Writer and comedian Lee Camp inhabits a particular space in the comedy world. His attack pattern – combining hard-left political comedy with dedicated activism – has led to him performing in some interesting venues. He’s done sets in college lecture halls and at Occupy protests, and once even braved the hostile territory of Fox News to provide some, well, counterpoint views. In a video clip that quickly went viral, Lee opened with some gentle on-air musings: “What is Fox News? It’s just a parade of propaganda, isn’t it?”
Camp’s latest venue is the weekly comedy show “Redacted Tonight” – a satirical news program similar to “The Daily Show” which airs Fridays on the RT America cable and satellite network (not available locally). Lee also puts out his own video podcast, “ Moment of Clarity,” via YouTube.
Camp performs Saturday at the new DSI Comedy Theater space in Chapel Hill. He recently spoke to the N&O about pharmaceutical companies, Russian news networks and the enduring genius of The Onion.
Q: Your new show “Redacted Tonight” is broadcast on the RT America network?
A: Yeah. It’s a Russian news channel, just like BBC is British and Al-Jazeera is out of Qatar. This is their first comedy show. There’s a difference between news and opinion side of things. I get to write my own show – it’s not written by some producer. Larry King is also on the network. Thom Hartman is another well-respected left-wing voice that’s on the channel.
Q: How did you get involved with RT?
A: A lot of my material is tearing down corporations that have done wrong or, in my opinion, are putting profits before people. Because of that, I’d kind of given up the idea of being on television. Most channels, you can’t really insult the advertisers or even comment on things in a broader sense. For instance, on CNN, you’ll never hear them talk much about prescription pills – because all their advertisers are selling prescription pills.
Most networks wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. There’s only a few places that don’t have advertising. One of them is RT, and then you have HBO or something. That’s why you’ll see an edgier brand of comedy from (HBO’s) John Oliver, because he’s on a station without ads.
Q: Your comedy tends to be very political and pointed. Do you find it’s emotionally difficult – just kind of hard on the stomach – to be trading in outrage and politics all the time?
A: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying and it can be exhausting. Honestly, I think the thing that helps me to not burn out is the comedy. It helps the viewer to be able to handle these dark issues, but it’s also for me. If I were writing seriously about these issues all day long I would eventually need to back off.
Q: You wrote a weekly humor column in college at the University of Virginia. Did that help you prep for a comedy career?
A: I think that, unlike a lot of people that had a strictly standup background, it helped me because you’ve got to produce a large written piece once a week. You can’t have writer’s block. You have to get it out. That’s probably why I’m able to do this television show where I do 70 percent of the writing. Something I’m kind of proud of is that “The Daily Show” has a staff of over a hundred. John Oliver’s got to have a staff of 40-50. We have a staff of five.
It has to get out every week, and I don’t know that I’d have had that kind of writing muscle if I hadn’t done that column in college. Also, I dated my editor, so that was nice.
Q: You also used to write for The Onion, right?
A: Right, I was a contributor. I’d send them headlines every week. I think the reason they’re so brilliant is they’re generating hundreds of those headlines all the time. I think even in just the political department where I was, there were probably seven or eight of us that submitted 10 headlines per week. Now, I’d write 50 headlines to get to the best 10, and you figure we’re all doing that. So that’s hundreds of ideas, and they’ll maybe use two of them.
Q: Anything else you want to add for people coming out to the show?
A: Well, one thing is that I feel whenever people hear the term political comedian, they think it’s just a bunch of George Bush jokes.
There’s definitely some political stuff in there, but that’s completely not what I do. It’s more of along the lines of cultural criticism. It’s a longer view.