An a 2012 stand-up routine at the D.C. Arts Center, Sampson McCormick encouraged his audience to re-elect Obama for another term. "If the wrong person gets in the White House, we gonna be fucked."
McCormick is a self-described "out, gay, black, comedian, activist, writer, speaker, and fearless advocate." But he's certainly not an idealist. Five years after his 2012 presidential musings, McCormick says he isn't at all surprised that Trump's sitting pretty in the Oval Office.
"I can't even say that I'm disappointed, because as a nation we see all the facts — black folks being killed by police, women being sexually assaulted, hate crimes, etc. — and will still say 'Oh, I don't know about that' instead of dealing with it."
This is Charleston Pride's third annual LGBTLOL comedy night. This year, every comic — Shawna Jarrett, Jenn Snyder, Ian Aber, El Sanchez, Mimi Benfield, and McCormick — identifies as gay, bisexual, lesbian, or gender-non conformist, and they hail from as far as Seattle and Oakland, CA.
McCormick, the Cali resident, was born in North Carolina and grew up in D.C. But contrary to popular belief, coming back to the South, he says, feels totally natural. "I always have a great time in the South. We've lived a shared experience and are easily able to relate. It makes the connection and the whole experience better. My best shows have been in the South. Last year, I did a resort about an hour and a half outside Nashville, and my goodness — they were fun! We just get it."
In a 2013 performance at the Howard Theatre in D.C. (the comedian was the first out gay male comic and African-American to headline the venue), McCormick, in his conversational, good-natured way, discussed his religious, Southern upbringing. He described the preacher every Sunday making a call to "cast out the homosexual demons." "He'll say 'We want that homosexual demon to come out' and I'm gonna be like 'Hellloooo,'" McCormick joked.
McCormick works to find a balance between his religious upbringing and the fact that some Christians don't approve of who he is. "I'm very open minded and free thinking, but will always be a church boy at heart. There's a certain discipline that we have, a certain way that we approach life and [we have an] even firmer grip on faith than your average person. It's definitely given my life a certain structure, but the trauma was a side effect. Thankfully, I'm not too fucked up," he laughs. "My upbringing definitely gave me a perspective, and one that you don't hear from in general. Now, as I share the experiences, and we laugh from the outside looking in, I realize just how crazy my upbringing was and why it makes great comedy."
Even though, during the course of his career, McCormick has had triumphs — sold out tours, half a dozen live stand-up albums, a demand for his name on lineups after two decades — being a gay comic is not easy, even in 2017, maybe, even, especially in 2017.
"When you think of major gay comics, you can name Wanda Sykes, Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen Degeneres, try to name gay men with that ... you can't," says McCormick. "It's not because we aren't funny. Black comics outside of Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock haven't gotten the same opportunities on Johnny Carson or Saturday Night Live. If there wasn't Arsenio Hall, or Def Comedy Jam, we wouldn't have a Bernie Mac or Sinbad, Mo'Nique or these folks. Even RuPaul got his break on Arsenio, and these days, we don't have those opportunities. Arsenio got cancelled, and there are no television shows that place an emphasis on minority comedians. That's a problem."
And on top of being a gay comic, even when he is successful, McCormick must deal with the associations of that label. "I'm happy to be gay," he says, "but I get on stage to be funny, not gay. The gay part is just garnish."
As glib and un-PC as he can be, McCormick says there are some subjects he just won't touch. "I feel like the only way to deal with things is talk and laugh about them. That's what comedy is for. I've never been vulgar though," says McCormick, "and I don't feel like a person has to be mean or rude or crude, to be funny."
The comedians slated for LGBTLOL 2017 have covered topics from nerdy childhoods (El Sanchez, "The nurse would have to call my mom because I thought I was turning into a werewolf during class"); to ex-girlfriends (Mimi Benfield, "My ex-girlfriend was very short, I mean, she still is ... she's a grown woman, I would never date a child. I'm a homosexual non-pedophile"); to the genesis of McRibs (Jenn Snyder, "The McRib is made of the saddest animals in the world, race horses and greyhounds who never won. I think McRib is people, I think it's soylent green, it's unfulfilled Mcdonalds workers.")
Yeah, they're laugh out loud funny. All of them. McCormick just hopes the LGBTQ community will continue the charge: "As far as the LGBTQ community we got marriage equality, and then we decided we were gonna run off into the sunset. [It's] not that easy ... We have to keep fighting, and then lock arms with everybody else who has a battle, and fight for them. We've got a lot of work to do, and we've got to come together and join forces, it's the only way that we are gonna get this thing right."
LGBTLOL will be held at Charleston Music Hall on Thurs. Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 online with promo code and $15 at the door. Purchase tickets at charlestonpride.org/lol.