Do the general public attend comedy shows to forget the problems surrounding them? Not if they take a discerning look at the militant, vaguely apocalyptic flyer for Lee Camp’s Destruction! Distraction! Evolution?. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe veteran is known stateside as a decidedly political comedian, and he has no intention of compromising his positions or softening his tone for U.K. audiences.
After thanking a crowd member drinking wine in the front row for classing things up—“I’m glad I wore my vest!”—Camp dug in for a rapid-fire hour, aggressively taking to task FOX News, hateful YouTube comments, the lost art of spelling, corporate criminals, the oversaturation of advertising, planned obsolesce, the War on Terror, the NSA, false environmentalism and “the Assholier Than Thou Titans of Dickery.”
He does himself no favors by constantly gauging the audience’s mood and reactions aloud (“Thank you for that wheeze,”) and on the surface the world-weary Camp seems to traffic primarily in stream-of-conscious ranting. But facts and figures like “In the U.S. and U.K., twice as many people die from peanut allergies than from terrorism,” speak for themselves. His brand of humor evokes laughter, sure, but with reactions of “Exactly!” and “Yeah, gosh!” audible around the room, the onslaught of information leaves attendees thinking and remembering long after they’ve gone rather than cackling madly in the moment.
Eyebrows furrowed and neck veins popping, Camp doesn’t go in for obvious punchlines, as when he bemoaned the epidemic of coddled pets: “Steve is allergic to pistachios and gluten, and he has to be Medivaced to a doggie hospital if he’s in the same room as a chocolate cupcake.” He will, however, wryly indulge attendees itching for more obvious gags by producing a stack of joke cards from his back pocket. (“Have you ever noticed you can say a girl has nice legs, but if you say a girl has nice arms, it sounds like you collect body parts?” “The other day I got in a fight with a McDonald’s employee. He said, ‘Eat shit and die!’ I said, ‘I’ll have the McNuggets.’”)
He’s confident, but more importantly, Camp is vigilantly self-aware. “We all think we’re so fucking special,” he observes just before lowering his volume and dropping his gaze, “…says the guy onstage begging you to like him.” The aside comes near the end, as Camp closes on a note of positivity. “I know my jokes mostly just tell you a new and exciting way you’re getting fucked,” he admits. But it’s Camp’s belief that the proliferation of the internet will usher in a global awakening that leads to bottom-up solutions, such as the invention of a urine-powered generator by three girls in Nigeria. In his mind, “The truth is viral,” but change will require overcoming apathy and ego.
He knows he’s not for everyone, but Camp’s eyeing the broader picture. And if his show delivers more information about current events than we seek out from objective news sources, it would seem the bigger joke’s really on us.