By Jamel Johnson
Everyone loves a hometown hero. It just feels good to see a person be good at their craft and come back to where it all started. That’s why we don’t mind LeBron wearing that dumbass Monopoly man hat, but it can’t just be any old goofus off the street. Gotta be handy with the steel and earn your keep. Jermaine Fowler is the regulator I’m speaking of. Once a child in the D.C. comedy scene, he’s returning this weekend as a man with several plans. In preparation for his comedy special taping at the DC Improv this weekend, we recently spoke together on telecommunication devices.
Jamel Johnson: Good to talk to ya. It’s been a minute.
Jermaine Fowler: It has been a while.
Jamel: I heard you did your thing at 9:30 Club a couple weeks ago.
Jermaine: Yeah I performed there for Bentzen Ball. It was pretty cool because I left D.C. in 2008. D.C. comedy was OK when I left. I come back and there’s 1000 people at a show and it’s like damn D.C. wasn’t anything like this when I left. I’m just glad the people in D.C. are appreciating comedy more and more because the comedians are getting funnier every year so that’s awesome.
Jamel: Man, I regret not starting sooner because you left right before I started
Jermaine: Yeah ’08. Left D.C. a year and a half ago because I was getting bored with it. Mainly because I’m a native and I just wanted to move and see what else was out there. I was 20 and wanted to go on an adventure, but I would also get homesick a lot and come back to visit. It was cool to come back and see all the new comics pop up because they were all funny as hell.
Jamel: It’s wild when I first started I didn’t know anything about stand-up now I feel like there are 300 comics in D.C.
Jermaine: Yeah everybody wants to do comedy now. I don’t like it. When I started it seemed like it was like 10-20 comics. You had Seaton Smith, Aparna Narcherla, Rory Scoval, Andy Haynes, Jason Weems, Hampton Yount, Eli Sairs, Erin Jackson, Tyler Richardson and few other people and that was it. Now it seems like everyone is doing it. Comedy went corporate. I miss when it was all indie and unpopular.
Jamel: That Seaton, Aparna, Rory, Hampton class is like season 1 Power Rangers to me.
Jermaine: That’s a perfect analogy. I’d say Seaton is the Blue Ranger cuz’ he’s not that black. I’d put Aparna as the black ranger. Yeah definitely Power Rangers or VR Troopers.
Jamel: True. So what are you doing right now?
Jermaine: Right now I’m drinking tea and watching movie trailers, but you mean like in my career?
Jamel: Haha oh right. Yeah.
Jermaine: Right now I’m writing a script for ABC. They bought an idea for a sitcom of mine. It’s about me getting kicked out of my Dad’s house and going to live with my Grandma who was an ex-cop. It was an amazing situation because she was more understanding than strict. She wasn’t too pushy with me and gave me the space to figure out what I wanted to do with my life without rushing me. It was a great situation because it was what I needed at the time. she’s one of the main reasons i’m still doing comedy. It was more like living with a roommate than a grandparent. I love her to death.
Jamel: Word. How many shows have you written for?
Jermaine: Uhh I never really wrote for anything until this Friends of the People show came about. I never really cared about it until recently. I always wrote my stand up bits but it didnt start to come to together until I started working on that show. I was writing and performing in sketches for six months straight and it made me a better actor and script writer as well.
Jamel: I remember a few years back everybody in town was very excited about In Living Color news.
Jermaine: Oh so was I and it never came out you know? And it happens all the time. A pilot won’t get picked up and you worked really hard on it but you know what’s cool is that was the biggest project I had worked on at the time ever. I was 23 and I was still pretty underground in New York doing stand-up and I booked that and people started taking me seriously. It didn’t get picked up but it was like “yo i’m on the map now” which was dope and it was gorgeous because I got to meet a lot of funny comedians I’m working on this Friends of the People show with now like Jennifer Bartels and Lil Rel Howrey. I’m just grateful because I got to work on that project. I got to work with the Wayans you know? It was one of the craziest full circle experiences I ever had happen to me.
Jamel: Is working on pilots and understanding they might not work out the new level of open mics?
Jermaine: In a way. You work on a pilot, you hope for the best, you do your best, walk away from it, and you’ve got to forget about it. It’s such a high probability that a show will not get picked up. You can’t dwell on it. It’s like a lottery man. You’ve got to just keep grinding, keep doing stand-up, acting, and other things to keep getting your name out there. You can’t get a pilot and get your hopes up and get in the dumps when it doesn’t work out. I know a lot of comics and actors get down on themselves. They stop working for a while and are sad but I feel that’s when you should work even harder for the next pilot that comes around.
Jamel: I’m glad Friends of The People got scooped.
Jermaine: Oh yeah, me too. It’s the funniest show out right now, such a good cast, and the funniest pilot I’ve worked on to date.
Jamel: Who else is on the cast with you besides the Lucas Brothers?
Jermaine: Kevin Barnett, Jennifer Bartels, Lil Rel Howery, and Josh Rabinowitz.
Jamel: Did you guy chose each other or were you put together?
Jermaine: We decided to work with each other. Network didn’t put us together which is what made this so much fun because we were all each other’s first choices. We all shot a pilot for Comedy Central that didn’t get picked. TruTV saw it and wanted to re-shoot. We did and it’s funny as hell.
Jamel: What else do you have coming up?
Jermaine: I’m shooting a special on November 1st at the DC Improv. It means a lot to me, probably the most important project I’m working on right now. Because I’m doing it in my hometown. I was raised in Maryland, born in D.C., the DC Improv is the first club I ever performed at and it’s coming back around for me to do my special there. I’m just grateful to the club for letting me do it. It’s the first special they’ve ever taped there. They recorded Patrice’s (O’Neal) album there, they did (Mike) Birbiglia’s album there, but this the first visual special they’ve done. It means a lot to me that they want to do it there.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkiwqVDEKso
Jamel: How many homies have asked for guest spots?
Jermaine: 3 very funny comedians so far. I had to say no which sucks, but it’s my first time headlining there so I still have to prove myself. Like even if I’m filming a special I’m still walking on eggshells because it’s my first weekend at the club.
Jamel: That’s huge man. You were telling me you’re producing it yourself right?
Jermaine: Yes I am. I’ve always admired directors who produce their own projects, because I want to direct, act, write, and produce my own things as well. I’ve always wanted a big production studio like Happy Madison and I thought why not have my first project be my debut comedy special. It just made sense to me. I thought if I shoot it the way I want to shoot it without any restriction from network or certain buyers I could do it the way I want to do it fully. like to do it with no regrets. I want it to be 100% me, then I want to sell me to whoever wants to buy me. Sounds like slavery, but it probably isn’t.
Jamel: Haha nah it’s a way more comfortable, Blake Griffin version of slavery.
Jermaine: I just wanted to make the term “Comedy Special” feel special again. Nowadays It doesn’t feel special anymore.
Jamel: You gonna drop any VHS tapes?
Jermaine: I’ll drop 100 records for Urban Outfitters and 5 VHS tapes for my great-grandma.
Jamel: You should sell em at FootAction like the And 1 mixtapes back in the day.
Jermaine: I remember those. I could never get em because we didn’t have money like that. I either had shoe money OR tape money. Never both. I had to go to YouYube for tapes.
Jamel: What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned in your progression? Like the transition from doing stand-up to writing and being on camera as an actor.
Jermaine: You’ve got to love all three. To be great and successful at it you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You’ve got to love every minute of it. I love writing and acting. I want to create things. I want to write what I’m acting and direct what I’m writing. Working on Friends of the People reminded me that I love film. I have since I was a child and making this show brought it all back for me. I can’t wait for people to see the sketch show and see how much fun we’re having
Jamel: I can’t wait to watch it. I feel privileged to be speaking to a young O.G. in the game such as yourself.
Jermaine: Haha thank you man…shit. People still treat me like a kid so I don’t even feel it.