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‘Coming 2 America’s’ Jermaine Fowler on Eddie Murphy’s Influence on His Comedy

Jermaine Fowler Coming to America
Courtesy of Quantrell D. Colbert/Amazon Studios

Jermaine Fowler was named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch in 2016, and he jokes he wasn’t a fan of lists until then. Since that time, Fowler has made a name for himself as the star and producer of the series “Superior Donuts,” and now he takes on his biggest role yet — in “Coming 2 America,” the long-awaited sequel to the 1988 Eddie Murphy hit. In the new film, hitting Amazon Prime Video on March 5, Fowler plays Lavelle, the illegitimate son that King Akeem (Murphy) never knew existed. Lavelle and his mother (Leslie Jones) are plucked from Queens and transported to Zamunda, where his new royal life awaits.

You were born the same year the first “Coming to America” came out. Do you remember when you first saw it?

I was 8 or 9, and as a kid, when you see something that hits you, it sticks with you forever. It’s truly one of my three favorite movies of all time. Those barbershop scenes stuck with me. I actually would record them — hold a recorder up to the TV and record it — and make those scenes my answering machine. People would call, and I would purposefully not answer the phone because I wanted them to hear it. Which was weird, because by then the movie had been around for years.

You’ve said Eddie Murphy was a major influence on you. Why is that?

“Eddie Murphy: Raw” is the reason why I wanted to do stand-up, and the reason why I wanted to do stand-up that would catapult to an acting career. And now I’m doing the sequel to “Coming to America.” You can’t write that, you know.

What was the initial audition like?

For context, Eddie’s son Miles and I, we write together. He’s one of the funniest writers I’ve ever known. All his kids are so talented, every single one of them. But completely separately, I got an email from my agent about it, sending me sides. When I went to meet the director, Craig Brewer, I went a little fan crazy because I love him. We had a 45-minute conversation about barbecue, and then I left. And I was like, “Wait, I didn’t audition!” Craig brought me back, and I left feeling like even if I didn’t get this role, I would work with Craig Brewer someday.

How did you find out you got the part?

Actually, after the callback, Boots Riley called me. He said, “I’m at the Black Film Festival in Miami right now, and I don’t want to say too much, but you have some good news coming your way.” But when my manager and agent called to tell me the news, I had to act surprised.

Did you tell Eddie you were auditioning during this time?

No, I didn’t. Sometimes I’d be at his house, and I didn’t want him to think I was politicking to get a role. And his guidance and friendship have meant more to me than just trying to get some role. So I said nothing. But when I finally got it, I was at his house, and we were smiling and kind of like, “Hey.” It was Miles who finally broke the ice. At one point he just said, “This is effing crazy!”

Things you didn’t know about Jermaine Fowler:

Age: 32
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Favorite movies (other than “Coming to America”): “Sleepy Hollow” and “The Rock”
His first screenplay: At 11, he wrote a sequel to “The Rock”
Great performances: Appeared on “Lip Sync Battle” where he synced “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Flashing Lights”
If he sounds familiar: Fowler was the announcer of the 2017 Primetime Emmy Awards
Up next: “Am I OK?” from directors Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne