I recently had the privilege—no, honor—of sitting down for a few drinks with fellow comedian, Damien Lemon. Damien, if you’re not aware (it’s stupid if you’re not), is a very funny man. He’s also an actor, podcaster, and quite possibly the realest dude on MTV2.
We got to talking about all kinds of stuff, like why being funny is a full-time job, the importance of carrying yourself like a grown man, and why you shouldn’t be sneaking peeks on your neighbors at the urinal. Settle in and learn a little bit about one of the funniest men in New York City.
What do you think about the idea that one needs to be a starving artist before you can make it?
It’s different to not want to be a starving artist when you’re older. You don’t know any better when you’re 16, 18, 20—you can still believe in the mythology of that. Also, when you’re that young, you probably haven’t had a real job before. When you haven’t really had anything to lose, you don’t really care. But when you get out of college and you’ve had a job, you might not like the job, but it affords you a certain lifestyle. To think that for you to become this other thing, a comedian in our case, you have to forfeit all of that for the “integrity of it,” get outta here. That doesn’t make any sense. You’re a grown man trying to date grown women, and you’re bringing her back to your horrible apartment? Sorry buddy, not happening.
A lot of comedians fall victim to the mentality of, “How did so-and-so get that? Why not me? I deserve it more.” Does that mindset ever get ahold of you?
I did get caught up in that for a minute, but early on I knew to fight through it because it’s going to result in you not being yourself. You’re going to try and be everything that you think wins. That’s how you never become yourself. You never establish what sets you apart. You just look at what works for someone else and start to apply that to your own thing. It doesn’t work because it’s not you. What’s for him is for him, and what’s for you is for you. When it comes to business, you’ve got to treat it like a urinal. You look straight ahead. You don’t look to this side; you don’t look to that side. It could upset you. “Damn, look what he’s pissing out of.”
Then how does one develop their own brand of funny?
I think you have to figure out the delivery system. That takes a while, that’s what makes you funny. You might want to go back to what makes you, you. Go back home, go back around your old friends, people that you’re naturally funny with. When you’re at your most comfortable, when you’re not afraid. Zero expectations. But at the same time, you have to be aware. I’m a storyteller. I’m dry. Someone says, “You’re so sarcastic!” Oh, OK, I’m sarcastic. I can play that up.
What advice do you have for people who want to change careers and get into comedy late in life?
I was 27 when I started. I would say you have to commit to it. Prepare to be uncomfortable. ’Cause if you’re 27, you’ve probably lived a portion of your adult life a certain type of way—especially if you’ve had a job that provides a certain standard of living. With every transition, you need to be prepared to be uncomfortable financially. I think that was one of the most devastating things for me.
But, if you start late, you have the benefit of having lived. Having life experience. You know what it is to have a job. You might know what it is to have a child. You might know what it is to be in a relationship. You might know what it is to be married or divorced and that’s nothing you should throw out. Those are the things you need to talk about.
Tell me about your podcast, In The Conversation. Was there an adjustment you had to make to go from speaking to an audience you can hear and see a reaction from, to speaking to an audience whose response you can’t feed off of?
When you speak for a living, the stakes become a little higher. You can’t let the anxiety set in. Even though podcasts are a free-flowing conversation, they need to be funny. We can’t just be rambling, assuming people have time to listen. There needs to be hits. If you’re cracking a mic, whether it’s low stakes or not—in a club, or a bar show, or wherever—you’re cracking a mic for people’s entertainment. You kinda gotta hit’em.
How did In The Conversation come about?
I did a weekend at the stress factory with Charlamagne and Kyle Grooms. Charlamagne was hosting and the love he was getting was crazy. Women were just coming up to him like, “OH MY GOD! You’re like the voice in my head! I love you!” I was like, “I want to be the voice in people’s heads.” You know what I mean?
Let's talk about your special. Do you feel like you were overdressed? You seemed sweaty.
[Laughs.] I’m a sweaty dude. Even if I had a tank top on, I would have had a little glisten. It’s not sweat, it’s glisten. I was shining. But yeah, I was sweating like an animal out there.
There was one point where you acknowledged it. I was thinking, “Thank God he picked up that towel.” Was it hot in there?
It was hot and it was one of those things where I might have been a little nervous. I did have a blazer on. There were a lot of different things going on.
Was that the most nerve-racking set you’ve had?
Yeah probably, I didn’t appreciate it until after. I didn’t enjoy it in the moment. I couldn’t really enjoy it in the moment, but that’s just me though, ’cause in my head I was like, “Don’t bomb. Make sure you land that joke, make sure you say that joke.”
How’s MTV’s Not Exactly News treating you? You rhyme a lot.
I shot that back in January. It’s been cool. It was fun, a fun time. It’s been pretty well received.
Is it like an informal SNL “Weekend Update” audition?
Hell, if they take it as an audition, let’s do it. ’Cause I don’t have any formal auditions on the way at this point.
I think they have their quota filled for black anchors.
Yeah, maybe. What if they just had two black anchors? That’s what they’d call: “Two Black, Too Strong News.”
I’d watch that more than I watch it now.
Exactly. Black news matters.