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The Necessary Discomfort of Jerrod Carmichael’s ‘Reality’

The comedian Jerrod Carmichael spends a remarkable amount of time in his new HBO series, “Jerrod Carmichael Reality Show,” with his head in his hands like Henri Vidal’s 19th-century statue of Cain after he has killed his brother Abel.

Maybe that’s fitting, since the series focuses on Carmichael’s tortured process of coming out, and like many people who bravely take that step, arriving at the realization that, in a sense, the old you must die so that the new you can live. More pointedly, you must kill the you who is false.

Coming out isn’t always followed by congratulations and celebrations, even today. And for people like Carmichael — and me — who come from religious families and have family members who struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with our insistence on being free and being seen, it can also be wrenching.

Exposing that dilemma to the world is one of the great services Carmichael performs with his series.

But, of course, the show isn’t really “reality.” It can’t be. Carmichael says that he’s trying to “self-‘Truman Show’” himself, but that’s almost impossible. The cameras aren’t livestreaming his life; they’re collecting footage that is edited — curated — into the moments we see.

The series seeks to address this point in its first episode, when an anonymous friend of Carmichael’s — who is masked when he’s onscreen — says of the presence of cameras, “This is not truth,” and what Carmichael is doing is being “masturbatorially public.”

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