Sampson McCormick: Seriously funny

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Wednesday May 2, 2018
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African American gay comedian Sampson McCormick will headline a night of uproarious queer comedy on May 11 at the Oakland LGBT Center. Diana Hong of Sacramento Punch Line is the evening's special guest.

"I'm happy to be doing it," McCormick says of his comedy. "Even with all the challenges."

McCormick, who has been heralded by Buzzfeed and Out Magazine as "one of the funniest stand-up comedians," still finds it difficult to be noticed and heard.

"The biggest challenge is that there's still a big under-representation of LGBT people in media and onstage," McCormick said. "Especially Black and people of color. Where are they?"

McCormick proudly points to the fact that he was one of the first Black gay comedians. He's been working at his craft for more than fifteen years. He's appeared at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, San Francisco Punch Line, on college campuses, cruise ships, as well as at The White House and The Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts. There have also been comedy albums and occasional film appearances.

"We didn't have marriage equality and Don't Ask Don't Tell was still in place," said McCormick of his early days performing. "A lot of Black men weren't out as they are now. So people who were doing what I was doing weren't embraced as much as we are now. Some audiences would turn on you."

Even today, McCormick is asked if he's "really gay."

"It's sad that in 2018 you cannot go to a club and see a gay male stand-up comedian," he said. "Mario Cantone and Alex Mapa were the first two who broke through that ceiling."

McCormick noted that every aspect of mainstream culture has been influenced by LGBT culture.

"On some of your favorite reality shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, they talk like gay men," he pointed out. "Even on ESPN, phrases like throwing shade, spilling T and reading, all gay slang terms, are heard."

And yet the challenges remain in place.

"Most minorities have a hard time breaking in," McCormick said. "I am, according to reviews, the best of the LGBT comics, but I still don't get the same opportunities that gay white male comics get."

Asked about the recent arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks, as well as about other recent examples of racism in society, McCormick said, "I don't believe in fighting fire with fire. All these isms and phobias do exist, but there are some amazing people of all races, sexualities and cultures. If you look at our struggles we haven't done it alone. We've had to help each other. But there are still biases that exist that present challenges. It can be emotionally and mentally challenging and tiring; another hurdle that you have to worry about."

Laughter, McCormick said, is how he takes care of himself.
"If you can laugh at something you can learn from it," he said. "You can survive it. It makes it easier for you to learn a lesson from which you can grow. I believe these influence your art and make it better."

Many of those lessons find their way into McCormick's act. He spoke of some of the issues he addresses on stage.

"I'll talk about things from the Black, LGBT experience," he said. "About politics and racism. The audience and I will laugh about life and relationships. I'm going through a break-up now which has been challenging. A lot of stuff has gotten more serious, but it's really funny."

The current president might also be part of McCormick's Oakland act.

"Trump is a Greek tragedy," he said. "All of it is funny. Melania hates him, so do the people around him. It's a circus."

There's also trans rights, LGBT rights, and voter suppression.

"I always talk about what's going on," McCormick said. "There's a dark cloud over our country and we have to process it. It's therapy. I'll talk about some of it in Oakland."

Those who attend McCormick's Oakland show should expect the unexpected.

"I don't know what's going to come out," he said. "People have said that it's part comedy, part theater and part church. How can you get onstage and not talk about what's going on?"

Sampson McCormick performs Friday May 11, 7:30pm at the Oakland LGBT Center, 3207 Lakeshore Avenue.