Any attempt to make it through a conversation with comedian Sampson McCormick without laughing will fail.
The trailblazing gay comedian has delighted and challenged audiences with his spirited brand of Black queer comedy for over two decades. McCormick’s Atlanta fans will have the chance to experience him live during a special Black History Month appearance: “Black Joy: A Night of Laughter with Sampson,” on February 22 at MIXX Atlanta. This time around, McCormick says he’s being intentional about centering Black joy.
“As a community, we need to place an emphasis on our joy, on our ability to embrace the experiences that we have and celebrate those with reflection through laughter,” he said.
Until recently, McCormick has been the only openly, gay Black male comedian, touring the country, performing at major comedy clubs, and headlining shows.
“There’s still not a lot of us. And I’m talking about headliners that can go to the comedy clubs and carry a show all weekend. I'm still one of the only ones who can do that,” he said.
In 2018, McCormick became the first openly gay comedian to headline at The Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. While being first has its rewards, McCormick has also endured the inevitable racism and homophobia that comes along with breaking barriers in a mostly white straight male-dominated industry.
“When I was the only one. It was so hard to get a gig,” he said. “Nobody was hiring gay comedians, especially Black [gay comedians]. The white ones, they would [hire] over at HRC. They were winning GLAAD Awards. They would get booked on shows at clubs because the white liberals are glad to see them. But I'm not one of those white/Black gays,” he adds. “When I get up there, yes, I'm gay, but I'm talking about the Black experience. And so that's an urban category. I wasn't getting booked the way they were.”
For McCormick, the adversity he’s encountered in his career has only strengthened his resolve to define success on his terms. It’s nearly impossible to read his name in print without the words icon or trailblazer attached to it. But you’ll never hear McCormick speak about himself in this way.
“The rule is if you're great, let people say that you're great,” he said. “If you made an impact, let people say you made an impact. I think it's a little weak to parade yourself around and go, oh, I'm this or I'm that. I don't believe in becoming a master, but you become knowledgeable enough to get respect. There’s a certain respect due. I've had to say, hey, I've been doing this for over 20 years and this is what I've done.”
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