“A Tough Act To Follow,” a new documentary about comic @OfficialSampson, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the struggles of minority entertainers.
‘A Tough Act To Follow’ chronicles McCormick’s journey as a black, gay comic
Film premieres tonight in DC
A Tough Act To Follow, a revealing new documentary premiering tonight via Reel Affirmations, profiles the life and career of longtime comedian Sampson McCormick. Through a series of interviews and archival footage, McCormick candidly spells out the marginalization and obstacles he’s faced throughout his 10-plus years in the entertainment industry. “I hear ‘no’ so much that when somebody finally says ‘yes’ I’m kind of disappointed,” he jokes in one of the documentary’s scenes.
Co-produced by Emmy Award-winner Todd Clark, the film also takes a look at the experiences of some of McCormick’s closest friends and colleagues in the business, including the likes of Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc, Boy Culture) and Adele Givens (Def Comedy Jam, Queens of Comedy), among others. Together, they bring viewers into a world that’s often consumed with rejection and countless hindrances on the basis of race and sexuality.
We recently caught up with the North Carolina-bred funny man to gather the 411 on the film, his start in the biz, and who he praises as his greatest inspiration. See what he had to say after the jump.
A Tough Act To Follow- Documentary Film (TEASER)
On how the documentary came together
“I’ve been working on this film since 2012. But what it was going to be then is a lot different than what it became. Ultimately, what pushed me to film was depression. In 2014, I went through a really, really dark period. Nothing was funny and I couldn’t see any light anywhere. Much of it had to do with me being an openly gay, black entertainer not wanting to succumb to stereotypes. Those are three things that ride against me in this business. So while I was facing that, I didn’t have any work. Everything shut down and life just kind of fell on top of me. I was overwhelmed. I dealt with wanting to commit suicide, but something deeper inside of me told me I had to keep on fighting. I started talking to some of my friends who are in the business as well. I would ask them about their experiences. All of them basically said the same thing—we don’t get opportunities and we get paid less. Everyone remembers Bob Hope, but when you ask about someone like Moms Mabley, they don’t have any clue. That says a lot about the way our work is regarded in the industry, and sometimes even within our own community. I wanted to talk about these things, from the lack of opportunities to the challenges to my personal journey as a black, gay comic.”
“Some of the people you’ll see in the film include my really good friend Darryl Stephens and comedic auntie, Adele Givens, along with Karen Williams, Sinbad, Luenell, and a few others. There were a lot of people who were supposed to be in it but because of scheduling conflicts we couldn’t get them in there to film. After the documentary makes it rounds this summer on the film festival circuit, it’ll eventually be on Netflix. So maybe I can make those meetings work for that version.”
His feelings about the premiere tonight
“I am nervous as hell. This is the first full film I’ve produced. I really hope people like it. Whenever you present a new piece of work it’s really putting yourself out there. It’s like preparing a meal for people. The food may taste great to you, but when you sit it down in front of other people you hope they think the same. I’m also having to sit in a room full of people and watch myself. I never watch or listen to myself.”
The road to becoming a comic
“Originally, I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be up on a stage with my shirt off, covered in cocoa butter, and gyrating in front of a microphone. I could sing but I wasn’t much of a ‘sanger,’ and black folks like for you to be able to ‘sang.’ So people never came up to me to compliment my singing, they would always say I was funny. I was so much of a class clown in elementary school that my 5th grade teachers would make me stand up and perform every Wednesday. That’s really when I figured out I could make people laugh. When I got to high school I was cutting up so bad one of my teachers, Ms. Davis, told me I had to go and perform on a real stage and write a report about my experience or she would fail me. I ended up going to Teddy’s House of Comedy. I was about 16 at the time. The show was awful, and I got robbed that night. But I went back two weeks later and got a standing ovation. I’ve been doing it ever since then.”
Most difficult part of the job
“I don’t think people really respect the craft for what it is. I think comedy is one of the most underappreciated art forms there is next to jazz music. Especially now with social media. Everybody thinks they can be a comic, but this is an art form. It’s carefully thought out and you have to work your material. It takes time and a lot of work. Most people just look at it as a big joke—no pun intended—but it’s a serious art form.”
What to expect at a Sampson show
“Sin, hell, scandal, Sodom and Gomorrah… I’m just playing. When people come to my show I, above anything, like to create a very loving environment. There is so much nonsense and hatred in the world today. I know that I want to get away from it sometimes. I imagine everyone else does too. So for the time I’m up on that stage, I really believe in nurturing the crowd. It’s part theater, part church, part comedy show, all wrapped up in one. The first thing you’re going to hear when you come through the door is some Motown. I’m talking about some Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. That music is timeless. I don’t care what generation you’re from, you’re going to feel Motown. And then I do my set and slay. So we have a great time. You’ll leave feeling good.”
“First and foremost is Moms Mabley. Her picture actually hangs in my office. She is everything to me. I feel more people should know about her. It’s sad that her contributions to comedy have gone so unrecognized. She is the original Wanda Sykes, Whoopi Goldberg type of comic. She was a lesbian and talked about and did things back in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s that other black folks wouldn’t dare touch. Whoopi did an amazing documentary about her recently. When you get a chance you should watch it. Do it on a Sunday evening when it’s raining outside. Get some chicken and get on the sofa and watch this documentary. It is one of the most amazing documentaries that you will ever see and one of the best ways that you can honor someone like Moms Mabley. Another influence of mine is Redd Foxx. I’m not as filthy, but we have a very similar rhythm. Of course I love Whoopi Goldberg. And I don’t think any comic who knows anything about the craft can step up to a microphone and not pay homage to Richard Pryor. He’s the king. All of us in one way or another have been inspired by him.”
Thoughts on the anti-LGBT legislation in North Carolina
“I think it’s ridiculous. Some of the people who passed this legislation are some of the nastiest, freakiest motherfuckers you’ll ever meet in your life. Half of them have probably been with a tranny before or have eaten some gay pool boy’s ass. So some of it has to do with internalized homophobia, but most of it is all about power. These are people who just want power and they have to have their thumb on top of somebody. Why do they give a fuck about where someone’s using the bathroom? It’s not like we’re using the bathroom at their house. And why do they care about who’s marrying who? We’re not inviting them to the wedding.”
‘A Tough Act To Follow’ is screening at Reel Affirmations XTRA tonight at 9:00 PM ET at the HRC Building, 1640 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC // Click here to purchase tickets