Photos by Maria Ponce
Jermaine Fowler may be a comedian first and foremost (his delightfully expressive face and unmatched charisma are proof ) but the 29-year-old doesn’t shy away from tackling tough topics. On “Superior Donuts” — the show he stars in and executive produces, which debuts its second season on CBS Oct. 30 — Fowler pulls on personal experiences from his upbringing outside Washington, D.C.
“We are touching on a lot of topical issues,” he says of the show. “I’ve dealt with gentrification, cops harassing me, people who have profiled me. I thought the show could benefit from my voice.”
Though filmed in LA, “Donuts” is set in the Windy City. “Chicago is the perfect backdrop,” Fowler says. “It is such a great city, and really fits for some of the social issues we want to talk about.” The show touches on things like crime and racial profiling, but through a humorous lens. And it’s no coincidence it’s set here: the sitcom is based on a Tracy Letts play of the same name that premiered at Steppenwolf in 2008. Fowler plays Franco, a young black kid hired to help 75-year-old Arthur (Judd Hirsch) at his Uptown doughnut shop.
In September, Fowler took on another role for CBS, breaking boundaries as the first black announcer — and one of the first to be a visible part of the show, as opposed to just the voiceover — at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. For Fowler, it was a dream job. “It was pretty apparent in my delivery how excited I was,” he says. “You could feel the energy in the room.” (His most star-struck moment? When veteran comedian Dave Chappelle approached him after the show to say how much he loved his performance.)
The gig certainly gave Fowler further recognition — bringing him one step further to becoming a household name. And next up: his first feature film role. “Sorry to Bother You,” a dark comedy directed by Boots Riley and starring Danny Glover and Armie Hammer, is set to premiere in 2018. Fowler says he has always wanted to star in comedy-action films similar to the classics from Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, but this film was something even better. “The way they shot it and the way they wrote it was the freshest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” he says. “[Riley] is a legend. … I’m addicted — now I want to do more movies.”
That being said, he has no plans to leave the stand-up stage. He’s got a comedy special, “Give ’Em Hell Kid,” currently available on Showtime and another in the works, and he’ll be at Zanies performing Oct. 30 (see sidebar). “I make time for things like stand-up [because] you make time for the things you love,” he says. “It was the thing that got me everything I ever wanted.” Fowler focuses most of his comedy on autobiographical moments in his life, and has a few updates he’s eager to share with his audience: In July, he and makeup artist Meagan Hester welcomed daughter Thebe Orion Fowler.
“She’s the best thing that’s ever, ever, ever happened to me,” he says of being a new dad. “She’s completely perfect, devoid of any hate. She’s just unconditional love.” There’s a similarity in the role of father and that of actor and boundary-breaker. Whether it’s his child or the countless viewers his new roles expose him to: “You get to give them hope,” Fowler says. “That’s your job.”
Catch “Superior Donuts” Mondays beginning Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m. on CBS.
On Oct. 30 — at the exact time “Superior Donuts” airs its second season premiere — Fowler will take the Zanies stage with co-stars Rell Battle, Maz Jobrani and David Koechner for a special night of stand-up. $25 + 2 item food and beverage minimum, 8:30 p.m., 1548 N. Wells; Zanies.com/chicago
At the shoot
While in town for a stand-up show, actor/comedian Jermaine Fowler stopped by the Splash office. He’s as funny IRL as he is on “Superior Donuts,” and had us laughing as he playfully took over creative direction of our cover shoot.
Photographer: Maria Ponce
Grooming: Alisa Radoi, Factor|Chosen
Styling: Thomas Lamont, Ford Artists
At top: Jacket: The kooples, $925, similar styles available at Saks Fifth Avenue, 700 N. Michigan; Saksfifthavenue.com Shirt: Fowler’s own