How Close Is 'Rel' To Real Life? Lil Rel Howery's New Fox Sitcom Depicts A Sad Situation with Humor
Anyone who's seen Jordan Peele's horror-comedy Get Out will recognize Lil Rel Howery. His hilarious role as the paranoid TSA agent Rod Williams solidified his status as a bona fide comedian. And after roles on Insecure and The Carmichael Show, the comedian is getting his own TV show: Rel, which premieres Sunday, Sept. 9 on Fox. Inspired by other comedian-led shows like Martin and Seinfeld, the series follows the aftermath of a messy divorce. But how true to life is Rel, and what's the difference between Howery and his onscreen persona?
According to the show's trailer, the sitcom picks up after Rel's wife cheats on him. "Who would have ever thought my wife would have slept with my barber?" he laments in the trailer. "Not my mailman, not my garbage man, but my hair confidant!" However, the protagonist doesn't just lose his wife but his kids, too, and audiences see him FaceTime them while sitting in his empty apartment.
Fortunately, Rel's little brother, Nat (Jordan L. Jones), and father (Sinbad) help him adjust to post-divorce life. That being said, their dad isn't great at providing words of comfort. "When your mother first passed away, I was kind of lonely in that house by myself," he tells Rel in the trailer. "You're going to have moments where you just call out to somebody, and there's nobody there. I just want you to know: that never goes away."
Howery is from the West Side of Chicago, where Rel is also set, per the Chicago Tribune. According to the same interview, he's a divorced father of two, just like Rel. "One of the reasons why I wanted this show is because I wanted to tell this story," the comedian said. "A lot of good dads out here are being taken advantage of, and it’s disgusting. And I'm one of them. I love being a dad. My kids don’t want for anything." Rel's brother on the show is based on Howery's brother, per the Tribune, and there's even an episode dedicated to the comedian's deceased mother.
But Rel isn't just doom and gloom. As Howery told Page Six, "The show was not built on tragedy. I think people see it as based off the line of: The barber cheated with his wife. But it’s [also] me on my BS." And some of the show's other characters have real-life counterparts. According to an interview Howery did on The Tonight Show, Brittany (Jessica 'Jess Hilarious' Moore) was inspired by Tiffany Hadish, who's one of the comedian's best friends. "It's based on her and a bunch of my homegirls that I'm just cool with," he told Jimmy Fallon. "100 percent it's not a love interest," he said, going on to explain that he got tired of seeing men and women on TV in will-they-won't-they friendships. "I wanted to just show a platonic friendship between a man and a woman without having them hook up," Howery said.
What's more, the loose boots storyline from the trailer is also based on a real-life pet peeve. "Women with loose boots drive me crazy," he told Fallon. "Like, I think if you're gonna wear a sexy boot, it should fit. Like, I should see your heart beating in the boot — that's how tight it should be." In the trailer, audiences see Brittany try to set him up with her friend, Monica. "I mean, she wears loose boots!" Rel complains. "The boot is too wide for her little-*ss ankle. Feet be sliding back and forth in the boot." But while there are autobiographical elements in the show, the Get Out actor told the Tribune that Rel is just a character.
And Rel isn't the only role Howery will be playing. The comedian told Fallon that he plays a new character each week, in addition to Rel. His reasoning for this, the comedian told Vulture, is to gauge how audiences respond to each persona. "When Martin came on, [Martin Lawrence] introduced us to Jerome and his mom and Sheneneh and all these different characters," Howery said. "It’s almost like he let us figure out who we liked."
That's why audiences see Howery dressed up as a nosy preacher who addresses Rel's recent misfortunes from the pulpit. Meanwhile, the protagonist sits uncomfortably in the pews, embarrassed for having been singled out. This idea harkens back to comedians like Eddie Murphy, Tyler Perry, and — as Howery mentioned — Martin Lawrence. These men often played larger-than-life characters — some congruently, like Murphy in The Nutty Professor.
So while it remains to be seen how audiences will respond to Howery's semi-autobiographical sitcom, the future looks bright for the comedian. "Every day I drive into that Fox lot, I can’t wait to pull out my ID," he told Vulture. "I love driving through the fake city to get to my parking space.... Now I’m in that moment, and with all the knowledge I have, I’m able to make a run with it."
Hopefully Howery isn't wearing loose boots, or running will be impossible.