Comedian Lil Rel Howery is already known for his appearances in acclaimed projects like 2015’s Get Out, NBC’s sitcom The Carmichael Show, and this year’s Judas and the Black Messiah. However, the Chicago-born entertainer has spent the last few months on a tear, having worked on at least a half dozen more movies, TV appearances, a comedy album as well, and curating content for kweliTV since assuming a leadership role for the streamer last year as well.
Howery recently took some time to sit with CASSIUS to discuss his latest partnership, this time with Hennessy V.S.O.P, and their “More is Made by the Many” livestream exchange on Thursday, December 9. He will join other creators and trendsetters in a series of virtual roundtables inspired by custom cards for the event. Attendees 21+ years old are invited, and they can be a part of the thought-provoking discussions by using the hashtag #MorebyMany on social media, too.
CASSIUSLife: So just bring us up to speed a little bit. You are one of the busiest or hardest working people in showbiz right now. What’s your latest project? I know you had your comedy album Humbly Vulnerable, right? [It was released on August 17 of this year on Pandora, and then made available on all streaming platforms one week afterwards.]
Lil Rel Howery: That came out. I had, like, eight movies come out this year, and two are released this month. A movie called Home I did with Kathy Bates… So yeah, like, this year alone, I’ve been able to… Humbly Vulnerable, my comedy album came out. I put out, came out with eight movies, two more just released this month. Home is like a dramedy type of thing. I did with Kathy Bates, and then another movie called National Champions. That’s like, I think it’s going to push the envelope a little bit, talking about the business of college football, you know what I mean? And it’s a drama. So I tell people, “Like, look, I ain’t…” You know what’s funny? I be like, “I ain’t funny in it,” but I can’t help but to be funny.
And then I got a chance to host this amazing panel, “More is Made by Many” with Hennessy, that ended up being like, I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s going to be on Hennessy’s Facebook page, December 9. The conversations are so authentic and so real, and we have amazing guests on it. And I just can’t wait for people to see it like, it’s one of those things I think I should be doing maybe once every few months with just different people because it was such great conversations from people from different walks of life.
It’s going to be really dope to watch.
CASSIUS: Sure. Now, Hennessy, everybody in the culture knows Hennessy. How did that partnership start with you and them? Like, who reached out to whom first?
Lil Rel: It starts with money, man! (laughs) No… (smiles)
You know, something? What’s interesting is [that] over the last few years, I’ve had friends who partnered with Hennessy. Like, one of the guys that’s going to be on the panel, one of my good friends from Chicago. I don’t know if I could mention everybody’s name yet, so I won’t do that. But Hennessy has always had a relationship with me honestly, over the years.
So this was really cool to actually partner up with them. And I hope that we do more in the future, actually, because I like the fact that they’re open to really exploring the culture. You know what I’m saying? And I really believe this could be a dope partnership because I really did enjoy doing those panels.
CASSIUS: So let me throw something at you because you’re a comedian. And so comics are known for always going into real challenging and controversial spaces. How do you feel that that dialogue could be handled or was handled at the “More is Made by the Many” panels?
Lil Rel: Well, that’s why it’s good that I feel like I’m a perfect person for that. Just because I’m one of those guys that understands how important my voice is. And I think even with the people that were on the panel, we kind of actually hit on that a little bit. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think once you hit a certain height, man, I really believe you do have a sense [of responsibility that] you should understand what your words do to people, right? If it hurts, you should hold it accountable to yourself.
Like, if you’re going to be great, then you should do that. People really don’t talk about this much, but when Richard Pryor decided he didn’t want to say “nigga” no more. He did that in a [comedy] special, and that was his own choice, right? He went to Africa. He felt a certain way. And I think that’s greatness. That’s somebody who’s mature in their greatness, like, “You know something? I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t think it’s right. Yeah, I’ve been saying it the whole time. I got a million albums…,” but he was like, “Yeah, that ain’t my thing anymore.”
Same thing like with Eddie [Murphy] and Eddie’s, like, looking at old bits. He’s like, yeah, that wasn’t cool. You know what I’m saying? Same thing with Jay-Z when Jay-Z talks about “Big Pimpin'”, and he’s like, okay, yeah, that wasn’t cool. So I just think as you become great, you should mature your greatness, too, to understand words do have an effect, especially if you have a lot of influence.
CASSIUS: Now, you were on a podcast that I saw, We Are Man Enough. And there’s something that you have in terms of this ability to connect with people, right? Because you’ve always been this “everyman” kind of comic.
Out of curiosity, is there any kind of story that you could relate? Because they always say how comedians do their work, and it’s therapeutic for them. But we as the audience, because we can relate to you or in whomever we see ourselves and find therapy in it as well. Do you have any kind of stories where someone was touched by a skit you did or a joke you told?
Lil Rel: Man, a gang of stuff, man. I’ve had people walk up to me… you know what’s funny, too? Chicago was such like a beautiful place to do standup. And I was one of those dudes, I would go on stage and just freestyle every week. I used to host at a comedy club every week. Jokes and Notes Comedy Club, when it was open, used to do a Wednesday open mic. So every week was a freestyle. I’ve never repeated anything. And I remember when my mom passed away and I had to go, like, funeral shopping.
I had to get a casket away because I’m the oldest, and I had to go on stage that night, and I went up there. I could see the audience wasn’t sure where I was going to go because [the humor] was kind of dark, telling them [jokes]. And that’s why the comedy just follows me everywhere.
True story. We were casket shopping, it was me and my Aunt Joyce, God rest her soul. And my Aunt Joyce would just be joking about stuff, and she was looking [around at the caskets] like, “Oh, these are really nice, right?”
And the [sales] lady was like, “No, we have to order yours,” because my aunt is a big lady. My aunt was like, “WHAT SHE SAY!” Man, I was dyin’ laughing!
But I remember that night on stage, I went up there and talked about it. Like, I’ve been able to take tragic situations and bring it on that stage, and it was therapeutic for me and the audience. So you have people afterwards telling me, “Thank you for that.” I have people who message me [telling me about] some of my specials when their mom was sick or dad was sick and [they] watched that. I like the fact that, because I do so much personable material, as far as family and stuff like that, there’s a lot of people that relate to that stuff.
Even with the HBO special [Live in Crenshaw], we’re talking about paying for the funeral and stuff, like, a lot of people go through that. Even on the album [Humbly Vulnerable], man, talking about my viewpoint of protests and things like that. It’s just being honest. I think that’s what make great comedians to me, man. Not only if you come up with a joke, but if you don’t mind being vulnerable, like, okay, this is about me. I’m not going to make it about nobody else, this is about me.
But I touched a lot of people, man. So I get a lot of love. I’m excited to go back on the road and experience that again, too.
CASSIUS: True, that’s what’s up! You have an upcoming comedy, right? A project The Out-Laws next year [on Netflix]. Is that right? You really live out the whole “Never stop, Never Settle” mantra, because that’s essentially what that is. Never stop, never settle.
Lil Rel: Yeah. We just shoot so many movies at the same time! I just did that with Adam Devine. It’s really funny, that’s [produced by Adam Sandler’s company Happy Madison]. And I’m excited about that. And then Bromates is another thing I did. Snoop [Dogg] is producing it, we finished that. And then I got this movie, Reunion, that I just finished. I’m doing a lot, man. When I talk [out loud] about it, I’m like, “How the hell am I doing all this?!” (laughs)
Yeah. And it’s not even like… you know what’s funny? And it’s not like I say yes to everything. It looks like I do. But I turned down a lot of stuff. I just think it’s so cool. And I think I’m living a dream for real, so I don’t know how to creatively stop, because these are all different types of projects. I love acting. I love stand up. I love writing, and this is just the stuff y’all know, like a gang of stuff. I’m working on that other stuff.
Please believe before I got on this call, and I was just having two meetings. I’m like, “What the fuck am I doing with all this…?!” (laughs)
CASSIUS: I respect it. So I want to know, what can we expect from you out of the next five years? It’s so cliché to say you’ve blown up, but you very much have, and it’s a blessing. What do you think the next five years hold for you, man?
Lil Rel: I’m going to start directing. I’m hoping for my production company to be a big staple in Hollywood, and hopefully at some point [to] have my own studio and network. Like, I really think about that. That’s a real thing.
And I’m working with Kweli TV. I’m the Head of Comedy over there, Black streaming service, and we’re starting to really raise some real funding so we can do original content. I’m on one, bro. Like, I look at Oprah, I look at Tyler Perry, and I’m like, okay, I need to be a part of that.
I look at Issa [Rae]. I look at Ava [DuVernay]. There’s so many groundbreaking things happening. Same thing with my friend Tiffany Haddish, and I’m going to be a part of that. But I’m really hoping to be a big, big player in Hollywood in the next five years, behind the scenes.
CASSIUS: So, yeah, man, again, I appreciate you taking out the time for everybody else. Can you please refresh us? How can people participate with you on the “More is Made by the Many” hosting experience. How can we get in on that?
Lil Rel: Here we go. You go to Hennessy VSOP’s Facebook page, okay? And you’re going to tune in December 9. Let me get the time right… December 9 at 09:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. That’s right. Hennessy’s Facebook. And I’m telling you, you’re going to be blessed with this conversation. Promise you that.