Undeniably Funny: Q&A with Headliner Kevin Camia

Kevin Camia is one of San Francisco’s rising stars of comedy. In fact, he just won “The Golden Shingle” award as most outstanding rising stand-up star at the 2009 Rooftop Aspen Comedy Festival. Around town he’s known as the “comedians’ comedian” with his tightly written material, dry wit, and laid-back “tell it like it is” style. His credits include Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham”, AZN’s “ Asia Street Comedy”, and the SF Sketchfest. He’ll be headlining the Opening Weekend of LIVE at the Purple Onion on July 17th & 18th.

So, how did you get started in stand-up?

Allan Manalo was the first Filipino comedian that I saw and I was totally impressed, so I started following him around watching his shows. I was a total groupie. At the time there was just a handful, maybe two or three Filipino comedians. I watched a lot of sets and just seeing these folks over and over, I kind of figured out how to format jokes. And then eventually got into doing shows with them at Filipino student associations events throughout the country.

You have such a distinctive comedic voice, how did you develop that?

Finding a voice and style takes awhile for folks, but the more that you do it, it just sort of clicks and you figure it out. I started out pretty much doing a lot of dirty jokes, but I felt like they were still kind of smart with an interesting twist. Now I’m more into the storytelling type of material.

What are your thoughts on the Dirty vs. Clean debate?

When people hear “dirty jokes” they think it’s too easy. I like dirty jokes, and I still write them, but I only like the well-structured ones. Dirty jokes for the sake of just being dirty and shocking the crowd is not enough for me.

As far people saying “you should only work clean.” It’s true, in that, if you work clean you’ll probably get more opportunities, but if it’s not in you to do that type of material then it seems kind of phony to me. If you’re really a kind of person that has these thoughts inside that are kind of dirty, I think you should be able to go ahead and do it. And eventually the better that you get at it, you’ll find that audience that will follow you around.

Was there ever a point where your comedic style just clicked in?

No, it was more of an evolution. It’s still evolving. There’s so much more to write about and figure out.

What inspires you for material?

Just anything really, but I like talking about real stuff, and then having the ability to go ahead and lie as well. So, it’s kind of a mix of things. I like writing and I like letting myself go anywhere. I also used to teach stand-up comedy here in San Francisco at the Bindlestiff Studios and I’d teach the basic formulas: set-up, punch, tag. But I would always encourage folks to use that to start off with and then be able to go and do other things.

What is your process for developing new material?

I always keep a pad of paper in my back pocket. Now what I’m doing is forcing myself to write about different things, so take a blank piece of paper and fold it into eight different sections. And each week fill in the sections with different stuff. Some of it works some of it doesn’t and it just keeps my mind going.

What are your thoughts on bombing?

You definitely have to bomb. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t bombed in the beginning. But if you’ve got it in you, you just want to get up and do it again. Sometimes you can do material that works everywhere else, and go somewhere it just kind of bombs. That’s just how it goes. You gotta be as excited about doing stand-up when it’s good, and just as excited when it goes bad.

How do you do that?

I always say it’s just another day in the office. That’s my attitude about it. If it goes rally well, then okay great. If it bombs, well okay there’s always tomorrow. The objective is to be consistent and always be good, but there can be sometimes there are situations where it’s not conducive to stand-up. It’s sounds like excuses, but they’re things that are outside your control can make a show not as good as it could be, like the lights are too bright or the sound is bad. Or like a bar where no one’s paying attention. It can seem like you’re bombing, but you’re doing the thing that you do. You’re doing your material.

What’s your favorite kind of audience?

I like an audience that’s willing to sit and listen and see where it’s going to go. Sometimes there are crowds that want it quick and fast, and it has to be rapid-fire or you’re going to lose their attention. Those crowds are tough. I don’t always like to be on my toes trying to please the crowd as much anymore. Before I used to, now I’m like “I’m gonna tell a story, let’s see what happens.” Things are written out, but I’m going to take my time a little more.

How did you prepare for the Comedy Central taping?

I was a little more concerned not just with the material and how it sounded, but about what I looked like. That was kind of strange. Like I was practicing more on looking forward and doing it more for TV than for a club. When I watched comedy on Comedy Central, I was really following closely how they presented the material with their body language, gestures, and facial expressions.

You’ve traveled quite a bit, what are your thoughts on the San Francisco comedy scene?

I definitely like the San Francisco comedy scene and I’m proud to be a part of it. A lot of good comedians have come out of here. I like it because there seems to be more thought into style and content out here and people not afraid to push those limits. That’s what I feed off of.

Who are your favorite comedians?

Bill Burr, Maria Bamford, Patrice O’Neal, Arj Barker, Al Madrigal and JB Smoove. They are all very different from each other, but they do what they do really well.

What does the future hold for you?

A lot of folks, when they finally get a TV credit, they move to LA. And a lot of my comedian friends have either moved to LA, or in the process of doing so. I feel like I’m going to eventually move there, but I going to stay in the City for a little longer. I want to be able to have more solid material. I don’t have aspirations as much to be on TV. I do want to write films. which can be done from anywhere.

Right now, I’m concentrating on being the best stand-up comic I can be. A lot of comics get so discouraged, they’re like “I don’t have a TV credit. I’m not moving up fast enough.” It’s not even about that. It’s about writing new material and getting as funny as you can possibly be. It’s about getting to the point where it becomes undeniable. So you can go to those rooms where nobody knows you and people walk away saying “Hey, that Comic was excellent.”