NEW YORK — Jermaine Fowler is plenty pleased with his new CBS sitcom, “Superior Donuts.”
A midseason entry last February, it starts its first full season Monday (9 p.m. Eastern), and Fowler is jazzed to be back.
On the show, he plays a young go-getter reluctantly hired by a pastry chef who, after a half-century in business, still sells the best doughnuts in Chicago but whose marketing style (Wi-Fi and Yelp are not terms he’s familiar with) is pretty stale.
“The show’s about these two guys coming together for one common cause: to keep the doughnut shop alive,” says Fowler. But they don’t exactly get along: Fowler’s character, Franco, is impetuous and bursting with new ideas; Arthur, played by Judd Hirsch, is, um, rather crusty, not to mention stuck in his ways.
“Franco represents the change that Arthur is so afraid of,” Fowler says.
On the other hand, Fowler says that working with Hirsch, a comedy veteran at 82 who starred in the classic sitcom “Taxi,” is a blast.
So is another seasoned co-star: Katey Sagal, who plays a Chicago cop who’s been coming to Superior Donuts since she was a child.
“This,” confides Fowler, “is going to sound weird. I grew up hearing Katey on ‘Futurama'” — the animated series where Sagal voices sexy, one-eyed alien Leela. “I used to record ‘Futurama’ episodes on my cassette player and play it to help me go to sleep. Now, like when babies hear their mama and they calm down, when I hear Katey’s voice, I know everything’s gonna be OK.”
So far, so good. At 29, Fowler is already an experienced stand-up comic with a Showtime comedy special under his belt as well as a sketch-comedy series, “Friends of the People,” that aired for two seasons on truTV.
He grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., and describes his family as “funny” but also “pretty damn loud. My parents argued a lot. It was pretty tumultuous at times. Humor was how I got through everything in my life. I used to find a funny way to get out of situations. That’s who I was. That’s who I AM!”
Then, in 12th grade, he discovered Eddie Murphy’s comedy genius. It inspired him to do a standup routine at his high school talent show.
“It was horrific,” he recalls. “But my best friend Travis told me to keep doing it. He said watching me bomb was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen. So I never stopped.”
Fowler was the first person in his family to get into college. Then he dropped out.
“I got sick of it,” he says. “I realized I didn’t want to do it. I only went because I thought I was supposed to go. But I wanted to go do standup and figure life out. I knew I had to.”
He describes his standup style as “topical, goofy, autobiographical — wearing my heart on my sleeve. I always try to stay the same person I was before I did standup. It’s still me, just with a microphone and a little more selective. You want to stay that person, and not shave away things that made you you offstage, so you’re no longer you ONSTAGE. I’ve always tried to be as Jermaine as I can.” (Or did he say “germane”?)
He says performing as Franco on “Superior Donuts” isn’t too far afield from standup for him. He identifies with his character, who likewise is an aspiring artist — Franco wants to be a painter — and who, this season, will wrestle with whether to attend college or, as with Fowler, decide it’s not for him.
“He’s a street artist,” says Fowler. “Does he think school is going to make him a better artist? Is he going to work in the doughnut shop the rest of his life, or become this big artist that he wants to be? I don’t know. I have no idea.”
Maybe not, but Fowler does have some say in Franco’s fate. He takes part in the writing.
“I really fought for that — to be in the writers room. The show is about gentrification, sexism, racism, police brutality — all things I’ve dealt with in my life. I see myself in Franco so much, and the writers are very receptive about what I have to say about him.”
It’s just part of his comedy game plan: to stay as Jermaine, and as germane, as he can.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org