Interview: Comedian Damien Lemon Wants A 'Half Hour' Of Your Time

Funnyman Damien Lemon knows that comedy ain’t no joke. In addition to bringing laughable do’s and don’ts to MTV’s Guy Code, Lemon has also snagged a coveted stand-up special on Comedy Central’s The Half Hour. The result of meticulous writing and planning to get the punches just right, the comedian's offering of 30 minutes of banter is an example of the refinement of his natural gift of humor. But careful tuning in, it may be the start of a Lemon addiction. --Iyana Robertson VIBE: Congrats on The Half Hour special. How did the opportunity come about? I’ve been doing comedy now, it’ll be nine years at the end of this year. And basically, I’ve been on their radar for a while. I was on the channel a while back, I did Russell Simmons’ The Ruckus a few years back, and just a couple of other things with Comedy Central, shows, commercials, stuff like that. So each year, comedians submit their half hour, or a set for consideration to be a part of this Half Hour franchise. And they picked me. It was kind of just that simple: I’ve been doing comedy for a while, they were familiar with me, we’d done some things together, so when the opportunity came to submit, I submitted and they rocked with it. Where were you when you got the call that you would be on it? Where was I? That’s a good question. And I was blown away because, I won’t say I didn’t expect to get The Half Hour, but the thing is you’re supposed to send in a video of your set and I couldn’t find a half hour video to send in. So I just sent in an audio version of a half hour that I did in D.C. And they got me off of that. So it was beautiful. Let’s talk a little bit about stand-up. So how much preparation goes into putting a stand-up show together? Oh, it’s tons of preparation. It depends on the stand-up though. But my stand-ups, you know what we do? We come up with our material, write our material, and then at that point you have to go basically work the material out. So you get up time and time and time again just to get the phrasing right, to see what hits, what doesn’t what to edit. It would be the comparison of, you know how you write and you bring it to your editor, and then they take pass, and then they cut it, and then you write it again, and you bring it to your editor and it’s finalized? It’s that same type of process, but in front of people that could be like ‘Nah, we not feelin’ that at all.’ You test the material with actual audiences? Yeah, in front of actual audiences. And how do you know what to go back and change? Every time I perform, I tape my performances. So basically, you know immediately if it works or not, if they laugh or they don’t, if they’re not feeling it or if it’s quiet. But then when you go back and listen to it, you may find laughs in placing you didn’t hear in the moment. Then you can see, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, this line got a laugh, or the setup got a laugh, but then the punchline kind of dragged here.’ It’s just really a taste of going over it and over it again. The beauty of being in the New York comedy scene is there is so many comedy shows and so many spots that you could have. Like, I could come up with a new joke on Tuesday, and do four shows that night, and do that joke four times in front of four different audiences, and I could shape the joke a lot within just a day. So you give me a month with that joke, I could definitely sharpen it, know where it lands, know where to put it in my set. It’s just repetition, repetition. And editing. In the clips from The Half Hour, you do jokes about really random things like, hand dryers in a bathroom. How do you pick which situations would really be funny as hell? If it makes me laugh, then that’s the start. If I laugh, then it’s like ‘Let me see if people would feel the same way I feel about this.’ Or maybe it’s just in how weird it is. Some people would just bug out off of how weird it is. When I talk about the Airblade, I travel a lot, so I’m all over the country. I’m at the Mall of America right now. So you go to a place like that, you go to the bathroom, and there’s a Airblade [hand dryer]. And just one day I was like ‘Wow, this is pretty interesting. I wonder if I put my dick in this...’ [Laughs] It’s just one of these things. It’s that simple. It’s like ‘Yo this is wild.’ And I share that with people, and they get a kick out of it.

[Laughs] And do you think that anybody who’s outgoing and funny in real life can be a comedian? I think if you’re outgoing and funny in real life, you got a chance at being a comedian. But it’s just at that point, it becomes about the craft. It becomes about presenting these ideas. I always say, ‘It’s one thing to be funny when there’s no stage.’ When people don’t expect you to be funny, you can be funny because nobody was really expecting you to make them laugh. But when you assume the role of the guy that going to make people laugh, then it’s a little bit different. There’s presentation involved, there’s craft involved, you gotta take your ego out of it, and you gotta serve that audience. A lot of comedians complain about that like, ‘Damn. Every time I’m out, people just expect everything that comes out of my mouth to be funny.’ Does that happen to you? Sometimes, but it’s not a complaint. I would like to think I’m naturally funny, just in conversation, but it’s not the worst burden in the world. I think people that know me and people that kick it with me, they can understand when I just want to be normal and just have a regular conversation. Who are you comedic inspirations? What comedians have you looked to become a better one over these nine years? There’s a ton of people that inspire me. I mean initially it was Eddie Murphy, that’s who inspired me to get into comedy. But over the last nine years? I’m still inspired by Chris Rock. I love the way that he thinks. I love the way that there could be a topic and there could be ten different comedians take a stab at that topic, and he’ll come with a totally different angle on that topic. I always liked that, he’s very brilliant in that way. I like my man Hannibal Buress. Hannibal is very funny. When you hear him on stage, it’s like walking through his mind and his way of thinking is so different from so many other people’s. It could be absurd, it could just be so ridiculous sometimes that you’ll probably never come to that conclusion, so it’s very unique. I like his business savvy. I always say that as good a comedian he is, he’s just as good a businessman. He’s a good dude, a friend of mine. I like Louis C.K., I think Louis is very dope, very honest. Over the last nine years that I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve been listening to a lot of older guys. Like I swear, I couldn’t appreciate Richard Pryor as much when I was a comedy fan as now when I’m comedian. Because you see how vulnerable Richard Pryor was on stage. He put himself all the way out there, flaws and. And to see a black man be that vulnerable on stage is something. It gives you strength to be like ‘You know what? I’ll try this.’ I like that he’s daring. And then there’s other dudes that I came up with like this dude Smokey, he’s been on Def Jam and things like that. He’s one of my favorites. Smokey is just super prolific. He hosts a weekly room in Harlem called Mocha. And every week he’d have new material. You could count on it. And it’s people that take months to come up with new material. When I first started doing comedy, I had the opportunity to interview Tracy Morgan, for VIBE actually, and I got to sit with him as a new comic and pick his brain with just about every question a new comedian could have, and he answered everything candidly and with a lot of insight. So that helped. I remember driving around with that tape of us talking and listening to it for months. Just because there was so much advice to it. So those are some people.

Is there anything about your comedy sets that you’ve held onto all these years that has literally worked since the beginning? As far a jokes go, nah. I like to evolve. I don’t think there’s anything I want to hold onto. The thing about comedy is, you don’t want to keep doing the same jokes throughout your career. You want to retire these jokes in some kind of fashion, whether it’s a half-hour special, or an album, or an hour special, things like that. You try not to be too precious about it. You love the jokes when you birth them, but you want to share them with the world, and move further. Because my comedy is just a reflection of the life I’m living, so I can’t be but so attached to a certain joke. But as far as maybe my approach in comedy, I just want to continue to really be fearless. Like, I really want to continue challenge myself and put myself out there and push the envelope, try my hardest to be great, try to wring as much out of topic as possible. From the sound of it, when you’re putting together a stand-up show, there’s a lot of repetition, memorization, and alterations for audiences. That’s how a lot of comedians end up acting. Is the silver screen something you’re looking into? I am. I’m definitely looking into doing some acting. I did a little bit of acting, I was in The Amazing Spider-Man, that was cool. I had a Web series that I produced call D Lemon In The Morning. I’m interested in a lot of those type of things. You know, as long as the opportunities are cool and it’s great work, I would love it. Plus the thing about acting is that it exposes you to a bigger audience, so people can enjoy you on the acting tip, think you’re funny asTh hell and discover in that moment, ‘Oh he’s a comedian? I might want to see him live.’ What the difference between doing Guy Code, and then switching up and doing a comedy special? The difference is, one, it’s me for 22 minutes, by myself. I mean for Guy Code, we have the benefit of sitting in a chair for two hours talking about the topics of each episode, and they take the what they feel is the funniest and slice it down. They help you out with it, whereas with the half hour stand-up, it’s just you, for 22 minutes, doing your material. It’s a journey. When you’re seeing me live, or when you seeing me for a half hour, you’re taking a journey with me for 30 minutes. The common denominator is your want to be funny in both mediums though. What’s you comedic niche? What sets you apart from the other funny guys? I think my comedic niche is that I am who I am, I’m just me. So I’m going to try and be true to myself and I think that’s where the originality will come from. Nobody can be you better than you. Nobody’s living my life but me. So when I go up on stage and I talk about things that are personal to me, it’s going to resonate because it’s my life that I’m talking about. So I just feel like me being myself is going to differentiate me from other comedians. Okay, so now you have to pitch this Half Hour special. Go. This is you opportunity to see Damien Lemon, rising comedian, for half an hour, for free, before you go out and spend some money on a ticket. So this is a tester. If I was a drug dealer, this would be that little free package that I give you. Hopefully, you’ll go get high off of that, and then you become addicted. Next thing you know, you’re sweating, fiending, scratching yourself, subscribing to my YouTube page. That’s what I want to to do. I want you to just take this little sample, and get strung out. Lemon's The Half Hour comedy special airs tonight (July 11) at 12a/11c.

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P Diddy promotes his new Diddy Dirty Money single 'Coming Home' and his headphones DiddyBeats at HMV, Oxford Street on January 20, 2011 in London, England.
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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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