Drew Michael Won’t Tell You What You Already Know

By Allison Picurro

The comedian opens up about taping his first HBO special, his comedy partnership with Jerrod Carmichael and performing without an audience.


HBO: Why did you decide to film the special without an audience?

Drew Michael: Part of the issue with the way stand-up is captured is that the conventional way of doing it is taking a live show and just recording that. The problem with that is it starts to feel a little flat — the energy that goes into a live show, and what makes a live show engaging and what brings that electricity is that it is live; it’s inherent to the medium, right? When you try to film that and ricochet it off a screen and give that to people in their living rooms, or at their desks, or on a plane, I don’t think you can capture that energy. When it’s presented to people at home, they don’t care that it was once live. They’re comparing it to Game of Thrones and The Sopranos and The Dark Knight. These are their options on their rolodex of streaming media.

So we just went full-speed ahead in terms of the best way to do it. What’s the most effective way, what’s the coolest way, what’s the most beautiful way? Eventually Jerrod said, “I think we have to do this with no audience,” and it wasn’t even a question. After that, we couldn’t go back. It was a fun process because we were in uncharted territory in the sense that it hadn’t been done like this before.

HBO: Did that change your approach to the material?

Drew Michael: There were definitely moments when it felt different. Stripping away the audience, I think just intensified it. Any movement I made was captured in a much more intimate, much more immediate way.

HBO: You did a guest spot on The Carmichael Show, and you and Jerrod collaborated again with him directing this special. What has your comedy partnership been like?

Drew Michael: We met four years ago at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. I kept hearing his name; everyone kept saying, “This dude from L.A., Jerrod Carmichael, he’s the next big guy.” And so I hated him, you know what I mean?

I was doing the New Faces showcase and he was headlining a string of shows, and I ran into him at an afterparty. He came up to me and he was like, “Hey, man, I saw your set, I really loved it,” and I kind of blew him off and walked away. I got an email from the festival the next morning saying that he had asked for me to open for him for his show the following weekend, so I agreed. We ended up chatting after the show and I was like, “He is the nicest person ever — or a total psychopath.” It turns out he’s both. I can’t say enough positive things about him. I think I’m still a better comic than him, and I tell him this constantly.

HBO: How was working with Suki Waterhouse?

Drew Michael: She was outstanding. From Day One, she was the most enthusiastic, the most determined, the most committed. She wanted to do everything right, and work overtime to get the words right and get the energy right. She was very, very focused on making sure it was everything it needed to be and I thought she did an exceptional job.

HBO: What were you hoping to achieve with her interludes?

Drew Michael: We tried to just capture moments. There were versions of some scripts with more heavy conversations between the two of us, and we decided, “Listen, the heaviness, the intense stuff, we get all that from stand-up.” We wanted to capture those in-between moments that aren’t always portrayed.

HBO: What do you think sets you apart as a comedian?

Drew Michael: I honestly don’t think about it like that. Certainly I’m aware of the landscape, and you never want to fall into a pattern of what already exists, and what is known, and what is predictable. If I have an idea that doesn’t feel different, I won’t say it because that’s not comedy to me. That’s just telling people what they already know.