Like every seasoned comic, Sampson McCormick has his share of hair-raising stories from the road, but nothing like what went down earlier this year during his set at Win-River Casino in Redding, California.
After the comedian responded with a joke to a woman heckling him from the crowd, an audience member purporting to defend the heckler rushed the stage and physically attacked McCormick, who defended himself. This was, incidentally, just days before the Oscars slap heard ’round the world.
The melée ended with McCormick bruised but not inclined to press charges. He’s had patrons go off before, he says. “I have had them get up and flip tables over. ‘I didn’t come here to hear this faggot shit!'”
And there was the dude at a gig in College Park who called Sampson the n-word, before “he took a beer bottle, and broke it on the floor in the back of the bar, then he came up and he tried to hit me in the face.”
That guy was hauled out of the establishment before he could do any harm.
“So I’ve had those sorts of things,” McCormick says. “But there was something different about Win-River Casino, and I think it was connected to people’s sensitivity about jokes. And probably because — let’s just talk about it — you had a Black gay man onstage with the audacity to talk shit to this room full of white folks in Trump country like he owned the place.”
The incident hasn’t led to McCormick working the stage any differently. “Because I can fight,” he jokes. But he does beam with positivity when talking about how he’s approaching his career differently these days.
“I really am at a time in my career where I’m looking to expand as a person, as an artist,” says the comedian, ahead of an upcoming three-night stint at D.C.’s Comedy Loft. “And I know a part of that means also helping make sure other people succeed as well.”
To that end, McCormick has, in the past few years, developed into a prolific indie filmmaker, with credits including the romantic comedy Love the One You’re With, which he wrote and produced, and this summer’s B-Boy Blues, the long-awaited film adaptation of James Earl Hardy’s seminal 1994 Black gay romance novel.
McCormick, part of the original cast of the B-Boy Blues stage play, executive produced the film, along with Hardy, who co-wrote the script with the film’s director, Jussie Smollett. The storm of controversy surrounding Smollett, of course, has cast a long shadow over the film, which premiered on BET+ in June. (McCormick jokingly pretended to end our interview when the subject was broached.)
Sexy, sweet, and stylish, the movie lives up to the book’s undeniable impact, but McCormick believes the film’s impact has been blunted. “I think there are so many music artists in this film, so many people who were really relying on it to be a vehicle for exposure,” he points out.
“And, for whatever reasons, I don’t think that it has gotten the exposure it deserves. I think that it should be in theaters. I think that the movie is just as important as Moonlight.”
While he hopes the film’s audience will find it, he’s also glad that the production, and his follow-up film — his feature directorial debut Roux’s Blues — provided more industry opportunities for Black queer artists and storytellers. Written by and starring Love the One You’re With actor Donnie Hue Frazier, Roux’s Blues premiered in June to a packed house at the Miracle Theater in Inglewood.
“I just want more success, and to see people around me succeed,” says McCormick. “Without sounding full of myself — because there’s this battle that I have with knowing that I’m extremely talented, more talented than I give myself credit for, and that I take credit for, because I was raised in the church in very modest, extremely humble beginnings — there is a part of me that I’ve had to wrestle with that says, ‘Hey, it’s okay to own your excellence, own your greatness, and truly stand in that.'”
McCormick clearly is energized to continue breaking ground, and command bigger stages. “Part of that has been understanding that there are other people in this industry who are Black, who are queer, who also probably have struggled in many of the same ways, who deserve some help,” he says.
“I know I make great work. And so it’s an opportunity to bring some other people along, and really create a huge impact.”
Sampson McCormick appears at The Comedy Loft, 1523 22nd St. NW on Friday, August 26 at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m., and Saturday, August 27 at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Tickets are $25. Visit www.dccomedyloft.com.
To learn more about Sampson, visit www.sampsoncomedy.com.
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