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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

Rothaniel Audience Interview: Jessica Friedman (me!)

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Since I also attended the second taping of Rothaniel, I thought it would be helpful to interview myself to provide a fuller picture of the experience. I'm taking a cue from Donald Glover's interview with himself, so please be gentle!

I went in expecting to see Jerrod (and possibly Bo) and left an ENTIRELY new person.

Let's dive in!

My outfit for the taping (black polka-dot dress with a royal blue cardigan). You can see my signed Inside CD in the background!

SUCH: How did you hear about the taping?

JF: Inside changed my life (I've watched it more times than I can count, bought vinyls even though I didn't have a record player at the time, have listened to the album every day since it came out, bought all of the merchandise, etc.), and I became even more obsessed with Bo and his works, eventually creating a fan account on Twitter in March to have a place to store my deep-dive threads. One of my most popular threads was on my private account about Bo repurposing his old clothes in Inside.

Anyway, there were rumblings online starting in January that Bo was going to work with Jerrod again soon (a Deadline article got pulled that said he will be "filming his third HBO special, a collaboration with Bo Burnham"). The moderator of the Bo Burnham subreddit (the incredible PlasticJesters) said that we can expect him to direct Jerrod's new special. In addition, in early February there were rumors that Bo had been seen in New York. We got new pics of him with fans and he even posed on the street for NY Fashion Week!

From this, many of us fans speculated that Bo was in NY to direct Jerrod’s new special soon (we also follow Jerrod’s career since they are such good friends).

One fan told us on Reddit that tickets for the special would be free if we put our names in for a lottery with the Black List NYC, and they provided a link to enter our information about it on 2/12.

I spoke to Kinja (whom I'd met at the Inside screening in Philly in July 2021, and we became fast friends due to our mutual love of Bo and stand-up comedy), and then I submitted my name for two shows (there were four options total), 2/16 at 9:30pm and 2/17 at 9:30pm. They had to be late shows since we’d have to drive two hours back and forth in the middle of the week to attend. However, I was willing to take that chance to see Bo in person!

Two Bo fans having an Emmy party in 2021 with a few of his favorite snacks (haha) I found out via email on 2/15, the day before the special was being taped, that I had been chosen to attend with one guest! I had to plan everything in under 24 hours, but Kinja and I figured it all out and we got there with no problems.

SUCH: Before the taping, either in the announcement you heard about it from or some sort of pre-show email, did they explain how to dress? How to behave?

JF: The confirmation email said the following about attire:

The dress code is important; Please dress in elegant club attire. NYers show us your post pandemic fashion. Darker colors are preferred. Please don't forget to have proof of vaccination detailed below when you check in. Thanks

So we were asked to dress in nice clothes that were dark colors. There was nothing in the email about what to expect, how to behave, etc. except this note about attending (seems like pretty standard wording though) :

Since the audience is such an important part of this show, we assume that if you RSVP you will attend the show with your entire party. Again, we may remove you from our list if you confirm and do not attend. Thanks.

I also wanted to mention that Bo has always felt that the audience is an important component of the comedy experience. In his You Made It Weird episode with Pete Holmes (the first of three), Bo said, "I think the audience is like the most important and often not-thought-of participant in the art and not necessarily just like consumer or like the thing you gotta win over. It's the thing you gotta learn from."

SUCH: When you arrived, were there any instructions? (Like did they say, "Please feel free to ask any questions?")

JF: No, there were no explicit instructions. We just had to show our vax card and ID and then wait in the cold for awhile outside of the Blue Note since they were letting out the earlier show (that’s when we met up with Nicole Grieco).

Outside the Blue Note with Kinja

My wristband from the taping (yes, I saved it!)

SUCH: Have you watched the special? Did the set follow that general order?

JF: Of course! I watched it the second it premiered (I’d been promoting it as part of Jerrod Carmichael Week on Twitter, haha), and then I watched it again immediately afterward to see if I could recognize anyone (including myself). Sadly, the three of us are not visible in the final version, but you can hear our laughs at points. Plus, you can hear me wooing in support of Jerrod coming out at 25:25 in!

I’ve watched it five times now, and it’s just as incredible as I thought it would be watching Bo and Jerrod work together in person.

After the show was over, I wrote this down in my phone:

So much fun…both geniuses, changing the concept of comedy, performance, performing your truth…incredible night

Yes, it followed the same structure (father's infidelity—which I knew about from Jerrod's HBO shows—then coming out and his family's reaction), but some of the jokes differed and must have been from other tapings (Bo's a genius editor as well, so it's entirely seamless).

SUCH: During the end part, did it play more seriously in the room?

JF: It was funny throughout, but the stuff about his relationship with his mother was heartbreaking. I didn’t cry, but it was a deeply affecting performance that stayed with me.

SUCH: I heard there was a Q&A. What was that like? Did they give you any direction? Did the Q&A questions go into the special?

JF: Right. After Jerrod finished the set, he said to ask him any questions we had. Some people almost seemed prepared for this, so there might have been plants…I don’t know. I do know that there were questions asked that did not make it into the special (one I remember was about if Jerrod had come out to other Black comedians). I don't think any of the questions I heard are actually in the special itself, but I could be mistaken.

SUCH: At one point did he reveal his real name? Was it like in the special, at the end? JF: Yes, the reveal of his name was exactly the way it was in the show. As you can see, the poster has no mention of his real name, being gay, etc. It was just an evening with him...and what an evening it was!

SUCH: Any other thoughts about the vibe in the room? Other fond memories?

JF: I was sitting right near the woman who went “Wow,” so that was definitely part of the performance I witnessed. One item that got cut there was that Jerrod said something about Donald Glover being with a white woman and the hypocrisy of that. Some of the other parts, like Jerrod talking about the Bible, were entirely new to me. I was not surprised when I found out he's gay because someone had said in the fandom that he had come out at a show earlier in the year (and the part about him making out with men in Home Videos). His real name was a COMPLETE surprise though! At the end of the show, Bo got on the loudspeaker and asked Jerrod to enter and exit the stage two more times, so he did that. After the faked scenes, Jerrod commented that it was funny that the whole set was about coming clean and being true to yourself and then we all fake-applauded for him twice (another performance). That got a big laugh, Bo said something about CGIing some snowflakes and shit, and then we were done! About the snow: I LOVE how it looks in the special, but it definitely wasn't snowing the day of the taping, and there was no snow on the ground. I don't know if they filmed that earlier in the week or what, but I found it a bit befuddling. Here is a photo I took of the Comedy Cellar across the street to show there was no snow.

The Comedy Cellar, which is where Jerrod saw his first comedy show when he was a child!

As mentioned elsewhere, the room was dense with fog, and the combination of blue lights and fog was one of the ways Kinja and I determined Bo had to be directing (see "All Eyes on Me" and "Problematic" for examples). The smoke detectors even went off during the show!

I had only been to one jazz club in my life (Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philly), but it was PACKED with people for such a tiny venue. This was when they were still recommending N95s be worn indoors, so I was VERY nervous being with so many people in such a tight space. My table, one that normally seats four, had six people at it! Another thing I wanted to mention is that we got a drink ticket for one glass of wine or one beer (the wine was some of the worst I’ve ever had in my life).

A blurry photo of my wine glass at my seat, located about 10 feet from Jerrod on stage

There was also a diverse crowd of NYers and out-of-towners, including a table all the way from North Carolina! Finally, there were four cameras set up (I was looking at all of the technical elements since I’d never attended a taping before), but I had no idea when Jerrod was staring at the camera. Those moments are POWERFUL on screen, but they don’t come across at all live. In addition, I could only see his red shirt and gold chains from my vantage point (I was seated on the right side of the venue), so I had NO IDEA about the rest of his ensemble until I’d watched the trailer like everyone else! That's when I picked up on the Richard Pryor aspect (I thought of Eddie Murphy when I was watching it live, but he definitely seemed to be dressed in a way that paid homage to Pryor).

SUCH: So you saw Bo on three occasions that night. Tell us what that was like!

JF: The first time I caught a glimpse of Bo in action was when I was waiting in line for the show. He came out of the Blue Note to talk to a tech person, and I tried to grab a pic but my phone was turned off. Once I got it back on, he'd left. D'oh!

The second time was CRAZY. The show had ended, and Kinja and I had to go to the bathroom. So we were standing in line at the stairs when who is walking down them at the same time? BO!

He stood at the bottom of the stairs and Kinja, who was in front of me, gathered up her courage and said, "I like your stuff." He said thanks and then stared at me. I was like...I need to SAY something, but my brain and mouth were not cooperating. lol

He has the MOST gorgeous and soft blue eyes, and I stared into them for like five seconds (it felt like an eternity) and then I walked up the stairs. That was my closest interaction with Bo, and, in retrospect, I really wish I'd said a simple "Thanks" to show my appreciation. He and I both had masks on at that point as well, so the whole encounter was entirely awkward.

Anyway, the third time was once I got upstairs, I saw Bo head to the video monitors to check something. And that was it for the night! It was definitely one of the best ones of my entire life.

SUCH: Thanks for participating in this interview!

JF: My pleasure! Seeing Bo and Jerrod in person was a real treat, and I am ecstatic that I made every effort to attend, even traveling two hours back and forth in a day.

Can't wait to see more collaborations between the two in the future (uh-huh)!

For more interviews from Rothaniel audience members, please see the complete list here.

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