Jerrod Carmichael directed and stars in "On the Count of Three." File Photo by John Gress/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Standup comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael made his directorial debut with On the Count of Three, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday.
Carmichael said the dark comedy about two friends making a suicide pact fit his aesthetic of using comedy to address serious issues.
"It just felt like a natural progression of truth," Carmichael said at a Zoom Q&A following the premiere. "I can't see myself doing anything else."
In the film, Val (Carmichael) breaks his friend Kevin (Christopher Abbott) out of a mental health hospital where he is being observed after a suicide attempt. Val proposes they kill themselves together, but Kevin suggests they wait until the end of the day and resolve some of their frustrations with life.
Directing his own performance, Carmichael said he worried he would not be able to balance the film's comedy and drama.
"I'm obsessively critical about things," Carmichael said.
During their presumed final day, Val confronts his father (J.B. Smoove) and tries to leave his pregnant girlfriend (Tiffany Haddish) with financial security. Kevin searches for a doctor (Henry Winkler) who abused him as a child.
For the dramatic roles, Carmichael said he cast comedians he felt were actors first. He believes their success in comedy comes out of their inherent honesty.
Haddish's "eyes are incredible on camera when she's just being honest," Carmichael said. "J.B. is such a father. His tone and his energy is just so fatherly, it just works."
Haddish appeared on Carmichael's sitcom, The Carmichael Show, which ran for three seasons on NBC. The show dealt with hot button topics such as gun control, consent, religion and pornography each week.
Carmichael said he used the family comedy format as a "Trojan Horse" to carry the issues he wanted to discuss. With On the Count of Three, he hopes the buddy comedy will encourage discussions around mental health and suicide.
"I've always been infatuated with getting more complicated thoughts to broader audiences," Carmichael said.
The script for On the Count of Three was written by Carmichael Show writer Ari Katcher, and Ryan Welch. Welch and Katcher also write for the series Ramy, which Carmichael produces.
"Our sense of humor and our sense of drama, I think, are in tune," Carmichael said.
As the director, Carmichael designed the look of the film to complement his blend of tones. He noticed similarities between the interior design of diners and the set design of daytime television shows. Both, he said, present a certain optimism that is ultimately superficial.
"I like the kind of dull optimism that certain colors provide, things that are trying to force you to be happy if you're in a state of unhappiness," Carmichael said. "A morbid outlook that's surrounded by color, that was the goal."
A second screening of On the Count of Three is available at the Sundance Film Festival through Tuesday.