August 18, 2013 Print version
Our Brave Soul Artist for this month is a young man on a mission to change the world one laugh at a time. Sampson McCormick is an award-winning, black, openly gay stand-up comedian, writer and activist, who has done it all. Sampson has produced three comedy albums, written two books, and won several awards including most recently the Gillard-Alston Award For Contributions to LGBT Youth Empowerment (2012). He was also named Love from the Sound Stage's Best Comedian (2011), Velocity Magazine's Best Comedian in 2009 and has been featured in publications across the country including The Washington Examiner, Metro Weekly, Washington Blade, SWERV, Truth Magazine, The Advocate and the Washington Post, and has appeared on programming on television networks including BET, VH1, MTV and The Own Network.
Sampson, graces the stage, using lighthearted humor to address the challenges he's encountered in his young life. His comedy is highly personal as he discusses a difficult childhood that included growing up black and gay amidst an abusive step-father, homelessness, homophobia in religion, and bullying and domestic violence. Sampson uses humor to put the audience at ease when conversing on these tough topics, allowing the audience to laugh with him and embrace education and awareness of various social issues, all while having a good time.
Performing comedy across the nation since 2003, Sampson also makes time to speak out against the issues which have affected him the most. He tirelessly crusades against homophobia, poverty, and youth homelessness. Sampson truly breaks down barriers having been invited to the White House for his contributions to society through the arts, performing for mainstream audiences at such famous venues as Broadway in New York, Arena Stage, DAR Constitution Hall, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts,The 2012 International AIDS Conference at the Washington Convention Center, and at College campuses including Harvard University and Emerson College, as well as LGBT pride festivals and events. He has worked alongside notable entertainers such as Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Whoopi Goldberg, Mo'Nique, Luenell, Thea Vidale, Karen Williams, and RuPaul.
His overall mission, is to allow people of all walks of life, to come together and feast on laughter, as his shows have received reviews that call his performances "...riveting, conversational, uplifting, honest, fun, original, and full of good news".
I've had the pleasure of knowing Sampson for years and witnessing first hand how he uses his gift as a comedian to entertain and enlighten people from all walks of life. We've shared the stage together in theater performances and he's also hosted numerous Brave Soul stage performances by sharing his own special genuine sense of humor with our audiences. I'm super proud of him and even more inspired by his continued "hustle & make it happen by any means" attitude. I recently got a chance to sit down with him to talk about his work, his life and his upcoming show happening at the end of this month at the Howard Theater. Read on to get a candid glimpse into the world of Sampson, The Comedian. Enjoy!
I want to keep the glory of comedy and what it really is alive. I want to see people leaving the theatres, beaming, full of life and joy, because they've just had an experience that took them away from whatever was going on in their lives, just for a little while. When people can leave, enlightened and full of joy, thats a good thing. I've encouraged them to laugh, and to think.
How did you first start your entry into the world of comedy and when did you decide to pursue it professionally?
I always wanted to be a singer. I sang alot when I was younger, and although I could carry a tune, I don't really think that I could "sang". Now, if somebody dies, I might be able to muster out a growl and sang a little, but just in general, I can hold a tune. So, whenever I would go to sing, people always responded better to things that I said than the way they would when I would sing. And I've always been a smart ass, getting put out of class, had something crazy to say, told wild stories and had a unique point of view. It kind of just happened. Finally in the 12th grade, I think I was 17, my teacher made me get on stage as a part of an extra credit assignment, and I went--the first night was rough (laughs) but I hung in there and I haven't looked back every since, and its been 11 year now. I recently quit my day job to go at it 1000%. You know how some dudes have a main squeeze and then a sideline ho? Well, my day job was my sideline ho. I got tired of that and am ready to go all the way with my main squeeze "the comedy".
How important is it for you as an openly black gay man to speak from/about your experiences in your work as a comedian?
Hmm. It depends, there have been times that I have felt like it was important and others when I didn't. Every now and again, you can turn on a TV or go to a comedy club and EVERYBODY is talking about "gay". Gay Marriage, Gay Cousins, Gay this, Gay That, and it kind of turns me off. I like talking about things that are not being beaten into the ground, and although I will talk about being gay on stage at the drop of a dime, I also am a relatable person in general. So, I am not a "gay comedian", I am a comedian who happens to be gay. And I wont hesitate to talk about gay issues, but I wont spend a whole concert doing it.
As an independent artist, what motivates you and drives you to keep moving forward, particularly when you encounter challenges?
Many things. The fact that what I have to offer the world, is just as important as an other artist, whether they be on a shoestring budget or limo and caviar budget. Many of us, especially independent artists have to fight to be seen, and its a part of the work that we produce. Often, when I am walking home, that, is even somewhat of a reminder to myself that if I stop walking, I'll just be standing there, I will never get home. I look at doing what I love the same way almost, that regardless as to how tired I get, etc. to just keep going. Its not about ego or any of that, but the LOVE of the craft, and that helps you to survive and keeps you nice and sane--well for me it does, because lord knows...
Our BSC discussion topic for this month is "The Power of Instinct". Can you speak briefly about this? Do you feel it's important to trust your instincts and "follow your first thought" or is this something you can relate to at all?
I definitely feel like we can follow our instincts. Many times our instincts don't lie, but its also all about relationship with self. How good is it? I fee like the more in tune you are with your mind, body and soul, ALL at the SAME time, it creates a most effective and accurate sense of thought, which enables that sound instinct. You know its really coming from you and you aren't just having a diva fit or "being emotional"
I happen to know first hand that aside from being a comedian you have a few other "artistic tricks" up your sleeve. Can you share with us for those who don't know what else you do as an artist?
(laughs) tricks. Like, I sell weed, ass and chicken dinners out of my kitchen on the side. (laughs) I am also a writer, activist, host. I dabble in other things. I have written two books, I am working on producing two films, and a cookbook. So, I play around in different things, I also act from time to time. But comedy is my first love, believe me, you dont have to put a gun to my head to get me to decide what I love doing, comedy is it, but I do dabble.
How do you deal with experiences of homophobia when you encounter them?
It depends on what it is. I mean, if somebody calls me a faggot, or something, I just stay calm, go in my bag and pull out my gun. (laughs) No. I've definitely evolved. There was a time in my life, where I would call up a rally and protest and this and that. Then I became a "Miss Sofia Gay", where I would be ready to bash a bitch in the head and think about heaven later. But that kind of stuff comes with court costs and you can catch a case and thats just a waste of time, ain't nobody got time for that. So, it depends. I feel like I handle things accordingly. There was a time when I wouldn't ignore some things, but sometime, especially in extreme cases of ignorance, it is okay to just ignore people, other times, educate, or have conversations, and sometimes, you have to give people what they want and put on a show...I said I evolved! Im still a work in progress..
Who are some of your artistic inspirations ( or influences) and for each that you list, please share why they inspire you.
Whoopi Goldberg (my idol)- Her honesty. She has her own style and she has been EXTREMELY successful by being her and comfortable in her own skin.
Sylvester- He knocked down alot of doors for black gay entertainers and he was fabulous.
Angela Bassett- She is fierce and strong and dignified, not to mention gorgeous! Good Lord. Can I be the male version of her?
James Baldwin- An unapologetic intellectual, who said what he wanted to say and was always able to back it up with facts, and unquestionable and accurate insight. He stayed reading people for filth with his legs crossed, smoking a cigarette, unbothered.
Patti LaBelle- She is one of the first celebrities that I ever worked with. She is fierce. No matter what she has been through she has stayed strong, given it her all and her fans adore her. That says alot.
In terms of your work as an artist, are you hands on with regard to the business side of operations or do you prefer to let someone else handle those things?
I handle just about EVERYTHING. If I really need help, there are people who I can call on, but I feel like while you are working to establish yourself, alot of it takes personal hardwork (all around) and I feel like it gives you a deeper level of appreciation for your accomplishments and your craft, keeps you humble and helps even you out as an artist and a person who has to get out and do the work of establishing your brand.
For anyone who comes to see you perform, what do you hope they walk away from your show thinking or feeling?
I refuse to get on stage and do "shit jokes". In alot of ways the standard for comedy has gotten so low, these days. I remember when comedy was smart, clever, you could tell stories and didnt have to be vulgar. I want to keep the glory of comedy and what it really is alive. I want to first of all, see people leaving the theatres, beaming, full of life and joy, because they've just had an experience that took them away from whatever was going on in their lives, just for a little while. Even have a better outlook on it, and even talking about the issues of the day. When people can leave, enlightened and full of joy, thats a good thing. I've encouraged them to laugh, and to think.
As an openly black gay man (even outside of being a comedian and artist), do you feel a need to be a role model?
I feel the need now, to be myself. In doing that, you may not be a "role model", but you certainly set a standard for being an authentic person, and that is all you have to do. When you put yourself up on that kind of pedestal, that can cause problems, because then, you aren't allowed to make a mistake. You have to be perfect. And GOD knows, I live in a glass house, and I dont walk on water. I'm just me, and work to be a respectable and formidable human being.
Can you speak to us about what's coming up in the near future for you and where people can catch your act if they'd like to see you perform live?
Im really excited right now, about a concert taping that I will be doing at the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, DC. Its going to be a very special concert and night for me, for alot of reasons. We are donating a portion of the proceeds to Casa Ruby, a multicultural drop in clinic that provides a myriad of social services to the community, I feel like in one way or another, if we can, even a little, we should try to give back. Especially in our community, giving back can be a circle of life. And I will also be the FIRST openly gay black male comedian to headline there, and I am honored. The Howard is up there with the Apollo, I'm really excited. The name of the show is "That Bitch Better Be Funny", its Tuesday August 27, 2013 @ 7PM. Its going to be a fabulous time! I am really humbled and grateful for this opportunity.
For more on Samspon and where to see him perform, visit: Sampson Official Website