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Fighting The Good Fight: DemNow’s Interview With The “Che Guevara” Of Comedy, Lee Camp

Lee Camp is a name synonymous with humorous irreverence, which is no surprise considering how much the 31-year-old comedian, activist, and writer has accomplished in his short time on this planet. Not to mention how many people he’s pissed off!

His unique brand of topical humor, scathing wit, and fearless devotion to equality, justice, and a sensible political system of the people, by the people, and for the people, has helped cement his unshakable reputation as a liberal crusader and dedicated activist who’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right. Or in the case of his Fox News smack down, stand up to what’s wrong.

Whatever your political leanings, Lee Camp is a comedic force to be reckoned with, who will open your eyes, challenge your views, tell you why you’re an idiot, and make you care about the world around you, if you could ever stop laughing that is.

You started doing comedy at a very young age. What would you say sparked your interest at a time when most boys are playing video games, discovering puberty, and more likely than not, unsuccessfully chasing girls?
Well, one thing that helped was that I always failed at the girl chasing. I bet if that had been working out, I would’ve had a lot less time for comedy. …I had loved making people laugh since I was little even though I was never the class clown. So I started emulating my favorite comedy writers when I was about 12. …So yeah, I guess it started as just really wanting to make people laugh. Now it’s moved into wanted to make people think as well as laugh.

Considering the former seat of the Confederacy isn’t exactly a bastion for liberalism, what was it like growing up in Richmond, Virginia? How did it influence your burgeoning activism and political leanings?
Well, the bigger influence was simply growing up in suburbia. Once I got out of there, I was like, “Holy shit, there’s a whole other world out here that thinks differently.” I think I still hold an anger about being lied to for so many years. And I don’t mean my parents – I mean my teachers and professors and everyone else who knows the truth about the world but changes it to fit with a good, white, suburban upbringing.

You received a lot of attention for your appearance on Fox & Friends in 2008 for saying live on air, “What is Fox News? It’s just a parade of propaganda, isn’t it? It’s just a…festival of ignorance.” Aside from a likely life-long ban from Fox, how did this incident affect you and your career? Is the old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” true? Do you regret speaking your mind or were you happy to stick it to Fox given the opportunity? If you could do it over, would you change anything? If so, what?
At the time I thought that no one would see it other than Fox News viewers at 7AM on a Saturday. However, it went viral online and now it seems that everyone has seen it. So I certainly didn’t do it for publicity. I did it because I had to for my soul and for everyone who has died in these illegal wars. Over the course of the next two years, it definitely changed my life. It made it so that colleges, which had been my staple income, would no longer book me. So my entire career got washed away in that sense. But that clip has served as a calling card for other people and organizations and has helped me build the career I now have. And I want to make a difference much more than I care to tour colleges as an inoffensive, apolitical comedian.

You’ve been compared to such comic luminaries as George Carlin and Jon Stewart and have even been called the Che Guevara of comedy. How do you respond to this? Beyond being flattered, do you think these are accurate assessments of you and your work?
I think we all have a tendency to compare things to what we know from the past. Yet I think I’m very different from the comedians I’ve been compared to, but I also hope that they wouldn’t find such a comparison offensive. Whether the comparisons are accurate or not, I’m just proud to be in the genre of comedians speaking about real world issues. And that’s not meant to take anything away from other comics. People like Steven Wright were a huge inspiration to me even though they don’t fit in the genre I work in.

What inspired you to write “Moment of Clarity?” Was it in response to what you perceived (accurately I might add) as an increasingly dysfunctional political system out of touch with the needs and wants of real, everyday Americans throughout the country?
I started the “Moment of Clarity” web series simply because I wanted to speak my mind on a regular basis for a wider audience than the 100-person audiences I play to each night. But the theme quickly and unintentionally veered towards dealing with our dysfunctional society, government, and financial system. So unbeknownst to me, it did become a response to that. It’s tough to talk about world issues and not get drawn to the catastrophic events we’re sitting in the middle of. …You say “out of touch” with regular Americans. But I think it’s that the powerful don’t give a shit about average Americans. In fact, we’re only seen as a revenue stream.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the country right now? Why?
Money in politics. Period. ….Because as long as our political system can be bought and sold, the people who actually care about fixing this world will never get a chance to change things. So every issue you and I care about could be different if we get the money out of politics.

Why do you think the right-wing has become so extreme and out of touch with mainstream thought in this country? Is it backlash over the election of America’s first black president, Barack Obama?
The far right wing is living in some other universe – one filled with hatred towards immigrants, gays, women, and many others.  It’s not a world I can even understand. However, that being said, both sides are bought and sold by Wall Street. The only difference between the two is on social issues. How did we end up in a country that won’t allow thoughtful debate about war and the economy and instead simply allows Wall Street to hold it hostage? It’s very sick. I think it’s time to look outside the two corporate parties.

Why do you think Republicans/conservatives fear change so much, be it gays, immigrants, women, labor unions, clean energy solutions, and/or investing in anything that doesn’t involve bombing oil-rich countries? Is it hate or just ignorance? Does it matter? Or can we just chalk it up to little more than the last gasps of a dying breed?
Well, I give a lot of the blame to the mainstream media. I mean, Fox News really convinces these people that Obama is the most left-wing president we’ve ever seen, when in fact he’s rather right-wing. And of course it plays right into the hands of the corporate interests. They don’t give a shit about things like gay marriage, but they know it excites the base, so they play that card. And while everyone is running around screaming that about what consenting adults do in their own bedroom, Congress passes laws that take away our First Amendment rights. It’s a brilliant scheme.

Since we can’t gather ‘em up and ship them all off somewhere far away, like say Siberia, how do you propose we deal with the more extreme right-wing elements in society? How can we move forward on issues like climate change, gay rights, women’s rights, health care reform, tax reform, Wall street excesses, the military/industrial complex, and a functional social safety net while Republicans are stuck in what seems to be some warped vision of sometime between the 18th century and 1950?
Ha. While I like your Siberia idea, I think the bigger problem is that even the Democrats in Congress are not truly fighting for all those things you just mentioned. I mean, on climate change, Wall Street, military and more the Democrats have either backed down from the fight or actually been complicit in the pillaging of our country (and the bombing of other countries). I see more hope in the people, in movements like Occupy, in protesters standing up and demanding a different world. I see little hope in millionaires squabbling about how to best hide the truth from the American people.

One of the phrases I often find myself repeating, usually in frustrating rage, is that “Republicans are assholes and Democrats are pussies.” Why do you think this is the case? Why is it that Republicans have no problem lying, manipulating, and shaping the truth to fit their (typically terrible) objectives while Democrats have the right intentions, but fail miserably to communicate their message, refute the Republican spin machine, or move this country forward in a timely, productive manner? Do they need to grow some balls or is it just that the wheels of justice churn slowly, making it easier to move backwards than forwards?
No, all you have to do to find the answer to your question is… follow the money. On social issues like abortion or gay rights, most Democrats are, at least somewhat, good. Why? Because there’s no money in going the other way. But on all the other major issues – military, climate change, wall street regulation, etc. etc. etc. – Democrats are terrible. Why? Because the money interests come to them and say, “Here’s how you’re going to vote.” It’s as simple as that. A perfect example is that universal health care was never really fought for because the health insurance giants said no.

What do you foresee happening in the upcoming presidential elections? Does Obama win? Or does Romney shock the world? How important is this election and what does the outcome mean for the nation?
I think that it matters on the small things and it doesn’t matter on the big issues. In 20 years when Florida starts sinking under the ocean we’re going to look back and go, “What the hell were we thinking?” Of course if I have to pick between only those two, I want Obama to win. But neither one will get us out of this economic shit storm. Show me the guy who’s not taking advice from Goldman Sachs, and I’ll vote for that guy. But I also think that Obama may technically win in terms of votes, but Romney may end up in the White House. Many people don’t want to talk about the fact that a certain percentage of the vote is stolen by the right-wing in the past several elections. And this is why you see the difference between the exit polls and the computer numbers. At least 4 percent was stolen from John Kerry. And at least 4 percent was stolen from Obama. But in the last election it didn’t matter because Obama swamped those 4 percent. However, it looks like it will matter in this election. I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama technically wins by 2 points or so, but we’re then told he lost.

We saw a definite uptick in the amount of citizen protests taking place over the last 4 plus years, with the rise of both the Tea Party, or as I prefer to call them Teabaggers, and Occupy Wall Street movements. Aside from both being mass gatherings of disenchanted people, there seems to be little common ground between the two. What would you say are the main objectives of each and how do we bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate groups? Are the Teabaggers more than just a bunch of angry white people who love guns but hate black people?
In my opinion the Tea Party in its earliest days was about a very similar anger to Occupy. It was about the fury over the bailout for Wall Street rather than a bailout for Main Street. However, the Tea Party was quickly co-opted by Fox News and Glenn Beck. So now it stands proudly for racism and hatred. I think the Tea Party is probably a lost cause at this point. However, I have strong hope for Occupy. Occupy has maintained its independence and is certainly not in bed with the media or with the Democratic party. Occupy continues to stand for re-imagining Wall Street, regaining our rights, and making the government for the people again instead of for the corporations. But as we’ve seen the corporate media will continue to undercut it and the police will continue to fight for the money interests. So it’s going to be a long, hard road. But I don’t know that there’s any other option out there.

How much is the media to blame for the current state of the nation? How responsible are they for sensationalizing and/or ignoring issues based on their marketability instead of their importance?
Very. People need to get their news from alternative sources. I think the mainstream media is 80% dead. It’s a ratings zombie not interested in bringing truth to the people.

What advice do you have for fledgling, like-minded, progressive journalists and activists, like myself, trying to get their voices heard and foster positive change while struggling to make ends meet?
I think we on the left have been the pawns of the Democrats for too long. I think there’s not a lot of time left and the millionaires in Congress don’t have the interest of the people anywhere near their heart. In fact, I think the interest of the people is close to their colon. It’s time we all look beyond money and towards how to correct this situation. Our quest for money over humans has taken us to a dark, ugly place. And each of us have to do our part to turn the lights back on. Thank you for doing yours.

What’s next for Lee Camp?
A Nutella and peanut butter sandwich. …Oh, you mean longer term? I hope to keep performing anywhere and everywhere that people will have me. I hope to perform at a bunch of protests this summer – You know, to give the protesters a cross of information and entertainment. Sometimes sleeping on the steps of the stock exchange or Bank of America can get boring, so there has to be some kind of entertainment. I also have a new comedy album coming out in two weeks entitled “Pepper Spray The Tears Away,” and as you mentioned, I have a book and e-book called “Moment of Clarity.”

Hungry for more Lee? Check out Lee’s website and his webseries for all the latest, greatest Lee Camp rants about how corporations are people (the serial-killer kind), and American democracy is its bloodied, battered victim. Rather than forking over your hard-earned money to greedy politicians and corporate puppets, why not give it to Lee instead? His book, Moment of Clarity, can be purchased directly on his website, or if you prefer the corporate behemoth route, at Amazon.com. The album “Pepper Spray the Tears Away” will be available at the end of this month. Until then, boring old Kleenex will have to do.

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