Since the success of prank show Impractical Jokers, TruTV has been in midst of a brand overhaul from the home of 24–7 docuseries to a mecca for comedy, particularly comedy made in New York. Joining the ranks of Billy on the Street, Adam Ruins Everything, and Rachel Dratch’s Midnight Snack is the game show Comedy Knockout, hosted by rising comic Damien Lemon.
A native New Yorker, Lemon has become a regular fixture in the lineup at various stand-up clubs across Manhattan and has made regular appearances on MTV’s Guy Code. Now, on Comedy Knockout, he’s taken a step back from stand-up, serving as MC while other comics compete to tell the best jokes about any given random subject, like the market appeal of penis-shaped dog toys or dumb tweets from celebrities. With the show returning tonight at 11, Vulture asked fellow New Yorker Ilana Glazer, of Broad City fame, to interview Lemon about this new venture. The two ended up delving deep into their favorite comedians and their early career fears.
Ilana Glazer: How do you shoot Comedy Knockout?
Damien Lemon: We knock it out in ten days, two a day. Gang shoot it, as it’s called. It’s a game show, competition show, panel show. It’s basically three comedians compete to be the funniest in the room. I set them up to play various games. Then you’ve got people like Jim Norton and Yamaneika Saunders, Connor Griffin on this shit and there’s a live studio audience who judges. It’s fun, it’s silly. The first person to get eliminated by the audience has to go sit in the audience with the same people that eliminated them.
That is hysterical. And they’re, like, pissed?
They play it up like, “Oh, this is bullshit,” and they can heckle, then there’s a one-on-one at the end. The winner gets a “comedy knockout” — they give like a quick speech. The loser has to look into the camera and read a prewritten apology that the writers wrote for them about being terrible at comedy.
That is so cool. And TruTV is seriously kind of nailing it.
Yeah, TruTV is going hard out there.
Yamaneika is killing it, too.
Yamaneika is on fire right now. It’s always good to see people that you’ve seen for years come into their own.
Were you able to pick the comics?
I submitted a list. I submitted a long fucking list too, and they got a couple people that I like, but they also have their own people picking. A couple people that I picked made it through like Yam. She gives you hope even when you’re not shit.
Oh, she’s so fucking cute. That’s cool.
Do you worry about other people’s expectations?
Yeah, yeah, I do, but it’s super bombing versus not pleasing people. I could bomb and be vulnerable and honest and that’s better to me then doing okay at some happy shit.
Playing it safe.
I’ll never be, like, mainly a stand-up. My strength is writing for the screen and performing, but it’s just like a way to get around and meet people and look at people’s fucking faces. I want to get back on it. I miss it. But I’m also like, do I just not want to admit that I don’t want to do it, or do I want to do it and I’m scared?
Whatchu think? Whatchu think in your gut?
I think I want to do it, but I’m scared. But also I want to do it lightly. I’m not show after show after show every night. I’m like, I want to pop in, hang out. I want it to fuel me rather than trade from me. You do two, three shows a night?
Sometimes. Sometimes it’s counterproductive, though. If I’m trying to hammer a bit, if I’ve got some shit I’ve been excited about, then I’m excited about doing a couple of shows because I want to see how it fleshes out. But if it’s not much new and it’s just three shows of the same set, it can be draining.
Did you know you were going to do comedy before you went to college?
No, no. I flirted with it. Not even flirted with it, I was into comedy, but I don’t ever think I thought of it as an opportunity. When I went away to college, I wanted to be a child psychologist.
I studied child psychology. I just talked to 100 kids at NYU in the college psychology program because it was the only part of NYU that I actually gave a shit about.
I wanted to do it. I went down to college. My teacher was telling me, “Look, if you want to be competitive with psychology, you’ve got to get your Ph.D. You understand that?” She said, “Ph.D. stands for Poorhouse Doctor.” I remember her saying that. That threw me off. It’s real. You’ve got to love it, which, you’ve got to love everything, even comedy. But yeah, I would avoid it for a while, just because I was afraid. I knew I was funny but I was afraid that I wasn’t funny on that level.
I know, you must have been so funny your whole life. Your whole family is funny. I’m just picturing you as a fucking little kid, you know, coming out with shit that’s like “dayum — how did you fucking do that?”
Yeah, it felt good. It was cool. I would distract and disrupt the class. What about you? When did you know that you wanted to get into the game?
I did plays and musicals and I played music and I danced. I just, like, couldn’t get enough performance shit. Do you remember Stella?
They were just coming out with stupid little videos and I was in high school and they were made for high-school people, those videos.
Where were they showing?
Just on YouTube. I was too young when The State came out. They made me see all the comedy happening in New York and just like seeing that there was something other than SNL. Did you ever say, “I want to be a comedian” before you started doing it? It’s scary to say out loud.
It is scary to say out loud. It took me a long time. Who inspired you? Besides Stella.
It’s like so sad, but, meh, whatever: I loved Bill Cosby and Seinfeld. I know. And Ellen.
Ellen’s timing is so bananas.
Ellen is so fucking funny. She’s so fucking funny. It’s funny that she was ever not out, but there was something about her that was genderless and ageless and even classless. Just like the stupid little shit she focused on — even as a kid, I got it. But it was for adults. I always loved Wanda Sykes. It’s almost like she’s your family when you’re watching her.
I can see that.
She’s just, like, so comfortable. Roseanne. Did you watch the show Roseanne?
I used to love the show. That was my shit.
Fuck. That show is so fucking good. That show was the best. Yeah, but I did like SNL. Certain sketches are smart and funny and piercing. I just can’t believe it’s still on. I was a kid in the mid-’90s, so I didn’t know that stand-up that was going on at that time. But, when I did find out that there was something other than SNL, it was like “Oh my God, there’s sketch and improv and stand-up.” I like a lot of shit going on at once. Who did you listen to growing up?
I loved Eddie Murphy. It was such a phenomenon. It was ridiculous. He was the Michael Jackson. He was the biggest thing. I like Chris Rock. I like George Carlin a lot. I just like the shit he was talking about. It was so crazy. I like Martin Lawrence. I don’t think Martin gets enough credit. He’s wild physical. He was so silly with it. You could tell he was going further than what they asked him to do. It was bananas. He was a beast stand-up-wise.
Does he have hours?
He has hours. He has an album called Talking Shit. And he has a special called You So Crazy, which is bananas. Let me ask you this, what is your process?
For Broad City?
Broad City, but just in general, where do you go for inspiration?
I journal a lot. But jokes, I write them down on my phone and it’s sectioned like “Broad City,” “material” — which is stand-up, but I’m too afraid to call it that — and other projects, I keep them going. I guess the minutia of emailing people and doing calls and organizing it is so inspiring to me. I’m a comedy nerd, so just this opportunity that I’ve got to make stuff and see stuff that I think of come to reality, is so inspiring to me. But also, I just want to get back onstage, just a little. I don’t need to be an amazing fucking stand-up. I just want to get up a little. It’s so good to take a sec to step back and just live life.
Again, I don’t even do jokes with a set-up, I’m just talking about shit that I think is funny, whatever. But I’m never coming with fully formed ideas, so my thing is I gotta just say it and see what naturally comes up.
I look at creating a project for television or for film or something in a different box than when I do stand-up. When I would come to the stage and I might not have a fully fleshed-out bit, I might have the premise, but then the punch might not be strong enough. For a while, I would feel like it would be self-indulgent for me to go up there. But now, I’m like fuck that, because that’s the process. That’s how we gonna get there.
Yeah, and also, it is self-indulgent. And people sitting there aren’t up onstage. They’re sitting there just to listen to what you say.
That’s what they came for.