He looks like Jesus in a blazer and his jokes are Colbert-esque, but comedian Lee Camp somehow finds a way to carve out his own brand of political comedy during an election season that has been thoroughly entertaining in its own right.
Camp will perform Saturday night at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue as part of a comedy show called “Mock the Vote” that features his standup along with comedians Leah Bonnema and Brian Parise. Camp won’t give away all of the details but says he is sure to include punchlines aimed at Republican nominee Donald Trump, leaked emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign and an explanation for why “our world seems to be spinning around in the toilet.”
Camp, 36, is the host of the cable show “Redacted Tonight,” which he tapes from his studio in Washington on Thursdays and which appears the next day on RT America, a cable station funded by the Russian government.
“Redacted’s” format is similar to that of other satire news shows. Camp selects short news clips to make jokes about, gives sarcastic commentary or criticizes what he feels is a political system run amuck. He also conducts both real interviews with guests and others with fake correspondents — something that became a hallmark of “The Daily Show.”
In his latest episode, Camp recaps the final presidential debate and takes shots at Trump, noting that he gave an audible sniff right after talking about how he would crack down on drug lords at the U.S.-Mexico border. Camp also devotes time to Clinton’s reticence about whether to propose a carbon tax, based on how well it would poll, as revealed in leaked emails from campaign chairman John Podesta.
But Camp says he tries to devote much of his shows to issues that aren’t being discussed in depth by the media, such as the protests in Standing Rock, N.D., over the construction of an oil pipeline through an Indian reservation.
“I try not to go for the easy jokes or the easy stories,” he says in an interview. “Part of where we got the name for the show, ‘Redacted,’ was that we tried to cover the stuff that was a little bit under-covered, or at least if we’re going to tackle a mainstream story, tackle it in a way it hasn’t been yet. So we don’t spend much of the shows bashing Trump because to me that’s too easy. That doesn’t mean I haven’t. I’ve called him every name in the book, but I don’t spend the bulk of the show on easy stories.”
Camp says comics George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock were his childhood influences. Later, he began reading the parody newspaper The Onion for inspiration and eventually contributed pieces himself.
His family lived in Bethesda until he was 8, when they moved to Richmond, Va., where they were members of Congregation Beth Ahabah. He says he knew he wanted to write jokes starting around the age of 12, but it wasn’t until his early 20s that Camp began dabbling in political comedy. The left-of-center comedian has performed at hundreds of colleges and at the annual liberal activist conference Netroots Nation.
Camp has done so many performances that he says it’s hard to remember which ones were hits and which ones bombed, but one performance just before a presidential debate stands out.
“Rock the Vote or something flew me out to Ole Miss to perform,” he says. “The outdoor shows are notoriously horrible, but then on top of that you take a liberal comedian and you put him on stage in the middle of Mississippi. Basically I was getting ignored through my whole act until one kid stood up and stood in front of the stage and gave me a thumbs down for a solid five minutes. That was basically their version of a standing ovation.”
More than anything else, Camp wants to challenge authority.
“People talk about how the jester was the only one who could speak truth to the king without getting his head cut off,” he says. “If you’re going to really cut to the heart of what’s going on in our society, comedy is one of the best ways to get there. So in that way we’re in a privileged position to be political comedians.”
Camp is especially harsh on the media, which he feels has “created the Trump monster.”
“They gave Trump 23 times as much coverage in the primaries as Bernie Sanders,” he complained. “I’d love for someone to look me in the face and explain why that is good reporting.”
Camp has also been highly critical of the influence big money has had in politics, which aligns with his “Bernie Sanders left” worldview. But through all of Camp’s groaning and joking, he still remains optimistic.
“The thing that gives me hope is that we are living in a time of more transparency, even if the political elite don’t want it,” he said. “We’re living in a time where people do see what’s going on behind the scenes, and I think the more of that you get, the more of an informed electorate and the more you’ll have people voting in a way that’s not divorced from reality.”
Lee Camp will perform at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue as part of “Mock the Vote” on Oct. 29 at 8 p.m.; 600 I Street, NW, Washington; tickets $20 in advance, $25 at the door; For information, call 800-745-3000 or visit sixthandi.org.