For the progressive stand-up comedian, doing a weekly political comedy show online is consistent with his activist point of view.
America didn’t know that it needed a steady stream of pointedly political comedy until Bill Maher brought smart, topical, funny commentary to television in 1993 with Politically Incorrect. A year later, a still-funny Dennis Miller premiered Dennis Miller Live on HBO, then in 1999 Jon Stewart became an institution hosting The Daily Show. It spun off The Colbert Report, The Nightly Show, and This Week Tonight. Political comedy dates back much farther than that, but it has become a television staple—one that has become more a part of national political dialogue as sharable segments become part of the way we talk to our political brothers and sisters on social media.
Political comedian Lee Camp will perform at the Hi-Ho Lounge Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., but these days he's most often seen as the host of Redacted Tonight, an online-only show that obviously mirrors The Daily Show. But where The Daily Show has a sense of moral outrage and This Week Tonight gives viewers a reason to care about stories they didn’t think they cared about when the show started, Redacted Tonight speaks to those who want the other shows to go farther, to be more progressive. The first episode I watched referenced Noam Chomsky.
“We try to be different by being pro-activist,” Camp says. “I’m an activist and I want to support the idea that people can create change and not just be a reporter of news but an enthusiast for caring, for anti-apathy, and for standing up for what you believe in.”
Camp is a stand-up comedian, though he doesn’t get much time for it anymore. “I spent 12, 13 years performing every night of the week in New York City, often multiple times,” he says, but these days he might perform full sets three or four times a month. The schedule for Redacted Tonight makes doing more impractical as Camp and the show’s small writing staff work all week, shoot Thursday night, then breathe on Friday before starting the cycle all over again. He estimates that he’s personally writing 17 to 20 minutes of new comedy a week including everything he says. “It’s a hard job, but it’s one I’ve become addicted to.”
That schedule is the opposite of his early experience as a stand-up, which is similar to that of other stand-ups..
“A lot of us would spend a year honing an hour,” Camp says. But along the way, he began doing “Moment of Clarity,” a twice weekly, five-minute YouTube spot. The spots, like Redacted Tonight and topical humor, have a lot in common with folk songs in that they're tied to their moment and unconcerned with crafting something timeless. “It was no longer How do I hone this? It was How do I do five minutes twice a week?”
He did more than 300 episodes of “Moment of Clarity,” so when RT America wanted an online political humor show, it approached Camp, who jumped at the chance. “This TV show is my dream job—to talk about important issues and make them funny,” he says.
Considering the other political comedy shows that cover similar ground, you might think that being distinctive would be hard. Camp hasn’t found that to be the case as he approaches the end of his first year on Redacted Tonight. He tries to focus on shows that the he believes that mainstream media got wrong or missed entirely, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Camp and many critics believe will effectively cede American sovereignty to corporations.
“Even some Democrats in Congress are fed up with the secrecy of it,” he says.
Camp’s outrage at stories like this is palpable, and it’s part of the personality of Redacted Tonight. “I don’t hide that I’m wearing my politics on my sleeve,” he says. “I get angry—comedically angry—on the show.”