Friday, July 13, 2012

Lee Camp's "Pepper Spray the Tears Away"

Often times when a comedian combines social activism with humor, the laughs are sacrificed to make way for the message. Instead of enjoying an evening of stand-up we're left with the feeling we just got lectured at for an hour because we forgot to turn off the light in the bathroom. On his latest CD Pepper Spray The Tears Away, Lee Camp shows us (once again) how it's supposed to be done.

The passion Camp has for his stance on the inner workings of The Machine (and its tendency to misfire) isn't like the guy raving on the street corner with whom you try to avoid eye contact as you walk past. Camp's dissemination of information not only has real substance but is presented in a way that is engaging and approachable. We aren't being talked to in an "I can't believe you don't know this already" tone but instead are faced with someone who very sincerely and earnestly wants to be heard. And heeded.

So desperate is Camp to get us to lend him an ear, he works himself into a series of heated frenzies. His words come out quicker and quicker, louder and louder, and more and more furiously and I almost imagined a series of "motion lines" swirling around him à la the Tasmanian Devil. Each mini-explosion of thoughts and words is like a pressure-release system and Camp is able - if only for a moment - to collect himself, get orientated, and then start in once again.

Camp gets a lot of his fuel from the Occupy Wall Street movement and it serves as a rich source of energy that keeps him charged throughout the length of the project. For many people, myself included, when you hear those three words (OWS) you don't immediately think "comedy gold mine" but there's no one else out there like Camp and he has a unique knack (say that five times fast. It's fun) for spreading enlightenment and making us laugh simultaneously. In all honesty it's a brilliant strategy for getting people to remember what you're saying. If you're just angry and yelling, all that is remembered is the fact that we got yelled at. Conversely, if you make people laugh (like Camp does) not only do you put them at ease but you're also giving them an enjoyable experience that will be recollected and relived by telling others. As the jokes (and the information contained therein) are passed from person to person, the message is being shared and Camp's seeds of revolution are planted.

It's not all picket lines and protest marches, though. Camp's insights are just as poignant and comical when he's talking about grocery store bonus cards and crumbleberry snacks as they are when he's pulling back the curtain on Afghanistan, Eritrea, and happy people. 

From society's Antoine Dodson mentality to our declining interest in correctly spelling words (and the almost universal inability to differentiate between contractions and possessives), everything gets the same unbridled intensity that nearly seems to spiral out of control. There are a few times where it seems Camp may be losing his grasp on the topic at hand, but that's on purpose. Camp is always in total command but he smartly understands that sometimes the biggest laughs lie in the appearance of impending chaos.

This project can best be summed up by quoting a particular reaction Camp had to the audience. He loves to prod the crowd, nudging them out of their comfort zones, and on one occasion it appears he may have pushed too hard. He crosses a line that one never knows is there until it's been crossed (those are the worst kind). As some are shocked into silence by what is said, some moan. Some gasp and some laugh. Most of them do a combination. Camp's dismissive follow-up is classic: "You can't oh and laugh at the same time. You gotta pick an emotion."

I choose to laugh, and I think you will, too.

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