Lil Rel Howery tells Jalen Rose how he got Glenn Close to do ‘Da Butt’ dance

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This week’s “Renaissance Man” guest Lil Rel Howery is fresh off his latest coup of doing “Da Butt” with Glenn Close, in a viral moment at the Academy Awards. Howery called on the iconic “Fatal Attraction” actress during a music trivia game bit with the audience, with every intention of getting her to shake her rump. He said he was “happy” she was game.

“She knew I was going to call on her … She knew that part and everything. [People were like] is everything scripted? No,” he told me. “Glenn, you know, Daniel [Kaluuya] and them gave her some information. It was like a team effort with everything. I was like, ‘Yo, imma try to get her to dance.’”

He said, if she didn’t bite, he was going to ask everyone to do “da butt” with him. But he didn’t need Plan B.

“I didn’t even know how to go to commercial,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say anymore. I was like, ‘All right, she did it.’”   

But before he was coaxing A-listers to shake their cans at the Academy Awards, he was a Chicago-bred comedian trying to make it in the business. And when Jordan Peele told him he landed his breakout role, in the 2017 horror instant-classic “Get Out,” he’s not ashamed to say he straight up roamed the streets crying.

“I just start walking,” Lil Rel told me. “I’m like walking and I’m crying, and I didn’t know why to this day … But I thought it was just something special about this movie, because I thought it could go either way. The people either love it or really hate it. And, you know, every time I think about it, I get chills, and I didn’t know, you know, it’s weird.”

But those tears were Miss Cleo-level prescient. When he got to the premiere, no one knew who he was. By the time he left, he needed muscle to get him to his vehicle safely because he was getting mobbed by fans.

“And the security had to take me to my car,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Yo, what the heck is going to happen? Like, like, is this a thing?’ And it’s just one of those great moments in my career. [And now] I’m a part of something they study in film school.”

We joked about “the sunken place,” and he said people tweet him all the time asking him to help with a friend who’s gone in there.

However, Lil Rel is far from sinking anywhere. He’s rising so fast, he might as well be filled with helium. He is what I like to call “the now and the next.” He’s arrived but he’s yet to reach his full potential and exposure.

During our conversation, he referred to Tiffany Haddish by only her first name. I told him that he can’t just be dropping first names, even if they did come up together and he used to crash on her couch. But that’s how you know you’re entering another stratosphere. I was proved right once again when, during the episode, he was wearing so much bling on his wrist it was interfering with the microphone, so he had to take it off. That’s high-flying Hollywood stuff.

He was in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” has a few other movies dropping this year and is hosting “Not a Sports Show,” where he interviews superstar athletes, diving into their lives off the field. For that gig, Lil Rel said he drew inspiration from Ahmad Rashad, whom he watched religiously growing up.

He found his comedy footing from watching shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “In Living Color,” “Sanford and Son” and studying the stylings of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy, whom he credits with many aspects of his act, even his mannerisms.

“If you watch my storytelling, character work, all of that stuff, even when I talk with my hands a lot — because of him. Eddie Murphy has a huge influence on me,” Lil Rel said, calling himself a nerd of television, film and comedy. That curiosity even led him to commit a brazen criminal act. He confessed to me, Father Jalen, that he once stole a Pryor book from the library. (I quietly absolved him for this sin … because he had good taste.)

But he is adamant that humor has helped him through the toughest times in his life.

“Comedy always shows up,” he said, adding that he’s found laughter in the darkest moments, like picking out his mother’s casket and a family argument that broke out just as his brother was dying.

“When I lost my brother, you know, I remember we were just all in tears. We took him off life support. And this is a hard moment,” he said. “And then my auntie and my cousins started arguing, as they always do.” It was literally a switch that turned his tears into a belly laugh.

Since he’s always good for dishing out laughter, I had to ask him who he thought was funny. He said singer-actress Andra Day, and added that his top up-and-coming comedians are Chicago-based Just Nesh and Marilee Monroe.

The director he’d most like to work with next is Regina King. And he’s always rooting for his hometown when it comes to comedy and chicken: He said Harold’s Chicken in Chicago is better than Roscoe’s.

And when I asked him what his proudest moment was so far in his career, I swear I could see his giant papa bear heart beating out of his chest. It wasn’t rubbing elbows with some Hollywood honcho. It was seeing his son, Judah, who was cast as the younger version of him in the 2018 film “Uncle Drew,” in the movie trailer. I took my own daughters to see “Uncle Drew” in the theaters, and it sort of hit home.

“They didn’t tell me he was in the trailer,” Lil Rel explained. The first time he saw it, he was about to accept an award at CinemaCon. They played the trailer on a big screen and Judah popped up. Papa Bear had to walk away to compose himself.

“I burst into tears … It was just one of the greatest moments as a parent, because I’m like, he was born premature. There were some complications. And they would say he may not come out crying,” Lil Rel said. “I had that moment I almost didn’t have my little man. Now look at him — he’s on a big screen. And that was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was just like overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, yo, I forgot I was in the movie.”

Going forward, no one will forget Lil Rel was in any movie, but we might want to keep an eye out for Judah, too. Lord knows he might be the next big thing.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.

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