Jermaine Fowler Jermaine Fowler
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

Interview: Comedian Jermaine Fowler Brings Universal Humor And Charm In 'Superior Donuts'

"I was into everything, nothing was black or white, it was just the sh*t I liked."

Jermaine Fowler doesn’t hold anything back. The 29-year-old comedian steps into VIBE’s NYC headquarters, and he explains that it’s been a long day full of interviews. While his PR team acknowledges that he’s on a time crunch, Fowler makes sure that each answer to a question is as loaded as possible for the next 45 minutes.

He proudly shows off his Rick and Morty shirt, discusses his “awesome” newborn daughter, and talks about his famous neighbor, MC Lyte, among other things. It’s nearly impossible not to smile when he talks- he’s as magnetic as he is humor-filled. The sincerity of the comedian’s personality can also be felt in his comedy routine. As he describes, it’s the need to be universally appealing that attributes to that.

“I've always navigated my way around the comedy writing rooms, because I didn't want to cater to this side and that side, I just wanted to be liked by everybody,” he says. As he details, comedy writing rooms are sometimes separated by skin color.

“A lot of comics prefer to do one room over the other room, but there's a certain comfort I get out of doing this room, and I realize I can't get to comfortable, so I go to that room, so I can make sure everyone understands what I'm talking about. That's how I grew up.”

The Washington, D.C. and Maryland native stars as the lively yet naive Franco on the CBS series Superior Donuts, a comedy about a struggling Chicago-based donut shop that sees a cast of colorful, diverse characters walk through their doors each day. The show, which also stars television vets Judd Hirsch (Taxi) and Katey Sagal (Married...with Children, Futurama), explores themes such as gentrification and racism as the episodes continue. Fowler, who is the first black lead on a CBS television show in almost a decade, also serves as one of the show’s executive producers.

“I felt like you couldn't tell a story about gentrification and living in a place like Chicago, with police brutality and just the classism there, it reminds me of home,” he says. “I told them they could benefit by having my voice in this writer's room.”

Fowler explained that his at-times sticky situations growing up helped him realize comedy would always be there for him. His mother, who he described as a “free-spirited sweetie pie,” encouraged exploration of his creativity as a child, while his father was a lot more strict. Growing up, he sometimes felt out of place due to his interests, such as skateboarding and rock music, which weren’t all the way acceptable for a black boy to enjoy during that time.

“It's weird, because when you're black it's like, ‘you black, so you gotta listen to this, you can't listen to that,’” he says. “That's not true. We're black and we fought for the freedom to have a choice, why can't we express the freedom to do what we want to do? [That mentality] holds a lot of people back.”

“I grew up around a mix of a lot of people, so I got a lot of different perspectives,” he continues. “As a kid, I appreciated that. I think most people should do that, just get out of your damn comfort zone and go experience new people and things. I was into everything, nothing was black or white, it was just the sh*t I liked.” During this difficult time, he watched a lot of movies and television shows that shaped his humor and perspective on life. “

"I was into everything, nothing was black or white, it was just the sh*t I liked.” - Jermaine Fowler

I felt so contained at home. I always really felt like I couldn't be myself at home, so I was always quiet,” Fowler says of his growing pains. “I remember I used to sit in my room and listen to Bone Thugs, and close the door [Laughs]. I used to walk around a lot, just as far as I could go, to think, to figure out what I want to do with my life. I realized I like making people laugh and I also like creating stuff.”

When he was 17, he began to take stand-up comedy more seriously. While his parents and other relatives didn’t necessarily support his aspirations, his group of friends and his grandmother’s encouragement to pursue comedy persuaded him to go full throttle with the decision. Instead of attending his community college classes paid for by his aunt, he would do stand-up gigs.

“[My grandma] encouraged me to listen to Moms Mabley and Redd Foxx,” he says. “I needed that, because, if you don't believe in somebody, it don't matter. Give them some type of encouragement, let them fail by themselves. I didn't really have that with my family, but my grandma and my immediate friends from high school were very supportive of my dreams.”

He moved to NYC at the age of 20 and did stand-up circuits throughout the city, which eventually blossomed into stand-up gigs at clubs and colleges around the country. You may recognize him from CollegeHumor's live standup shows, MTV’s Guy Code, The Eric Andre Show and TruTV’s Friends Of The People. In 2016, Variety added him to their list of “10 Comics to Watch.” His career has taken off, and his aunt still hasn’t asked for her money back that she spent to send him to college.

“I still owe her about $1,000 bucks. I’ll Venmo her,” he laughs.

Superior Donuts’ first season popped off earlier this year, and the second season of the show premiered Monday (Oct. 30). What drew Fowler to the show was the script and the relevancy of the series to what’s going on in the world today.

"You can’t speak for everybody, especially in this f**kin’ country. We can be from different places, think different ways, but still come together and respect each other." - Jermaine Fowler

“The show is about a group of people from different parts of the world coming together to enjoy donuts at this donut shop,” he explains. “It just so happens that they're talking about things that are going on in the world. That's what's gonna represent the show.”

Being able to work with television legends like Hirsch and Segal has helped Fowler grow as an actor, however, he details that working with the entire cast throughout the show’s run so far has been beneficial as a whole.

“[Hirsch] is a master, masterful,” he says. “He knows everything. He's good, and he hasn't missed a beat. With Katey, I've learned how to command. When Katey speaks? People shut up. You can tell, any time she has a line in the show, it brings a certain gravity that just makes you want to listen. Working with the whole cast makes me want to elevate my comedic timing.”

His 2017 also came with an incredible opportunity through the Television Academy. Jermaine was the announcer at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, where he was given free reign to be his authentic self.

“‘They want you to be the voice of God at the Emmys!’” he says of the opportunity, which he found out about from his manager via e-mail. “We were rehearsing and I was talking to one of the producers on the show, and he encouraged me to be myself. I told him it wasn't gonna be like any other Emmys, because I'm a very sincere, excitable guy, and I love bringing energy to a room. He was like, ‘Good!’”

However, his enthusiasm while working at the event still came with detractors. Despite the slight criticism, Jermaine took the opportunity by the horns, and enjoyed himself thoroughly.

“It’s weird that a lot of people were taken aback, but I’m a positive dude,” he says while posing for photos. “They wanted something different, I gave them something different, and a lot of people are very resistant to different things. I’m not an announcer, I’m a standup comedian. That’s what you’re gonna get, that’s what I do best. I do everything with a purpose, and I don’t really pay attention to the negativity.”

As for continuing to produce and star in conversation-shifting content, Fowler says that he’s doing what he can to make sure Superior Donuts remains sincere and illustrates compelling stories properly.

“We're telling a story, and it's such a natural story to tell. It's an organic thing to talk about,” he says. “I just want to make sure that everything we're talking about comes from a sincere point of view, that we have our facts straight and that we're not preaching to people, that we're not drumming up conclusions for people. We're not drawing up ways for people to think. You can't speak for everybody, especially in this f**kin' country. We can be from different places, think different ways, but still come together and respect each other. You don't have to fight and kill and argue with each other all the f**kin' time, you know?”

“I think this show represents what I'd like our country to be, just be empathetic and understanding to each other,” he continues. “I can only speak for Franco's character, because that's who I relate to the most, that's who I'm playing. That's why the show is so f**kin' good, because we're all putting in our points of views, but at the same time, we make sure that we're telling the story. It's a very political show, but at the same time, we all come back home, which is the donut shop. Make sure we're moving the story forward.”

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Skip Marley Talks Working With H.E.R. On New Single "Slow Down" And Living In A Genreless World

Skip Marley's new single "Slow Down" is dripping with good intentions. There's a sultry yet soothing flirtatious energy between the singer and his very special guest, Grammy-winning singer H.E.R. The two complement each other well as they share lyrics of budding love.

Produced by Rykeyz, the track released Friday (Nov. 8) plays towards Skip's daily affirmations. "Love is limitless. Love has no boundaries. Love is almighty," he tells VIBE. "When you speak of it, it's very almighty. It's a luxury because it really has no limits. I'm a love warrior. I might keep that title for something (Laughs)." The singer-songwriter takes this energy into every song he's created. From his debut single "Lions" to collaborations with Katy Perry, Major Lazer and uncle Damian Marley, the grandson of Bob Marley is keeping the family's musical lineage strong and rooted in love.

Skip says the creative process of "Slow Down" came together quite smoothly. After writing the song with Nasir Atweh and Bibi Bourelly, he wanted a collaborator who could share his musical and loving energy. Enter H.E.R., who brought a dose of special lyrics and charm to the single. "As soon as I heard the [completed] track I was in love. I just grateful that she jumped on the track with me, it means a lot," Skip says.

Below, we chat with Skip about "Slow Down," how he manages to remain genreless and what we can expect from his debut studio album.

__

I love every nook and cranny of "Slow Down." How did the collaboration with H.E.R. come to be? 

When I made the song, I was looking and wondering who could be a feature and then I thought of H.E.R. because I love her vibe and her energy really. As soon as I heard the [completed] track I was in love. I just grateful that she jumped on the track with me, it means a lot.

I saw you both shared a stage recently. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Big tings a gwan 🙏🏿Slow Down come FRIDAY ✊🏿 @hermusicofficial

A post shared by Skip Marley (@skipmarley) on Nov 4, 2019 at 7:45am PST

We did! She was performing with Ms. Lauryn Hill at the Hollywood Bowl. I was able to be a part of it and be able to sing. We were actually able to premiere the song there. That was the first time we played it live so that the moment was really nice. We were asked to sing a cover of "Turn Your Lights Down Low" too. That was crazy.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

let Jah moon come shining in 🌑

A post shared by Skip Marley (@skipmarley) on Oct 30, 2019 at 7:08am PDT

What I enjoy the most about your music is that there's no set genre. We talked to Damian Marley about this and he shared how important to be genreless.

Yes, you have to follow the spirit. You're free to create.

How important is that to you these days? 

Well, for me, it's always been important from the start. I just love music because it's seasoned with expression you know. I've always thought that I can connect with any genre of music as long as I feel a message or music you know, or like, the beats or whatever, you know. I've always been like that since learning how to play instruments and knowing hip-hop, reggae and the blues. It's just about knowing yourself and reaching your goals.

Who is someone from the past–living or dead–you'd like to work with? 

Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, my grandfather (Laughs), James Brown, Jesus. The list is endless.

Can we expect a video to "Slow Down?"

Yes, we shot the video for it and I'm dropping an acoustic version of "Slow Down." It's more heartfelt. After that, we're looking towards the project which is very, very soon. We're thinking of January.

That's the best way to welcome the new decade. No pun intended but what is the vibe of the "Slow Down" video? 

The vibe is very street, very rural you know? There's a nice connection between a guy and girl, catching eyes for the first time. A lot of things happen and the next thing you know she's gone and I'm gone. I'm saying, 'Slow down, be in the moment with me. I saw you from across the room and I just had to say something.'

How do you view love these days? 

Love is limitless. Love has no boundaries. Love is almighty. When you speak of it, it's very almighty. It's a luxury because it really has no limits. I'm a love warrior. I might keep that title for something (Laughs).

Lastly, what can you share with us about the album? Is it a combination of songs you've been sitting on and new recordings? 

It's a bit of both. It's really trial and error with music. It's picking and choosing while fine-tuning the ones you really love. You'll know when it's right. There's no other way than right. You can't go left.

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Lil Rel Howery's Distaste For R. Kelly Stems From Working On The Set Of 'Trapped In The Closet'

Lil Rel Howery's acting journey kicked off in a very odd way thanks to his encounter with R. Kelly. The comedian paid a visit to Jimmy Kimmel Live! Wednesday (Nov. 6) where he looked back on his early days in Hollywood and how he lost respect for R. Kelly over the years.

The two crossed paths when Rel worked as a stand-in for Michael K. Williams' character on Trapped In The Closet. While on the set, he met another stand-in who happened to be a backup dancer for R. Kelly. The two had an enjoyable conversation but the woman refused to talk to him the next day. Her reason was very similar to the sentiments heard by other women who have crossed the singer's path.

"There was another stand-in, a young lady that was actually one of his background dancers too for a couple of his tours. We were just talking the whole time, getting to know each other, laughing, and having a good time," he recalled. "But every time she laughed, I found him just, like, staring at me. So we come back to set the next day right and she's not talking to us at all, right? At all!"

"I pulled her to the side and I'm like 'Yo, did I do something?' and she was like 'Nah, he doesn't want me talking to y'all' and I was like 'Who?' and she's like 'Robert!'" he added. "So she didn't talk to us the rest of the time we were filming it and it was just, like, it was just crazy and I remember him smirking about it."

But that wasn't the only time the two were in the same place. During a birthday party for the late John Singleton, Rel rejected an invite to meet R. Kelly.

"I guess he wanted to meet me and he sent somebody to me and we were all in this VIP area . . . 'Man, I'm good,'" he said. "That's a true story. I'm like 'I'm good' and the thing about it is, it wasn't even about the allegations with me. He was so extra like that sometimes and I ain't like that. Everybody knows I'm from the West Side of Chicago and I own who I am. That's too much, bro. Just come speak to me, fam."

Rel is currently promoting his HBO comedy special, Live In Crenshaw. The special debuts November 23 at 10 pm ET.

Watch the interview below.

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Singer Whitney Houston is seen performing on stage during the 2004 World Music Awards at the Thomas and Mack Center on September 15, 2004 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Whitney Houston's Close Friend Robyn Crawford Details Romantic Relationship In New Memoir

Whitney Houston's personal life has been explored ten times over since her untimely passing in 2012 but one of her closest friends wants to share with the world the Whitney she knew and ultimately fell in love with.

In excerpts to People Wednesday (Nov. 6), Robyn Crawford presents a strong bond between the two in her new memoir, A Song For You: My Life With Whitney Houston. The singer and Crawford met in their youth while working at a summer camp in East Orange, New Jersey. From there, their friendship blossomed into something more romantic. With homophobia running rampant in the 80s, Crawford says they never looked at labels but enjoyed the experiences they shared together.

“We never talked about labels, like lesbian or gay,” writes Crawford. “We just lived our lives and I hoped it could go on that way forever.”

As their journey continued, Whitney's star began to rise which put allegedly put their romance on ice. “She said we shouldn’t be physical anymore,” writes Crawford. "Because it would make our journey even more difficult. She said if people find out about us, they would use this against us....and back in the ’80s, that’s how it felt. I kept it safe. I found comfort in my silence.”

Whitney's relationship with Crawford was mentioned in the 2018 documentary Whitney. Created by the singer's estate, the film focused on the singer's legacy and didn't include first-hand accounts from Crawford. Family members were weary of their special friendship.

"I’ve never seen them do anything but I know that she was something that I didn’t want my sister to be involved with," Whitney's brother Gary stated in the documentary.

But Crawford is finally ready to tell her own story while "lifting" Houston's legacy.

“I wanted to lift her legacy, give her respect and share the story of who she was before the fame, and in that, to embrace our friendship,” she tells People. "I'd come to the point where I felt the need to stand up for our friendship. And I felt an urgency to stand up and share the woman behind the incredible talent."

A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston is expected to hit bookshelves this fall.

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