*In a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, Jerrod Carmichael talks about the uphill battle of convincing NBC to allow his ample use of the N-word on “The Carmichael Show.”
On the upcoming June 21st episode, the racial slur is front and center, just weeks after Bill Maher made headlines by saying the word on his HBO talk show.
Carmichael wrote a guest column for THR about his own personal history with the word, why he wanted to tackle it on the sitcom, how he convinced NBC to let him do it, and where Bill Maher went wrong.
Read an excerpt below:
I grew up hearing it constantly but you don’t learn about the meaning behind it until there is some type of clash over it. You learn about it in conflict.
We actually have had this conversation in my family a bunch. My mother is just against everybody using the word. She doesn’t want white people to use it, she doesn’t want black people to use it, she doesn’t like hearing it. She associates it with pain and thinks that the removal of the word is the removal of pain. And my grandmother, who lived through Jim Crow ’60s, thought the word was fun. She would say it and we would joke and she would laugh. It was fun watching my mom get really angry while my grandma and I just said “n—.”
My grandmother’s way of thinking breaks a certain unspoken rule of society and that’s inspiring — realizing that sometimes your thoughts aren’t in line with the majority. That inspired me to find my truth and not be afraid to express truly how I feel about the word. My family being in conflict showed me different people can think different things even on such a heavy topic.
My perspective is that I just don’t want us to be controlled by a word. I don’t want it to be used as a weapon.
Having the word itself said on the show came out of a deeper conversation about do you feel beholden to these unspoken rules for being a black person, or being a woman or being gay or being whatever you are? It just naturally went to the n-word and the rules around it and that’s where it came from. Then we said to the network, “We want to say it but it has to go on air.”
[NBC President of Entertainment] Jen Salke and I had a great conversation about it. She called and she was like, “Jerrod, what are doing to me?” She approached it with a lot of heart and understanding and I’m thankful for that. It’s just that caution because if you don’t use it correctly, you risk losing sponsors, you risk the foundation of why we’re here in the first place.
The network came back and they approved one. Before we were going off to write the script, our showrunner Danielle Sanchez-Witzel said, “At most write two,” because Danielle knew I wasn’t just going to write one. We wrote four and then we somehow ended taping and will air six. It was that snowball effect of, “Alright, we said it once, what are we going to do? Not say it again? They already heard it, we’ve already breached it, let’s use it a couple more times. That’s kind of the point of the episode too: We’re adults, and saying it once versus six times… we can grow up and have a conversation.
The intention is to genuinely explore and do it with as much integrity as we can so it’s never just buzz words, it’s never us just saying it for the shock value. Bill Maher really took a hit because the intention was an easy joke, a cheap joke that’s dismissive and belittling. If you’re going to say it, you better have an intention behind saying it. People know the difference between you just saying something to get a rise of them and when you really just want to explore something. His intention is what brought this on. People read that intention.
These things just come out of the blue and become topics in the news every now and then and we have a brief conversation about it, but I hadn’t heard a lot of new perspectives portrayed on television about it. I hope viewers realize there’s a spectrum of perspectives on this. Like anything else, every voice on it is worth hearing, every voice on it is worth sharing and saying out loud and having discourse. If people talk to their families and friends about it, it lends itself to people having thoughts on it that they’ve never had before. That’s what we all want.
Read Carmichael’s entire column here.