New York satirist Lee Camp on Occupy Denver, dead raccoons and political douchebaggery
Lee Camp's fine with making you uncomfortable. It's his stock in trade. On camera -- most notably in his stints on Good Morning America, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and various FOX, MTV and CNN shows, Camp gives audiences a this-is-how-it-really-is take on current events ranging from corporate excess to political misdeeds to the Occupy movement. The latter has made him perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your ideological leanings), as Camp has become the comedic face of the anti-establishment cause. He's coming to town this Friday for the Occupy the Debates gathering that starts at 6 p.m. in Civic Center Park, and then will do his full, hour-long show at the Deer Pile at 10 p.m.
Westword caught up with Camp before he hit town to discuss getting called out, creative put-downs and Voltaire's Candide.
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Westword: Where does your material come from?
Lee Camp: A little bit of everywhere from what's going on in the world. It's a cultural commentary of everything that's going on around us. It lines up really well with the Occupy movement. I was there the first night [at Zucotti Park in New York City] and have performed at a dozen of those gatherings.
How familiar are you with the Occupy Denver movement?
Well, that's one of the reasons I'm coming out there. I don't know who was initially organizing Occupy Denver. But Occupy the Debates is flying me out to do a short set. The event starts at 6, I'm gonna be performing between 7 and 8 p.m. It's me along with a lot of other things -- bands and speakers -- and I'll be a small part of it.
You comment on a lot of political and social events in your Moments of Clarity online video series. How do you stay on top of news stories? So many of your monologues criticize news outlets for not telling the whole truth....
At the end of one of the recent Moments of Clarity, I list where I get a lot of my stuff. Alternet's one. Realnews is another. There are a lot of sources out there if you go looking. Democracy Now! I watch every day. And I will go to the more mainstream ones like Huffington Post to get an idea of what America's seeing. You turn on the mainstream media news, and you see a difference between them and what's reported by good news channels that aren't corporate-owned, like Democracy Now!
Do you ever get the facts wrong when you're talking about big issues, and if so, how do you handle that? Do you issue a public apology?
I mean, I'm definitely called to task a lot. The majority of those who do that, though, are people misunderstanding the joke. I talk in one Moments of Clarity about a news story where a girl got her hair caught in a machine in shop class. I responded by saying 'Why the fuck are we still teaching shop class?!". The point is not that kids shouldn't learn to work with their hands. People complained to me, said that it's still important to build things. A lot of people misunderstood the joke. Occasionally I do get facts wrong, but it rarely happens in my videos. When I get called out accurately it's like on Facebook, when I put something out there too quickly. I put some KONY 2012 stuff up there and about six hours later, people were calling me out on that. That's just an example of how things work so fast. Information's being pushed out so quickly.
What's the most creative insult you've heard directed at you?
I've noticed how, when people don't like my videos, a lot of them decide the answer is to attack my physical appearance. Like, "Shut the fuck up. Your nose is crooked." Or "You have a lazy eye." You never see that kind of attack in a presidential debate: "I don't agree with your budget proposal, so you smell like a dead raccoon." People who don't have the intelligence or the time to argue on the points attack your looks.
What's your take on all the attention Colorado's been getting this election season? First of all, I love Denver and Colorado. I spent time out there as a kid. You're in a similar position to Ohio. Someone added up all the campaign ads that have been run in Ohio, and they've already dealt with 115,000 [this election cycle]. And it'll increase, too. Apparently sales of feminine hygiene products have shot up because of all the ads for douchebags.
I'll tell something you won't hear about in the debate. Colorado, and this isn't a conspiracy, had about 20 percent of eligible voters purged from the voter rolls. That's an outrageous number that could swing the election. There's an incredible hit to our democracy going on in your state, but everyone looks past it. it's like, people at the least need to be aware and get them registered.
How do you relax? I have a hobby of throwing knives. [Laughs.] Yeah, I save a fair amount of my anger for the stage. I don't think I could stand being that angry all the time. Not that I don't get down and depressed by news stories I see coming out, but I save it mostly for the stage. If you don't do it that way, you have a breakdown and jump off a bridge.
In your most recent Moments of Clarity video, you mention how obsessed we've become with money. So how does this play out in your own life? Do you give away everything you earn?
I do a lot of gigs for basically the cost of getting out there. I also don't do that all the time, even if I do believe in the cause. Paying the performer is a matter of respect. Essentially for all the Occupy gigs, I got no reimbursement whatsoever. For this gig in Denver, I may make money at Deer Pile, but nothing for the Occupy gig.
The classic French satire Candide ends with its main characters tending a garden, the point of which is that people should pay attention to their own affairs and not others'. What do you say to folks who think you should keep your opinions to yourself?
Fuck my garden! [Laughs.] No, I certainly see what they're saying and it applies. I like that idea, but I think it only applies when people are intruding on people's lives and spreading rumors about your neighbor. In terms of the grander picture and the fact that we have literally billionaires all but owning our society, it's unsustainable and insane and these are pathological people who are making decisions for all of us. And the idea that we should ignore it and just worry about what's on TV is criminally apathetic.
Lee Camp will be at Civic Center Park at 7 p.m. Friday, September 28; then catch his full, hour-long show at 10 p.m. at the Deer Pile (a $5 recommendation donation). To learn more about Lee Cook, watch his videos, read his book or listen to his podcast, go to www.LeeCamp.net.
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