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D.C. native Jermaine Fowler has been on quite the career-winning streak as of late. Apart from his busy schedule touring nationwide performing stand-up—his current tour brings him back home to D.C. for a headlining show at Black Cat tonight—he’s also prepping for the Dec. 11th airing of his very first comedy special. Shot late last year at the DC Improv, the hour-long special, Jermaine Fowler: Give `Em Hell Kid, will debut on Showtime.
And it doesn’t stop there: Fowler also has an untitled CBS comedy project that he’s currently writing the pilot for. Largely inspired by his life growing up in Hyattsville as a son of teenaged parents, the 27-year-old will play a character largely based on his dad’s experience raising children who are nearly tweens while in his twenties. Fowler frequently uses his childhood experiences in his stand-up material. Reached by phone earlier this week, the second oldest of four (he has a twin) admitted that he feels most comfortable sticking with his life as source material.
Unlike Richard Pryor—one of his comedy idols—he stays away from overtly political material. Rather, his experiences being teased by family members and peers for liking “nerdy shit,” as he calls it, provides a large portion of his core comedic narrative. He’s able to find the humor in those experiences now, but they weren’t funny at the time.
“I would just stay in my room and listen to Bone Thugs and cry,” Fowler says. Of course, he would eventually find friends with similar interests, and they’d laugh at how weird his family viewed him. But the comedy bug didn’t bite him until high school. It was then, at Northwestern High School, that his friends encouraged him to try comedy. “I’ve always liked making people laugh, at school,” he says, “just being a terror to substitute teachers and stuff—making their lives miserable.”
It was watching Eddie Murphy’s classic concert film Raw, in the 12th grade, that finally provided the spark that made him want to actually pursue a career in comedy. Shortly after graduating, Fowler played the comedy club circuit here in the District, before predictably heading off to New York City at the tender age of 20. After a few years of auditioning for television pilots and commercials, he took matters into his own hands by creating a viral hit series on YouTube called Homo Thugs, along with his friend and fellow comedian Kevin Barnett. Homo Thugs was a three-episode comedy web series that originally ran back in 2012, which followed the lives of two closeted gay “thugs.”
“That’s the thing that kind of blew everything up for me,” Fowler says. “After that, things started happening a little more quickly… People just loved it. It was well written and acted. That’s the thing that I credit my success to.”
So now the actor-comedian, who primarily resides in NYC when not pursuing television work in L.A., is amongst a sizable lineage of successful comedians to emerge out of D.C. He mentions the likes of Dave Chappelle, Tommy Davidson, and Martin Lawrence as examples. Fowler even makes the case for D.C. as the number one market for discovering new comedic talent.
“Boston, D.C., and Chicago are like some of the best comedy scenes in the world. They’ve made so many people who are just fuckin’ great―really funny people…D.C. might be tied at number one with Chicago.” I feign surprise upon hearing that. “Yeah man, D.C.’s the shit…”
Jermaine Fowler performs tonight, Oct. 23, at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW, with Will Hessler and Jamel Johnson. Hosted by Martin Amini. $15.