Lee Camp’s New Stand-Up Special Is What Comedy Is Supposed To Be
Redacted Tonight’s Lee Camp has released a new stand-up special, his first in over four years. You won’t see it in the new releases column on Netflix, and you won’t see him plugging it on Fallon or Colbert. And if you shell out a few bucks to watch it, you’ll understand very quickly why that is.
Lee Camp is the anti-Netflix. He is the anti-Fallon. His special, titled “Super Patriotic Very Uncle Sam Comedy Special Not Allowed On TV”, attacks everything that sprawling corporations and late night comedy pundits are built upon, and rips the rug out from underneath everything that they are selling. It’s the kind of biting, up-punching, the-emperor-has-no-clothes social commentary that comedy is supposed to be, the kind that makes you sincerely consider the possibility that everything you believe is a lie and makes you piss yourself laughing while you do it. It sticks out like a sore thumb against the vapid, innocuous beige mush that is the rest of the stand-up comedy scene today.
And if I had to pick a single thing I didn’t like about Camp’s special, that would honestly be the only one I could find: the way it made me feel just a little bit disgusted with all comedians not named Lee Camp. Watching it felt like having an itch scratched that I’d been trying unsuccessfully to reach all day, an instant “Yes! That!” recognition which has gone unsatisfied by the lukewarm fluff that comprises virtually all the rest of working comics today.
Comedy is meant to lampoon power and call bullshit what it is. Today it’s used at best for mindless escapism, and at worst it’s used to sell products and indoctrinate the public into supporting power and accepting bullshit. The most daring thing you’ll ever see most comics do is make fun of Donald Trump, and ooh, oh my, how brave and groundbreaking.
Camp doesn’t play that game. He begins his special after an introduction by the always excellent Abby Martin by cracking a joke about how far Trump’s head is up his ass, then saying “He’s a catastrophe, but here’s the thing: I’m gonna say his name probably one to two more times throughout this hour, and the reason is because he’s a fucking symptom. He’s not the cause of our problems, alright. He’s a symptom. He’s a visual representation of how fucked up shit has gotten.”
And then he blasts off from there. Corporatism, war, oligarchy, ecocide, white supremacy, police militarization, the looming threat of human extinction, mass media, mass surveillance, social engineering — he leaves no stone unturned in excoriating every part of our fucked up society which causes us all dissonance in our quiet, sincere moments, the uneven parts of our propaganda brain boxes which give us the sense that we’ve been lied to about everything.
There are hardly any comics who are ballsy and skillful enough to stand in front of an audience and tell them it’s all bullshit while still making them laugh, and the number of comics who can do that while clearly articulating why it’s all bullshit is probably a group of roughly one. Camp rattles off facts and figures as rapidly as he fires punchlines, pointing lucidly at the myriad ways we’re all being deceived and fucked over which are self-evidently absurd when fully exposed and looked at, then gives us an artful nudge with a clever reframe and gets us all laughing at the walls of our oligarchic cage.
And as tempting as it would be to point out all the terrible bullshit and take his laughs and go home, Camp isn’t content to just leave his audience with aching sides and an underlying sense of despair. He repeats two phrases throughout his special: “We’re being lied to” and “But people are waking up.” He highlights the ways that we are “being lied to on a mass scale”, then points at the various ways the social engineers have been failing to prevent us from seeing through the various glitches in the matrix. He talks about all the various groups that are getting screwed over by the status quo, and leaves his audience with a sense of hope as he shows how eyelids are beginning to flutter open across the board.
I might sound like I’m being over-the-top about my enthusiasm for this special, but I’m really not. Nobody asked me to write this review and I’m using my platform to write this because it’s the most interesting thing that has bounced across my screen today. This is the kind of comedy people are looking for, the kind that wakes people up and helps them see the world differently. It’s what we’re reaching for when we watch old specials by Bill Hicks and George Carlin, but don’t ever quite get. Yes, it is that good.
Anyway, check it out here if you feel so inclined. It’s about six bucks to watch it streaming and eight bucks to stream and download, and I don’t think anyone who enjoys my stuff will leave feeling like it wasn’t worth a whole lot more. In times like these, this is some sorely needed medicine.