‘Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show’ Episode 6 Recap: Going Home Is Complicated

jerrod carmichael
‘Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show’ Episode 6 RecapHBO

“It’s amazing how many times I’ve been on national television and said the word gay and how little that’s acknowledged,” Jerrod Carmichael said when we spoke in March. “My parents just completely ignore the words that I’m saying. Those are the factors that led to the show, that kind of muted response.”

In “Homecoming,” episode 6 of Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show, we finally spend time with the person who has basically set the entire project into motion: Carmichael’s mother, Cynthia. And similar to a lot of homecomings, it’s a tough one.

The episode begins with Carmichael onstage, telling the crowd he’s heard from his mother for the first time since they became estranged, shortly after his public coming-out in the 2022 HBO special Rothaniel. It was a late-night call, and like many of us, he does not trust a late-night phone call from home. “It’s a little like an is Dad dead situation,” he says. Instead, “she called and apologized to me for her negative reaction to my coming out,” he says. “She says she loves me and accepts me for who I am.”

So Carmichael goes home, and he and his mother meet for the first time in a couple years, and it seems to be at a Chuck E. Cheese, and I’m just not going to question it. But Cynthia absolutely beams. She loves him—it’s obvious.

But boy. is it complicated.

The two of them have a private talk—just Cynthia and Carmichael and the camera guy and a sound person and a production assistant or two, and you and me—and she says that she has learned to accept his sexuality. She cannot judge him, just like she cannot judge “a person who cheats, or even a person who does a murder.”

I felt that one in my stomach, and so does Carmichael.

“I’m gay. I’m not choosing to be gay,” he tells her. “In fact, I did the opposite for most of my life.” He’s very emotionally direct as he says, “You say you accept me, but you’ve compared me to a murderer twice since we sat down. Cool, my mom accepts me as she would Jeffrey Dahmer.”

a person kissing a stuffed animal
“Cool,” Jerrod Carmichael says in episode 6, “my mom accepts me as she would Jeffrey Dahmer.”HBO

I know it was the hardest thing to be truthful about,” Carmichael told me. “It’s so tied up in identity that it’s a slippery slope, just confidently saying what you want and who you are. I just know that I had a lot of shame, and because of the shame, I was not being truthful. I was hiding, and I was shut off from God. I was shut off from faith. All the shame was clouding it.” Now we can see where some of that shame came from.

“I love you unconditionally,” Cynthia says.

“Don’t say that when there are conditions,” he replies. Then it kind of just sits there. Neither will budge. And, really, only one is capable of budging, but she doesn’t see it that way.

Carmichael’s boyfriend, Michael, is also in North Carolina, and later Cynthia calls to invite her son over for dinner. Pointedly, she does not specifically invite Michael. But it’s food and it’s an invitation, and we can feel her hurt when he declines and says he’s going to show Michael around town instead. They go to Carmichael’s old high school (“Kiss me in high school,” he commands Michael); they meet up with some of his old friends; and Carmichael says of his parents, “It’s not a secret anymore, but my family treats it like that.”

“They’re just stuck on what they’re stuck on,” one of them says.

jerrod carmichael and michael
Jerrod Carmichael and his boyfriend, Michael, in episode 6, “Homecoming.”HBO

From there, Carmichael brings Michael to visit his brother and sister-in-law and their children, and it is revealed that he hasn’t been back to see them in all this time, either. “They stopped talking to you,” his sister-in-law says, “so you stopped talking to all of us.” The siblings, and the nieces who clearly love him, have been collateral damage here. “Hurt people hurt people,” she says, “but when does it end?” She makes the case that Carmichael and Cynthia are stuck like this because they’re so much alike. “Take your own wall down. You’re fighting against yourself.”

So Carmichael calls Cynthia and asks if he and Michael can come over, and again we’re in the semantic battle of whether the parents want to meet Michael. “Do you want me to meet him?” Cynthia says, mirroring Carmichael’s dad. “Then I will.”

jerrod carmichael

So he and Michael go over—late, for which Michael upbraids him appropriately—and the meeting is cordial but icy. I know it’s difficult for the editor if there is music playing in a location where shooting is taking place, but without a little radio on in the background, this scene is extremely difficult to watch. The silences are deafening, and soon enough we learn there will be no food. The previous offer to cook is off the table, and there’s nothing in the fridge. “There’s always McDonald’s,” Cynthia offers, which feels like the cruelest thing I’ve ever heard.

jerrod carmichael

Listen: One particularly unfair aspect of the coming-out experience is that, about five seconds after you make yourself make sense to yourself, you have to turn around and make yourself make sense to everyone else. Once you’ve pulled yourself through the formative years you’ve spent hearing ten jokes a day about the kind of person you’re slowly beginning to find out you are, once you’ve learned how to tell yourself apart from the boogeyman creep villain doomed soul you’ve sat through anywhere between zero and a million angry sermons about, once you’ve run out of masks to wear—if you’ve done all that—your very first job is to help your family and friends through that journey. It’s not easy, even if they do want to go on it. I don’t blame Carmichael for retreating to New York instead of taking it all on. I did the same thing.

Onstage, he says, with palpable frustration, “I’m smarter than them, and I have all the money, so why are they still rattling around in there?”

“Can my mom change?” he asks. “I don’t know, but it’s a reason to keep fighting.” And so are those nieces, whom he and Michael walk to school as the episode ends.

“If you are actually in the thing, will you acknowledge it?” Carmichael asked of his mother last month. “I don’t know.” At the end of this episode, we don’t know, either. None of us.

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