“Rothaniel,” which was taped in February at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, weaves stories of Carmichael’s family history in with his own coming out process. At times contemplative, buoyant, and occasionally heartbroken, Carmichael talks about the weight of keeping this secret throughout his life and career, and how coming out has changed his relationships with his friends and family for both the better and the worse.
After telling a story about realizing his father had been cheating on his mother for years, Carmichael takes a beat and looks out at his audience. “After that was out in the open, I was left alone feeling like a liar, because I had a secret,” he says. “One that I kept from my father, my mother, my family, my friends, and you. Professionally, personally. And the secret is that I’m gay.”
After a long silence, the audience claps, to Carmichael’s visceral relief. “I’m accepting the love, I really appreciate the love. My ego wants to rebel against it.” Later, he adds, “I rebelled against it my whole life. I thought I’d never, ever come out. At many points I thought I’d rather die than confront the truth of that, to actually say it to people. Because I know it changes some people’s perceptions of me. I can’t control that.”
Carmichael — 34 and born in North Carolina — came to prominence in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy world. He also created the brilliant-but-canceled sitcom “The Carmichael Show,” which ran for three seasons on NBC, and was both topical and semi-autobiographical.
In his 2019 HBO special “Home Video,” the comedian talked about his sexual experiences with men during a conversation with his mother when he said, “I’ve hooked up with dudes before.” In “Rothaniel,” however, Carmichael admits his relationship with his mother has been more fraught since he came out to her, but he has hope for the future. “As much as she believes in God, I believe in personal growth and feeling free,” he says. “And I do feel freer.”
“Rothaniel” premieres Friday, April 1 at 9 pm EST on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.