A comedy show that felt like a political rally | Russell Hicks offers an analysis of fellow stand-up Lee Camp's show

A comedy show that felt like a political rally

Russell Hicks offers an analysis of fellow stand-up Lee Camp's show

On Sunday night I went to see Lee Camp, above, at the Backyard Comedy Club.  I have very fond memories of Lee Camp, as when  I was a young pup in the game about nine years ago,  I wrote to him for a copy of his independently released DVD, just like kids used to do for decoder rings inside cereal boxes circa the 1960s. Note:  I think it was a MySpace message, but he did actually have to post me the DVD, plus it was an actual DVD, so yeah, it was a while ago. 

He was incredibly kind to me and the whole thing felt very punk rock which appealed to my sensibilities. So, imagine my surprise when I saw that  the man had pulled quite a crowd in London! My heart was filled with joy. 

Apparently the reason for his massive draw is he has a show on RT, or Russia Today, the international Russian news channel. 

I used to have RT on my cable subscription way back when I lived in San Diego. We were up to our tits in the Bush era back then and I did everything  I could to be informed by every possible perspective. Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC, Michael Savage even, just to hear how the other side was spinning it (Spoiler alert: It was the Arabs!). 

I went into RT completely unbiased. I began to notice a curious trend. RT was comically pro-Russia. By that of course I mean, pro-Putin.  To the point that, I used to enjoy it as if it were a sketch show.  

They use to spin stories in favor of their almighty leader in ways that can only be matched by the supreme masters of the art form in North Korea.  Holy smokes, it was hilarious. I quickly realized I was getting zero utility from the network, so hastily cancelled my subscription (along with the whole package, mind you, I had just become a stand-up comic – premium TV packages don’t exactly have a place in an open-micer’s monthly budget). 

Immediately I was struck by an internal disquiet that I was sure others have also had: how does Camp justify doing a ‘truth to power’ type of show on a network which is entirely funded by such a human rights snubbing regime as the Putin government? 

I was positive, excited even, to hear him explain this during his performance. As I was sure there was no way this fact could go unaddressed. 

Now, admittedly, I have never seen the program, so I also thought well he probably addresses this fact every night like how The Simpsons (RIP) used to constantly address their own hypocrisy by taking shots at Fox. 

I stood in the back after being let in by the kind staff of the Backyard Comedy Club. Wait a second, stop! I got a comp to a show, which I am now daring to criticise in public, on Chortle? Have I become a… reviewer?! NO! Oh Christ, this is how it happens? I mean I saw the trailer for the Joker movie, man, he wanted to be a stand-up comic! Now look at him! We become what we hate! We become what we hate! 

No. No. I am not a reviewer.  I am merely engaging in political discourse. Something done correctly, Mr. Camp should he ever come across this would take in turn, thus engaging in the discourse, while at the same time adhering to the Comedians’ Code Of Honour. 

So, I will analyse, yes, that’s right, not review! Meaning I will give my thoughts on the relevant information surrounding me without being needlessly cruel or revelling in the perforation of another artist’s already tender heart with my poisonous fountain pen (I don’t know how Chortle’s Steve Bennett does it. So many comics probably have entire shrines devoted to his image like Ray Finkle in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. LACES OUT, STEVE! LACES OUT! yeesh…that kind of bad juju creeps me out).

So, utilising the aforementioned criteria, I will entirely omit the opening ceremonies, and get straight into the main eventt, which I will now analyse as a comedy show and as a political message:

  1. A Comedy Show

Staring at the audience I was struck by a phrase to describe them: Vegan Trump Rally. That’s the best description I can think of without going into probably superficially rude detail. I mean, for Christ sake who watches RT all day? 

Someone in the audience held up a banner saying ‘Free Julian Assange’ which I agree with totally. My only question was who, in this 200 capacity venue consisting entirely of people who are so truly liberal, that when I saw them in line it looked like a reunion for the original cast of Total Recall (cheap shot! two minutes in the penalty box), are you trying to persuade to your line of reasoning? 

That aside, the crowd was quiet, but not in a ‘we aren’t into this kind’ of way, but in a WE ARE SO FUCKING INTO THIS kind of way. The vibe in the room was that this was a political rally. Applause in lieu of gut laughs made up 99 per cent of the audience reaction in the first 20 minutes. 

There were a few moments where I thought it lost the plot, like when Lee would veer off into some really out-of-place sarcastic crack which would not be out of place in the cynicism of a club set, like when he makes a crack that all kids should be in cages, in the midst of discussing the abhorrent crisis at the Mexican border. It’s funny. People would laugh at a comedy club. This audience just sat there, because they do not want side jabs for strictly comedic purposes, they only want their jokes to be straight upper cuts to power branded on brass knuckles that are Fair Trade damn you. 

So, there were a few moments like that, where  I was unsure Lee Camp realised what he was to these people, and I could even see the struggle on his face, as he attempted to maintain some level of just being a comic. 

They loved him. They clapped. He’s got a genuinely warm presence which was right in line with how kind he was to me when we communicated about my inclusion to the secret decoder ring society…

2) A political message

Dude (all serious think pieces include one use of the word ‘dude’), how do you not address, even once the fact that your radically liberal TV show is being beamed out to the world via the utterly right wing propaganda tool of the Russian government? Nyet! 

That caused a weird disconnect to percolate inside me. On the one hand, I agreed with every thing he said, even if some of it was a bit ham fisted, like the stuff about churches and pedophiles.

The RT issue has been covered by much more mainstream sources. There was an article written about my exact qaundry in the New York Times, which apparently hit home so hard it caused Camp to respond directly.

I read them both. The NYT journalist said exactly what I was thinking. Lee Camp also stayed totally in line with my own personal feelings when he mentioned the bias of the mainstream media, corporate corruption, and journalistic bias. 

It was the same thing watching him last night. The NYT journalist mentions the issue of context. I have to say I agree. If we are a group of activists who are criticising society at large yet using as our office a mansion run by an axe-wielding murderer, we should  put our own agenda on pause to address that.

OK, simple analogy, let’s skip the cute stuff. 

If I were doing a show in Russia, my impetus wouldn’t be to criticise America outright, but more likely to implicate their government alongside our regime. (Let’s be honest, anyone who has seen my act knows I would more likely just make fun of their fuzzy hats in the front row, before high tailing it out of there).  Wherever I feel the imbalance of power lies, is where I feel the need to attack. 

Also, I can’t help but deconstruct my surroundings. If you put me on RT I could not think of anything else other than ‘I am on RT right now’. Then through a systematic neurotic deconstruction which is entirely out of my control, I would need to reduce that fact down to its most ridiculous, probably vocally, in that very moment. 

That explains my own act to be honest. I talk about the room, because I can never quite just accept that I am on stage as a comedian. It’s more like, I am constantly aware that I am on stage as a comedian, with people watching me, which is to me, a totally ridiculous concept, that I can’t not address. I can’t just stand here and pretend we aren’t all apart of something completely silly, so  have to provide commentary as it happens. 

Question: now this has been published in Chortle, can  I then use the above rather self congratulatory description of my own act as a quote from Chortle on my next Edinburgh poster?

If John Oliver runs a story ridiculing human rights abuse, while HBO then runs an ad afterwards for Nike sneakers, doesn’t that raise issue with the veracity of the shows intent? 

Perhaps it’s hard to stay entirely clean especially when finding entities large enough to get ones message out. I mean, probably Lee wouldn’t have been too excited to know that the comedy club he was playing regularly put on the nauseatingly self righteous Comedy Unleashed which as far as I can tell, is an open mic for your angry racist stepfather. 

Camp’s rebuttal sounded to me like he was given a chance to make a TV show (which yes, I do believe is the show he would have made anyway) and he took it.  More respect would come from me if he went, yeah, ‘I got the show I wanted to criticise the injustice of the American government, and it’s so threatening to the American corporate machine that the only network who would give it to me are these election-rigging murdering homophobes. 

Yikes. Just typing that line, has left me feeling uneasy about my safety in a country that has had its residents poisoned by operatives on the other side. Maybe I should go easy on Camp, I imagine there would be a lot of sleepless nights if he started bad-mouthing Russia in the press. 

That’s why I’m keeping my hat out of the political comedy ring! Nice shirt buddy! 

Wait, a second, I just realised something…I am currently writing this with the intention of having it published on Chortle, a publication I myself don’t vibe with for many reasons. On occasion I feel they have been needlessly cruel in their eviscerations of certain comedians, as well as a few instances where I believe they punched down hard on novice comics who have next to no status in the industry for which to weather that kind of abuse. 

Now admittedly, not least of my gripes is that Steve Bennett walked out of my show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014, in the first two minutes, probably then walking directly from my venue at the Tron to the Pleasance to give Alex Edelman a five-star review. 

And yet here I am, writing a piece essentially, let’s be honest already(!), criticising another comedian for working within the arm of a dictatorial government regime while I myself am potentially in the employ of the Vladimir Putin of comedy websites. Damn you context!

Published: 20 Aug 2019

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