“I try to remain hopeful although I may not be that optimistic. I view myself as a cynical optimist. I see the glass as being half full of shit.” — Lee Camp
WASHINGTON – Taking on the biggest issues in politics was not on Lee Camp’s mind when he first got into comedy. The American comedian — now known for his incisive political commentary and humor — first started writing jokes when he was just 12 and began performing at 18, focusing first on “standard observational comedy” that was aimed more at lifting people’s spirits than opening people’s minds.
However, as Camp continued to perform, he became more politically aware and wanted his comedy to cover the “darker issues.” He became a contributor to the well-known political satire site The Onion and even wrote political satire at the Huffington Post, where he worked as humor staff writer for a time. Camp’s entrance into political comedy also made it into American living rooms through several TV appearances, including his now-famous 2008 appearance on Fox News, where he called the right-leaning news network “a festival of ignorance” live on-air.
In recent years, Camp has become one of the most well-known political comedians in the country, thanks to his sharp wit and unwavering willingness to tackle the big issues that the corporate media won’t touch. Indeed, Camp has been noted for filling the void left by political comedy giants of the past, such as George Carlin, by his blending of biting criticisms with sarcasm and humor. It’s no wonder that George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, has called Camp one of the few comics today who has kept her father’s torch lit.
From his regular contributions to independent, progressive news outlet Truthdig to the satirical comedy show he hosts on RT America – “Redacted Tonight” – Camp has used his unique brand of humor to help expose the corporate establishment’s abuses of power wherever they emerge, keeping his audience both entertained and informed. When he first got into political comedy, Camp didn’t expect his comedy routines to be more informative than national news broadcasts. “Little did I know at the time that our mainstream media would be such a propagandistic catastrophe that my comedy would be a better source of news than CNN or Fox or MSNBC,” he told MintPress in a recent interview.
Camp’s new comedy special
Earlier this month, Camp released his new, self-produced comedy special, titled “Super Patriotic Very Uncle Sam Comedy Special Not Allowed on American TV.” The hour-long special, filmed at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, delves into a variety of topics with incisive humor that inspires both bouts of uncontrollable laughter and moments of reflection about the country’s troubling political realities.
Touching on the systemic corruption of the criminal justice system, the horrors inflicted by the U.S. military abroad in our name, the mainstream media, and the political elite it serves, among many other important topics, Camp elicits belly laughs while shining much-needed light on the darkest situations taking place in the U.S. and the world today.
This is hardly by accident, as Camp told MintPress that comedy is a “very powerful” tool that can help wake people up to troubling realities because laughter “helps people to listen to something they might disagree with at first and give it a chance before they decide to just walk out or turn it off. I think people will listen longer to something if it makes them laugh, especially if they start off disagreeing.”
His combination of political insight and comedy speaks to Camp’s own past as both a comedian and a political activist. Camp’s new special – which can be streamed or purchased directly from his website – also reflects his activist spirit, as 10 percent of the proceeds will be split between two well-known activist organizations, Veterans for Peace and Food and Water Watch.
MintPress recently spoke to Camp about his new comedy special and the state of political comedy in the United States.
MintPress News (MPN): You start off your special joking about how you have been called a “foreign agent” because of your political views and your hosting of a program (Redacted Tonight) on RT America. How do you respond to that accusation and do you see it as a means of dismissing legitimate criticisms of the system?
Lee Camp (LC): Oh yeah, of course. I think that’s the main purpose of it. The corporate media or the corporate shills on either side of our bought political spectrum, they can’t actually address the issues I cover or they don’t want to. Neo-McCarthyism is being used right now mainly by Democrats but also a lot of the country to not question our political system, to not actually question what the Democratic Party stands for. It basically stands for 90 percent of what the Republican Party stands for: endless consumerism, environmental destruction, expansion of the surveillance state, endless war, Wall Street running wild — all of that goes unchecked and unquestioned but those that do question it are called “foreign agents” or “conspiracy theorists” or whatever.
Those terms are definitely used to undermine points I make or any points that are made by others at RT America like Jesse Ventura or Abby Martin — when she was here — or Chris Hedges. It’s an easy way to not actually have to deal with the issues. But it’s ridiculous. The only reason we are at RT America is that it’s largely the only channel where questioning the corporate state and the system that runs our lives is allowed. That generally can’t be done in the U.S. corporate media so that’s why people like Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges are at RT America.
Watch | The Trailer for Super Patriotic Very Uncle Sam Comedy Special Not Allowed on American TV
MPN: You note early on in the special that Trump is a symptom of how bad things have gotten in the U.S. and not the main problem with this country and then discuss the behavior of the so-called “Resistance.” Do you think the political establishment’s “resistance” movement is helping or harming actual efforts to resist government abuses in the U.S.?
LC: It’s meant to channel the anger. A lot of Americans have legitimate anger against the situation they are in – we have incredible inequality, incredible wealth disparity, and the infrastructure of the system is collapsing down around us. So, the anger is genuine. If you are one of the political elite and the media elite, you have to find a way to channel the anger away from its actual cause. Away from the fact that you have a completely owned government, a completely owned criminal justice [system] — you have to find a way to point the anger away from that.
So, one of the ways to do that is to haul out this “faux resistance” that’s being used to only go after Trump. Now Trump is corrupt just like our former presidents and there are a million things he could probably be indicted for. But instead of going after those things, we’re told that we can only get mad at him for the dumb things he tweets or the so-called collusion with Russia – things the Democratic Party can say “that’s not us, that’s him.”
Whereas the actual corruption, that can’t be questioned because if you question that then you are also questioning the Democratic Party. Politicians on both sides of the aisle spend roughly 70 percent of their time collecting money from corporations for their next campaign. These are old numbers but there were roughly 23 lobbyists for every Congressperson, and it’s probably more than that now. So, you have to channel the genuine anger that Americans feel away from them, the political elite, and you can channel it at Trump himself or you channel it at Russia or Iran or North Korea – just so long as we aren’t looking at our government as a whole, or our bought-off politicians, and blaming them for having put the vast majority of Americans in this situation.
MPN: You note during your special in a few different ways the insanity of U.S. foreign policy. Why do you think U.S. foreign policy is so counterproductive?
LC: Actually, U.S. foreign policy is not counterproductive; it is productive for the ruling elite. It is productive if you have no compassion for the victims of our bombs, on whom it’s estimated that we drop around 100 bombs a day. If you have no compassion for the victims of our foreign policy, then it’s perfectly productive. It allows us to maintain geopolitical power in a lot of areas in the world. We have something like 900 military bases in around 70 percent of the world’s countries. How many military bases does Russia have outside of Russia? Ten and we have 900. How many bases does China have outside of China? One. And when they announced they were building it, we accused them of trying to take over the world.
This foreign policy of arming jihadists and terrorists and CIA-backed coups in various Latin American countries, it seems counterproductive if you want peace and democracy and you want other countries to do well and not be filled with starving, desperate people. But, it’s very productive for the U.S. ruling elite and that’s why our mainstream media won’t talk about it. They’ll have foreign policy debates all day and everyday but they won’t talk about how this is mostly by design, even the blowback.
MPN: You stated a couple of times in the special that you feel that people in the U.S. are waking up and no longer as susceptible to state propaganda as in the past. What do you think it will take for this phenomenon to manifest as real change in the U.S.?
LC: What will it take? That’s the great question. I try to remain hopeful although I may not be that optimistic. I view myself as a cynical optimist. I see the glass as being half full of shit. I think it will take more people in the streets and more organizing and more people not being afraid, not being afraid of being surveilled or stepping outside the bounds of “acceptable” behavior. You have to not be afraid. The fact that we now know that our data is being surveilled and that it will continue is actually helpful to the ruling elite because it makes us behave ourselves even without punishment because “what if we are being surveilled?”
People need to stop being afraid and continue to stand up. There are great examples of people standing up and people’s movements like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and Occupy Wall Street before that.
MPN: On a related note, you also mentioned how the state is trying to put people “back to in the box” of acceptable thoughts and views – do you think those efforts will succeed?
LC: I think it’s very hard for them to put us back in the box and dumb us back down to that level. I don’t think it’s impossible but I think it is very difficult once you start to see the truth about these things to just let go of it and go back to apathy and delusional thinking. But they are trying really hard.
Take a look at the mass censorship going on right now against MintPress and Redacted Tonight and any other alternative media that isn’t toeing the corporate, mainstream line. The amount of censorship going on right now by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google is part of that effort. It is grand and these platforms are conspiring together. For instance, when Free Thought Project and the Antimedia were taken off of Facebook, their accounts on Twitter were also instantly taken down. This was Facebook and Twitter working together to shut down alternative media outlets.
We had never seen anything like that before and people need to get angry about that and build up alternative social media platforms and keep fighting. Like water, we need to flow around the obstacles that will be placed in front of this information awakening, the information revolution. I’m not saying turn your back on the major platforms, because that would be losing a major tool; but I think we should be building up open-source, uncensored social media platforms that can allow the information revolution to continue. If we can do that, that would be a big step.
MPN: A theme you weave throughout your special are the lies we are told as a society and you note that some of these lies are small while others are big. First, why do you think it’s just as important to address the small lies as the big lies? Second, what do you think is the most dangerous lie we have been told as a country?
LC: I’d say that the reason that the small lies are so significant is that they help people wake up to the bigger lies. I know a lot of people who started waking up because they had health issues and their doctors were not giving them anything useful. They started looking into other health remedies, avoiding processed foods, things that helped cure them, and they were amazed that they were able to resolve their health problems with something their doctor hadn’t told them about. That then enabled them to wake up about a lot of things because they started to think “If I’m getting lied to about this, what other lies am I being told?”
The most dangerous lie I’d say is that capitalism should never be questioned. You can have a discussion about its benefits and its dangers and what it’s done but the fact that it can never be discussed is really dangerous. It’s cutting off thought and we are watching as our environment collapses around us, as we are being told to consume at a breakneck pace all the time. But if we don’t then we’re bad members of society or bad citizens.
If you look at climate change, deforestation, how we have lost 50 percent of all wildlife in the last few decades, how the oceans are filling with plastic, we are destroying our ability to live on this planet — but we are also being told that we can’t question the economic mechanism that is fostering our own death. That to me is the number one issue that must be discussed but there are a lot of other important ones, like the myth that we are a democracy whereas a large Princeton study found that we are an oligarchy. I think that’s another one of the biggest lies we are told.
Watch | Lee Camp tackles War with Iran, Standing Rock and the failure on capitalism on Redacted Tonight
MPN: Your approach to comedy throws a lot of political realities and many uncomfortable truths into the mix. Do you think comedy is an important tool for generating political awareness and helping people deal with some of the truly disturbing situations taking place in the world today?
LC: I think comedy is utterly useless and unfortunately I have been enslaved into it [laughs]. No…to be serious, I think comedy and satire are very powerful and give people sugar to help the medicine go down. I also think it helps people to listen to something they might disagree with at first and give it a chance before they decide to just walk out or turn it off. I think people will listen longer to something if it makes them laugh, especially if they start off disagreeing.
This is important because, right now, we are in danger of living in our own “bubbles.” The social-media algorithms tell us what we are supposed to like and show us what we do like and they condition us to live in our own bubble and anything outside of that seems horrifying. Hopefully, comedy can push people to listen to or watch something that isn’t their norm and give it a chance. That’s my hope with this comedy special — that people will give it a chance. It was entirely self-produced and has no corporate sponsors or anything like that.
MPN: Most political comedians and political comedy programs in the U.S. that regularly get air time – like the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, etc. – usually don’t stray far from mainstream media in regards to certain issues. What is your take on the state of televised political comedy in the U.S., and why are voices like yours important in this part of the media landscape?
LC: In answering this, I need to separate out whether the comedy is good and whether the critique of society is harsh. For the first one, I think there are some great comedians out there. I think that, in terms of comedy talent, I think the Colbert Report — Stephen Colbert’s earlier show on Comedy Central — was some of the best comedy writing ever and I think the Daily Show with Jon Stewart was comedically brilliant. I think John Oliver is brilliant. But, in terms of whether the critique of society is harsh or accurate, I think that corporate media is only willing to put certain things on and that makes a lot of the criticisms is very superficial.
They point out the foibles of the leaders and the ridiculous things that a certain person said or that Trump tweeted. It doesn’t get to the heart of the system or the fact that we have two fully bought political parties that both agree on the core issues. Very few, if any, of our political candidates that get into office question corporate America, the private prison complex, our endless wars. You’ll see a little bit here and there, but for the most part anything that doubts corporate America is not allowed into office and we saw this in the recent midterm elections. For the most part, anyone that could threaten corporate America was sliced out earlier on.
MPN: A percentage of the proceeds (10 percent) from the sales of your special are going to Food and Water Watch and Veterans for Peace. What led you to choose those two groups specifically?
LC: These are both amazing organizations. Veterans for Peace are veterans who have come back and realized what our foreign policy really is — some of them may have realized it while in service. They realized that they were not creating freedom and democracy in other countries as soldiers, and they come back and are pointing out that our military doesn’t fight for peace but instead global power and greed. These veterans have stood up against that in a very bold way.
They also point out how veterans are treated in this country because they are treated like shit. They come back and we don’t deal with the problems that the fighting has created, like PTSD. The VA is notorious for being really problematic and not helping people. We don’t really help our veterans in a meaningful way, which is really revolting and Veterans for Peace stands up against that.
Food and Water Watch is one of the few organizations that goes against the environmental destruction of corporate America and takes the fight to the courts via lawsuits. One of the few things that large corporations fear are large court cases that can hold them accountable and this group does that. They are really standing up against the pipelines, GMOs, our tainted water. They are doing very important work and that’s why I am glad to partner with them.
Lee Camp’s new hour-long comedy special can be purchased or streamed directly from his website leecampcomedyspecial.com.
Top Photo | A screenshot from Lee Camp’s new comedy special Super Patriotic Very Uncle Sam Comedy Special Not Allowed on American TV.
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.