sometimes I want to bring my most irresponsible feelings to my work. You know, my most reckless behavior, my insanity.
ROCKY: You do that, though. What was that one special you did at the Comedy Store? You said, “I’m the type of man that needs a man around the house.”As funny as that is, it’s so true. So many people can relate to that in different ways.
CARMICHAEL: And masculinity is changing. What it means to be a man is different than it was for our fathers’ generation. But it’s finding its place, somewhere along the line of wearing pearls and whatever.
ROCKY: It has, and I’m definitely a fucking catalyst for that change, bro. I’m wearing kilts.
CARMICHAEL: What’s your intention when you wear something that crosses that line?
ROCKY: It’s dope because it plays with expectations. My girl could wear all of my clothes and get away with it. When I shop, I go to the women’s section to find good pieces, because I know that no other guys will have them. The Gucci North Face coats, the bubble jackets, those were all for females. That’s why you never saw no other guys walking around in them. Another thing with the kilts is, I feel more badass when I’m in a kilt. I feel more tough, if that makes any sense. I feel like you should wear what you want. It’s punk.
CARMICHAEL: But some niggas, the same niggas that I was talking about in the special, are going to be like, “Come on, man.”
ROCKY: Yeah. But punk culture is rebellious. We come from a rap version of punk culture. That’s where I adopted that attitude from. And before you know it, the new Celine collection is full of kilts.
CARMICHAEL: What you said has me thinking: “Man, I’m gay but I might need a girlfriend.” I actually might, just for the fashion. It’s really in vogue for gay men to fuck girls right now, so maybe I’ll get a girlfriend this summer.
ROCKY: [Laughs] I was just talking to Lionel [Boyce] about you the other day. He’s mad excited about the fucking film.
CARMICHAEL: I love Lionel, because he feels like a neighborhood friend. He has that ride-your-bike- over, park-it-in-my-front-yard-and-ring-the-doorbell-without-calling kind of energy. That’s what I need. We got to get together here.
ROCKY: Like the good old days, except the only difference is I’m a pop.
CARMICHAEL: Are you nervous at all?
ROCKY: I’m not nervous, but I crack up at the fact that people who knew me before, such as yourself, are going to have to adjust to seeing me as a responsible dad. Is it challenging to not only direct but also star in your own shit?
CARMICHAEL: It’s difficult. I did it because this movie was the most impossible movie to make on earth. I starred in it because it was hard to get anybody else. I directed it because it was hard to get anyone else to attach themselves to the material, because it’s risky. All of these things were done out of necessity. I don’t think being a multi-hyphenate is always a good thing. In fact, I’m really interested in getting rid of all the hyphens and blurring the lines. I’m more interested in worlds colliding than being a writer/actor/ director. Being a jack of all trades, master of none is a fear of mine. With that said, it was difficult, but I’m glad I did it. A lot of people do it, and I don’t know why. It’s very silly.
ROCKY: Damn, that’s crazy. It’s really similar to how Tyler [the Creator] operates.
CARMICHAEL: Well, we met through T.
ROCKY: True that. But when it came to Igor, he wrote it, he produced it, he directed the music videos. It’s the same thing.
CARMICHAEL: That’s what I mean about blurring the line, because I don’t think T is a multi-hyphenate. It’s the same with Kanye—certain artists are producers first and foremost. They’re in charge of making all parts of a cohesive song or album, and it all comes from them. It’s just one vision. I think there’s a difference.
CARMICHAEL: You’re recording now, right?
ROCKY: You keep asking me mad questions, and I got a million questions for you, but yeah. I’m recording right now.
CARMICHAEL: What’s sparking you right now?
ROCKY: I’ve been working with T a lot, man. We blocked out the last two weeks and have been working on a lot of music, but I’m wrapping up this album right now, about to direct a few of these videos. And I can tell you, just from doing a couple of music videos, it’s so much energy and preparation and curation. And music videos are only three to four minutes long. You’re doing features, man. That blows my mind. I can’t imagine that amount of stress.
CARMICHAEL: It’s hard making anything, knowing that the internet is there, and is going to talk about it. I think it’s the same pressure on all of us. I wonder what it felt like to release work pre-internet, as an artist. How would you even know if anybody liked it? You just wait for the phone to ring? Even if someone wrote you fan mail saying they liked your shit, you still had to wait a week to receive it.
ROCKY: [Laughs] Facts. This is your first time directing. How was your confidence on set?
CARMICHAEL: I care a lot about what I’m doing, I care that it’s good, and I’ll be embarrassed if it’s not. So I just carry that with me.
ROCKY: What inspired you to center the film around suicide?
CARMICHAEL: Well, our society has become so aware of itself. Sometimes I have this thought that I know too much to be happy, or that I’ve seen too much to ever fully be happy.
CARMICHAEL: I hope people see it, because the humor comes from the malaise of feeling stuck. I’ve felt stuck before. Coming from not having money, that’s probably one of the more obvious ways to feel stuck. I don’t know if you ever felt that way.
ROCKY: Absolutely. Honestly though, how did you manage to make humor out of such dark material? That’s the genius of what you do.
CARMICHAEL: It’s natural. Haven’t you laughed at the lowest moments? I’ve been in really devastating situations, and laughed because something just broke through to me.
ROCKY: Yo, no bullshit. The day Yams died, me and [A$AP] Lou found him and he wasn’t responsive. We ran to the kitchen to get water, ice, shit like that. I got to the kitchen first, and I could see into the hallway. I’m at the sink pouring water, and I look down the hall and see Lou running to help me grab some ice to wake Yams up. It was like a cartoon—my man tripped and slid down the hall on a carpet like Aladdin, bro. He went from the living room and slid all the way to the kitchen. I’m literally dying crying, but I’m crying from laughing, and I’m crying ’cause Yams is dead.
CARMICHAEL: You saw him on some Risky Business shit. That’s so crazy, but that’s what I’m saying. In that moment, the humor was involuntary. Those moments are as real as the sorrow and as real as the trauma. That’s why sometimes, when I see dramas that are devoid of humor, it doesn’t feel real to me. There’s a filmmaker I love named Pablo Larraín. He’s made the most incredible movies, but the thing is, he just doesn’t have a sense of humor. Robert Eggers is like that too. I’m not just criticizing, but I’m like “Bro, you’re almost perfect, just say something funny.”
ROCKY: Are you afraid of dying?
CARMICHAEL: In ways, yeah. I definitely am a cautious guy. I have hood fears. I don’t like cars without their lights on. I get nervous, I’m a little skittish, I got a little trauma. I’m like a rescue animal, bro. Be careful how you approach me.
ROCKY: [Laughs] “I don’t like cars without the lights.”
CARMICHAEL: I’m from the hood, so I’m a little skittish in certain ways. But to your question, I feel like I have purpose, and that helps eradicate any fear. Instead of obsessing, I work. Are you afraid?
ROCKY: I think that I’m more afraid of not knowing what’s next. That’s a little scary. I have to accept it, but I’m not ready to die.
CARMICHAEL: Me neither. What was so dark about the Biggie-Pac thing was they were prophesying it so much.
ROCKY: They spoke it into existence.
CARMICHAEL: It’s like, “Oh, the man who named his album Ready to Die is dead? Can you believe that?”
ROCKY: I feel it. Oh, wait, hold on one sec. My phone is on 1 percent. Let me grab a charger.
CARMICHAEL: Let’s keep going for a little bit longer, we’ll end on a brighter note.
ROCKY: Hell yeah.
CARMICHAEL: But you’re on a countdown to fatherhood, bro. You’ve got daddy things to do.
ROCKY: Here’s my last one for you. We got writing, acting, comedy, directing. What’s next for you, brother?
CARMICHAEL: I have an idea, and what’s funny is, I know it’s going to change.
[A$AP Rocky’s phone dies]
Production: Paige Viti
Fashion Assistant: Cara Catabay
Production Assistant: Niamh Hannigan