Lee Camp keeps his comedy smart

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At Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club on Friday, June 1. No remaining performances

What’s funnier than your average political activist with a microphone and a captive audience? Just about anything, really. When that activist is also a professional standup comedian, there’s a little more hope, but not much. One imagines artless screeds and harangues with forced punchlines directed at howling bobblehead dolls who lap up the phony funny simply because of their sympathetic ideals. Politics is a team game, after all, and most political comics are little more than cheerleaders for the home squad.

But Lee Camp is something else entirely. The impressive 31-year-old American comic, author, and activist, who just played Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club, clearly puts a priority on the comedy, but with a writer’s craftsmanship and an activist’s heart.

Camp isn’t as well-known as a Bill Maher or, at the other end of the political spectrum, Dennis Miller, so he has the added challenge of preaching to the yet-to-be converted. Most comedy-club patrons are out on the town for a night of laughs, no matter who’s headlining. They’re not there to have opinions shoved down their throats.

Which makes Camp’s act all that more impressive. During Friday’s early show, he was able to toe the fine line between delivering his strongly held beliefs and giving the audience what they came for—big laughs. Presentation is (almost) everything. Camp’s delivery is a mix of bemusement and urgency. He’s not so much telling us what to think as he is befuddled at the mess we’ve got ourselves in.

His reference points are American, but his viewpoint is universal, which helps when playing on foreign soil. Topics included corporate greed, global warming and stupid people. Easy targets, perhaps, but he brings fresh ideas to them all and frames them in hilariously constructed chunks. Despite being wordy and allusion-heavy, his rants never appear scripted thanks to his conversational presentation—well, amped-up conversation, anyway.

And he’s developed a nice little device to keep everyone engaged: after any potentially divisive tirade, he’ll reach into his back pocket and pull out a notebook filled with more traditional—and less alienating—one-liners, such as, “Floods would be less scary if they were called surprise whitewater rafting…on a mattress.” A little joke sorbet to cleanse the palate for more comedy with bite.

Emcee Damonde Tschritter summed up the show perfectly, saying, “It’s not often you get to laugh yourself smarter.” So true. Too often in comedy those ideas are mutually exclusive. But Camp has figured out how to speak truth to power for a general comedy-going crowd that demands jokes. And that’s no easy feat.

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