By: DeoVonte “Deo” Means
Sampson McCormick, the name that carries dual jurisdictional respect, both within the world of mainstream comedy and within the urban LGBTQ community at large. Born in Washington, D.C., partially reared in Evergreen, North Carolina and returning to Washington D.C, ; he has become a popular, award-winning, stand-up comedian, writer and activist. His performance style is described as “connecting with the audience through his amusing take on our maddening world, while engaging people through his insightful narratives.” Sampson began his career in 2001 and has been touring the country performing since 2003. His activism has been hailed as “tireless and brilliant” while simultaneously utilizing his platform to crusade against homophobia, poverty and youth homelessness. Mr. McCormick has worked alongside notable acts such as Patti LaBelle, Kate Clinton, Karen Williams, RuPaul & Monique. Perhaps the exposure he gained while being featured on several networks such as MTV, BET, VH1, The OWN Network and countless social media platforms; served as the perfect transition for his next plight of career goals and professional growth. Towards the late Fall of 2018, those “within the know” began to hear rumblings of this new groundbreaking and provocative collaboration involving Sampson and legendary LGBTQ actor and activist, Darryl Stephens of Noah’s Arc & Jumping the Broom.
On January 29, 2019, the short/drama entitled a different direction will debut in Oakland, CA. Written, produced and directed by Sampson McCormick himself: the film will tackle real-world relatable themes such as mental health, domestic violence and religion within the urban LGBTQ community. When asked to give a sneak synopsis/teaser of the upcoming film, Sampson eloquently stated “a different direction is a story about a black, gay man named Frankie who struggles to make a living, while facing the challenges of being at a crossroads of doing what’s best for his personal wellness… one of the most courageous and heartbreaking decisions he has to make.” Sampson’s affinity for masterfully speaking on the issues that affect the urban LGBT community, combined with the creditability he has established in producing some of the most provocative and flawlessly executed pieces within our community; we became intrigued and decided to follow up with Sampson. He was more than gracious, and his professionalism left a very impressive nark as well. Below is what he had to say.
FL- You’re no stranger to The Flyy-Life. You’ve previously graced these halls and have become a supporter. A major difference between now and then is that I’ve noticed you’ve grown your craft up. You are now strategically planning your future and reaching your wildest dreams; while enlarging your territory. Currently, in addition to stand-up, you’re also writing, producing and directing! How did this come about and what has been your biggest obstacle in merging all four art-forms into one?
SM- Indeed. I have been a supporter for a long time and appreciate The Flyy Life. Thanks for what you do. So, here’s the thing, I’ve been performing for almost two decades. I was one of the first out, black gay stand-ups in the business. Before the internet, there was a need to be on stage, using comedy as a platform to talk about what our experiences looked like. Now, with the internet, EVERYBODY is making comedy videos, and that business has taken a different turn. It’s always been an effective narrative tool for me, but I like to do things to help me stay fresh. Stage plays, documentaries, etc. I’ve done them all, but never produced a scripted film. After Moonlight, I realized that enough of our stories aren’t being told on film. That’s a direction I started being pulled in. It happened very organically. The biggest challenge is always publicity and funding (I say that from the business side). But, when there’s a will, there’s a way. and I figured it out.
FL- I understand you are modest and selfless; but according to hard data, exposure, recognition and proximity to opportunity; many would argue you are perhaps our generation’s comedy legend- representing the LGBT community. How has this endowment changed your way of thinking and acting? How does it impact the selection of work you may choose or peers you decide to work with?
SM- I have been very modest. I think too damn modest, sometimes. (Laughs) I definitely am one and have been hailed as one. The only issue around that, is that unless you’re on TV all the time, folks don’t regard what you’re doing as seriously. Despite that, no one can ever take away what I’ve done on paper, or the work catalog. However, there was a time, earlier in my career, where they weren’t letting black, gay people on TV. I think eventually Karamo Brown popped up on “Real World”, and Wilson Cruz on “My So Called Life”, then we got “Noah’s Arc”, but our exposure was so rare. Let’s not forget, these shows were 10-15 years ago. Those shows and characters were groundbreaking because they had complexity. Any other time we were seen- think “Men on Film” on In Living Color,- that’s how we were portrayed. Sorta as caricatures, modern-day minstrelsy and that bothered me. I always felt like if I was representing us, on film, it had to be nuanced, have depth, and there needed to be integrity. So, I turned down a couple things I was offered. As a comedian, no one else on the east coast was really talking about our stuff on stage and being gay (especially as a black person) was very taboo. So, I dealt with many hostile audiences, and had to learn how to navigate that. It made me a better comic and visionary overall. So, my experiences, the lack of adequate representation of black LGBTQ people on film and stage, and the fact that I am black first, and define myself by black excellence impacts how I approach my work, what I create or the projects or potential collaborators that I allow myself to be involved with.
FL- Your first film – a short drama running approximately 22 minutes – entitled “A Different Direction” is set to release on January 29th in Los Angeles, CA. It tackles triangulated themes within the urban LGBT community such as mental health, domestic violence and religion. What was it about these themes that influenced you to create such a beautiful and intimate work of art around them?
SM- Yes. It’ll be released on January 29th. It was filmed in LA. But there will be an exclusive premiere screening for Black History Month in what better place than Oakland, CA? I was influenced by the themes because of personal experiences, and conversations that are going on in our community, and because mental health, trauma, domestic violence, self-care, etc. are things that our generation is addressing, it’s coming up a lot. We don’t see many black LGBT narratives that focus on that. Representation means embracing complexity, things that are complicated and not always the most fun to deal with but, they are the things that many of us face—especially during the most inconvenient times and can affect and separate us from our happiness.
FL- Most provocatively, I paid special attention to the subtitle. It reads, “it’s not always easy to do what’s best.” How profound is this statement! Especially in context of the current state of today’s community at large. What is the message you wish to send to viewers as they digest and implement this mindset?
SM- The subtitle speaks for itself. It’s not always easy to do what’s best, whether it’s divorcing ourselves from bad relationships, or making choices that benefit our health, taking steps in the right directions or whatever we need to do. Whenever we hear messages about “reclaiming our time”, we hear grandiose ideas about what that looks like, but never honest nudges about the challenges that come with that. The message is that it’s possible, but we have to face the pain that can come along with freedom (eventually it starts to feel good), but freedom is a mindset, and a lot of us aren’t ready to be free, or do what we need to do for ourselves, etc. So, it’s about embracing the full challenges of making the right decisions for ourselves.
FL- What was the inspiration for the film?
SM- Personal inspiration was wanting to make a good story and attach black people and black queer people to it, and because a lot of us, particularly as black gay men have self-esteem issues and issues with our families. Those were issues I wanted to take on, on film.
FL- The main character, Frankie, is at that critical juncture within his personal maturity, whereas he realizes good decision making is not merely a prudish habit of the elderly. It’s one of the most valuable assets a young man/woman can possess on their journey towards upward mobility and success. It’s at this point that decisions are no longer easy, yet they require flawless strategic execution… your survival is dependent upon it. Why is the concept of decision making such a provocative and important message to speak upon in 2019?
SM- I don’t think that it requires flawless strategic execution, because strategies can fail, strategies have to change sometimes. Every now and then, life throws us curve balls. I think the willingness to continue moving forward is what the challenge is sometimes, to preserve in the face of setbacks and disappointment. The decision to do so and stay focused on what needs to be done is a personal decision and sticking with it and being willing to take calculated risks in love, success and doing what needs to be done to create boundaries. All of these are important ideas and the larger message is necessary because a lot of us don’t know how to and are learning how to do these things for the first time, and that’s not easy.
FL- In this film, you also had the opportunity to team up with another modern-day LGBTQ legend, Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc, Jumping the Broom, Boy Culture, TheInterlopers, Another Gay Movie, DTLA- the Series and Beyond the Lights). How did the connection come about and how was Darryl to work with?
SM- Yes. I love Darryl. Before any collaborations, we are good friends first. We share many intellectual ideas and opinions about life as black gay men, about our experiences as black people, and he’s an amazing human being. He’s a true treasure, as an artist and a person. I’ve also shared some very personal details about my life with him, just as friends, and we’ve been a part of each other’s wellness journeys, especially as black gay men in Hollywood, you need all the genuine love and reinforcement you can get. Since the film focuses on that, and we’d talked about it, I thought he’d be perfect for the role of Frankie’s best friend (Travis) in the film, and he really shows up for him. Any black gay man, or anyone for that matter who has a Travis who keeps tabs on them and shows up for them (especially a platonic best friend) knows how important having that is.
FL- Another comedic and urban-culture legend – Grammy nominated – Ms. Laura Hayes (Martin, Def Comedy Jam, Queens of Comedy, Comic View, I Got the Hook Up, Beauty Shop and Virus) is a cast member as well. How was it working with her? And as an older, more seasoned legend in the game, what valuable bits of advice and wisdom did she bring to the set?
SM- Ms. Laura is auntie! A really great friend, and someone who when we’re just having conversations can make me laugh my ass off. Genuine, hard belly laughs. We had some really intense scenes together in the film, and even a couple of those, I broke character and laughed in her face. She did an excellent job though, and working with her on the project was a true joy. She brought her A game. Her advice is always know what you’re doing, what you want and don’t play games. She gives straight forward advice, on set, she was pretty cool and delivered her character.
FL- How long was the film in production?
SM- We were in production for six months. For a 22-minute film. Isn’t that crazy?
FL- What do you hope to achieve with the narrative of this film?
SM- I hope to achieve dialogue in our community about boundaries, and about having healthy relationships with ourselves and families. When we get into romantic relationships, I think many are based off relationships that we have with a parent or sibling. A lot of us came from toxic environments (although we maybe were raised with something that comes from a place of love), it wasn’t healthy, and that’s one reason why we either (A) can’t or don’t want to sustain healthy relationships or (B) seem to only be attracted to drama. We don’t learn what functioning as a healthy person looks like. I want the film to encourage us to want to distance ourselves from anything that isn’t healthy and do pick up the challenge of doing better.
FL- This is amazing Sir and I am proud of you. What are some of the upcoming projects we can look forward to seeing coming from the Sampson McCormick brand in the near future?
SM- Thank you so much. Even though we are pushing the film, I’m still going to be touring throughout the year with comedy performances, and this Spring, I’ll be shooting my 4th live stand up special. We shot the last three in DC. The next one will be either in Oakland or LA. I am also preparing to sign on for another film project. This one is a feature and from a VERY long-awaited franchise and long overdue. I can’t say what that one is just yet, but I’m excited about it.
FL- Where can viewers check out the film and learn more about/follow you?
SM- Instagram: sampsonmccormick and www.sampsoncomedy.com
FL- What is your final message to The Flyy-Life readers as we all begin our journey into this new year and season of opportunity?
SM- Final message is to love ourselves and to love each other. Love is so important in the world and is always the main ingredient for any good thing. Love is the way.
Lead with it. Show it. Be it. Give it. Accept it.