Breaking Big: Superior Donuts' Jermaine Fowler
Why You Might Know Him: He has performed in stand-up tours with CollegeHumor and Comedy Central, and co-created and starred on the truTV sketch series Friends of the People.
Why You Will Know Him: He’s the star and executive producer of CBS’ Superior Donuts.
Jermaine Fowler has long had an interest in comedy. In 5th and 6th grade, he’d study The Simpsons and take his Ralph Wiggum impression to class, even if it led to a call home from school. In 10th grade, he obsessed over Dave Chappelle: Killin Them Softly, and lied about having lost it to the friend he borrowed it from. He ultimately found his “calling” as a stand-up comedian in 12th grade after watching Eddie Murphy Raw, but his initial attempt in the spotlight was less than stellar. “I did my first set at a talent show and I couldn’t finish because the judges didn’t like my jokes,” the 28-year-old recalls of being kicked off stage. “They were ‘offensive.'”
Judges’ opinions aside, Fowler’s passion persisted, as did a desire for creative control. After graduating high school, he moved to New York and began posting his sketches to YouTube — he’d been interested in doing the like since his grandmother gave him a video camera when he was 16-years-old — while waiting for audition callbacks. Those videos went viral, inspiring him to continue producing content across the board: “I wanted to keep the ball rolling.”
That he did, and he hasn’t really stopped. Fowler went on to co-create and star on truTV’s Friends of the People in 2014 and took center stage in his own 2015 Showtime special, Give ‘Em Hell, Kid — both splashy performances that didn’t go unnoticed — and soon enough, CBS came to him with a script deal. Now he’s the star and EP of Superior Donuts (debuts Feb. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET), a Chicago-set comedy based on the Tracy Letts play centered on an old-school doughnut shop owner (Judd Hirsch) and his employee (Fowler), who pushes his boss to modernize the business. Katey Sagal, David Koechner, Maz Jobrani, Anna Baryshnikov, Darien Sills-Evans, and Rell Battle also appear as some of the eclectic regulars.
Fowler finds this primetime piece of pastry especially relevant today: “We talk about gentrification, politics, and racial issues, and those are all real life, and comedy comes from real life….It could come off offensive, but to me, it’s part of our lives. It’s part of what we’re going through right now. The show we’re making is just a reflection of the world we’re living in right now.” He adds that considering the differences between his character and Hirsch’s, it’d be “weird” if the show didn’t address the aforementioned subjects. Moreover, he feels that between the diversity in the cast and writers’ room, the show has a good balance.
Between doughnut holes, Fowler will recur on Judd Apatow’s Crashing on HBO (Feb. 19, 10:30 p.m. ET), and down the line, he’d like to do, well, basically everything: write, produce, act, work as a showrunner, and direct his own projects, and more. But stand-up will always be close to his heart: “I see myself touring internationally — everywhere, every theater, every arena — and putting out stand-up comedy specials until I can’t even stand no more. Even then, I’ll probably do my comedy special in a hospital bed.”