Lee Camp is one of the hottest young comedians in the country. And he is good looking as well. We recently spoke with Lee about comedy, the media, politics, and much more.
AmericasComedy.Com: When did you decide you wanted to be a comedian?
Lee Camp: Well I started writing comedy when I was 11, 12, 13, somewhere in there. I didn’t decide I wanted to perform it until I was like 17 or 18 because I had never been on stage before and was pretty horrified about public speaking. But within a year I started doing it and never looked back.
AC: When did you first realize you had what it took to be a professional comedian?
LC: I thought I did pretty early on, but that doesn’t mean I was right. It’s easy as a comedian to think that just because the audience laughs you will instantly be handed a career, but I was about 23 when I became a full-time comic. And there was a little luck involved in that as well.
AC: Who were your influences?
LC: Early on I didn’t do any of the political stuff. It was all observational humor. So I was into people who were doing that kind of thing, like Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright, and Chris Rock, although Chris Rock does political comedy without being “political.” As my comedy evolved I gravitated toward some of the guys like George Carlin, Bill Hicks, and Doug Stanhope.
AC: You make an interesting point about Chris Rock. Most people wouldn’t define him as a “political comedian” but his social commentary is spot-on.
LC: Yeah, I think the term “political comic” can be misleading. People may hear that and think, “He must just make jokes about the President or the Senate or things like that.” In a one hour set I may mention the President once, even when Bush was in office. It’s much more about cultural commentary.
AC: You made your bones as a comedian in New York. Many comics say that New York is where you go to really hone your craft. Would you agree with that?
LC: I would agree with that, although I’m sure a lot of people in LA would argue with me. In LA, a lot of comics are kind of doing it as a way to get acting jobs, where in New York you do it because you want to make a career as a stand-up comic. The New York crowds are less forgiving and the talent around you is so good it forces you to step up your game.
That said, a lot of my favorite comics are based out of LA. So I don’t want to come across as bashing LA comedians or anything like that.
AC: To use kind of a cliché, you are one of the “young guns” in comedy, along with people like Jamie Kilstein and Bo Burnham. What perspective does this generation of comedians bring to the table that differs from their predecessors?
LC: It really just depends on the type of younger comic you’re taking about. People like Kilstein and I and several others are really tackling the social commentary aspect. But there are a lot of others who are doing it in a different way.
I’m not sure this is the correct phrase but there is a lot of “offensive comedy,” where the goal is to kind of push the audiences’ buttons and make them change their perspective or expectations. And a lot of comedians kind of branch out from that. They say something that maybe shocks the audience to get their attention and then use logic to challenge people’s beliefs on topics that you could never bring up in the past.
AC: I want to switch gears for a bit and talk about you appearance on The Green Room with Paul Provenza. It started out with Paul showing a clip of you calling out Fox News as a propaganda network while you were on Fox News. Could you set that up a bit?
LC: Fox News asked me to be on their morning show and I knew I was either going to tell them to go fuck themselves or call them out on the air. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say but I knew I was going to say something.
They have left wing comedians on and right wing comedians on and I get that most people have to play the game. You want to get a national audience and that is an opportunity to do that. Luckily I did not care about burning those bridges.
AC: After that clip was played you got huge applause from panelists including Bob Saget, Patrice O’Neal, Sandra Bernhard, and Roseanne. Kelly Carlin said after watching the clip that was something her dad would do. How did that feel?
LC: It was so incredible. Being there when Roseanne started a standing ovation from the crowd was pretty mind blowing. It was like being in a dream where your heroes are giving you a standing ovation.
AC: While we’re talking politics, it seems to me that this issue, which is a constant thread throughout the history of comedy, has taken on a sense of anger or urgency recently.
LC: I think it is the urgency in what you feel, be it the Occupy movement or the environment. It’s not just comics. A lot of people have this sense of urgency about what is happening in the world in a way they didn’t used to be.
AC: To get a bit partisan, are you a ‘pox on both their houses’ kind of guy?
LC: I’m not quite that. I think the Democrats are right on many issues such as women’s rights and gay rights and things like that. Their ideas there are correct and I strongly stand behind those ideas. What infuriates me is that the Democrats, many Democrats anyway, don’t actively fight for those principles. Like on the immigration issue Obama has deported more people than Bush.
So what you end up with is one side that is actively evil, putting greed above people, while the other side is saying the right things but not actually fighting for the right things. This is how you end up with a totally fucked system and it’s time to look outside of it.
AC: Will you be voting for Obama?
LC: Luckily or unluckily I’m not in a swing state, so no. And because I’m not in a swing state I don’t have the psychic pressure that comes with voting third-party and getting Romney elected to appoint far-right Supreme Court justices. That would put our country even deeper in the toilet than we ever imagined. So yes, I’ll vote third party.
AC: You have a book out now, Moment of Clarity, which is based on your YouTube series. It’s available in paperback and e-book. People seem to promote their e-book more than the more expensive version. Why is that?
LC: You can get the Moment of Clarity videos for free on YouTube. And yes it kind of sucks that you can get a book for the price of a coffee. But look, times are tight. I’m not looking to gouge people. I hope they check it out and like it and come back for more.
AC: Your new CD, which is your second, is called Pepper Spray the Tears Away. Does that title come from your solidarity with the Occupy movement?
LC: It definitely has a bit to do with Occupy but that isn’t the main gist of the album. It is political, social satire and all those things. The cover refers to my performance at Occupy DC. But it isn’t all angry political stuff. I have one bit on there about our common ignorance of spelling. People seem to think the squiggly red line under a typed word is to the computer’s celebration of their tremendous spelling. So if you aren’t interested in the political stuff there is plenty of other material there.
Follow Lee Camp on Twitter @LeeCamp. You can get Moment of Clarity here and check out Lee’s YouTube channel for political comedy rants. Visit DylanBrody.com for all things Dylan Brody, and listen to the full, unedited audio version of this interview at Dylan Brody’s Neighbor’s Couch.
About the Author: Darren Staley is the host of Atari-winning podcast Dylan Brody's Neighbor's Couch, based out of North Carolina or Los Angeles. He is known in comedy circles as "Who?" or "Oh, That Guy." Darren's two biggest fears are spiders and Paul Provenza.