A Southern light is shining brightly in Los Angeles and his name is Sampson McCormick. The 29-year-old gay comedian from North Carolina is known for his comedy, writing and activism. On Jan. 31, he will bring his standup routine to the Phillip Rush Center. We asked Sampson about his comedy, his religious upbringing and his film project examining the challenges that queer artists face in show business. His answers will surprise you.
You’re a comedian, but you have a strong message about love in your comedy and writing. Where did that come from?
Sampson: I have a book coming out in March, it’ll be my third. It’s called “Rights of Black Queens and Church Mothers.” It’s a book of essays on kindness, love, queerness, religion and the experience of being a queer person of color. This world thrives on love. I worry that it’s disappearing and it’s a huge problem. There is so much bad news we hear about—love is a missing ingredient. I believe we need to have happiness and human connection so I talk about it often.
I grew up in an extremely religious home. A lot of my standup material comes from that extreme upbringing. If I’d have stayed in the South, I may have become a pastor. But now, my thinking has evolved outside of that traditional, religious understanding of God. I believe that God is such a great entity that it cannot be confined to a book or a set of beliefs or rules.
My mom was gung-ho religious. I joke about her frying my chicken in anointing oil. When you’re young, you live in fear of your parents. But there comes a point when you just have to reckon with the reality of being who you are.
I was outed to my mom. At first, she went to the church. They wanted to pray over me and I would fight it. She would tell me how homosexuality causes all kinds of problems like wars and storms. I always wanted to be that girl, Storm, on the X-Men, so that was a bad argument for her to use on me. I just rebelled against the church thing.
Are you still rebelling?
I’ve gotten better. I was in St. Louis last summer performing. This guy came to my show and he had a poster board sign that said “You Will Burn In Hell” and he was just parading through the audience with his sign. My brain went blank; I dropped my microphone, jumped off the stage and snatched his sign. I took off running with it. He tried to come backstage and three big lesbians stopped him. I love lesbians! They have been my biggest audience from day one.
Tell us about your film.
At the end of 2014, I was dealing with a lot of stuff. Show business is a hustle. You can do a TV show, but the next day, it’s back to the grind. You have to look for more gigs and keep your life going. I was dealing with that and rejection in the business. People would say, “Oh, you’re funny but you’re gay and that’s not marketable.” I fell into a deep depression and was considering taking my life. Thankfully, I was able to reel it in.
Part of my coping/healing process was to sit down and examine what I was facing in my industry—how I was being challenged and how I was responding. The film helped me to focus on looking at some of the challenges of queer artists. Now we have Empire, Orange Is The New Black, Scandal and some of those other shows that have more queer visibility, but the actors who play them aren’t gay. We still fail to get a lot of opportunities. I wanted to have a conversation about that. It’s called “A Tough Act to Follow” and will be out by early April.
We’re excited that you’ve included Atlanta on your comedy tour!
Atlanta is the home of the black gay male and one of my favorite cities. If you’re black and gay, no matter where you’re from, when you come to Atlanta, you’re coming home. I always joke that when I’m coming to Atlanta, there aint nothin’ like those good, gay, Atlanta sissies! I look forward to seeing all of my gays in Atlanta—we’re going to have a great time.