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.