Host Damien Lemon on truTV’s ‘Comedy Knockout’: “It’s Like Being in a Dojo With a Bunch of Kung Fu Masters”

On Thursday, truTV premieres Comedy Knockout, a competition-style improv showcase that pits three comedians against each other in a battle for laughs. Points are given based on volume and exuberance of the studio audience’s laughter, and each of the ten episodes will crown one winner and one loser — who must face the audience and apologize for his shameful performance. We spoke to host Damien Lemon (whom you may have seen on Guy Code, Not Exactly News, Broad City, or The Jim Gaffigan Show) about hosting a show, temperamental audiences, and of course, his hopes and dreams. 

Flavorwire: This is your first hosting gig. When you were approached to test for it, was hosting something you had been looking to do?

Damien Lemon: I didn’t ever really consider it. I didn’t rule it out, but it wasn’t something that I had on my radar. But it was a cool opportunity and I was like yeah, let’s check it out, see what it is.

How does it feel to be the moderator rather than the guy telling jokes?

It felt weird. It took some getting used to. It was a bit of a learning curve, because one, I had an IFB [earpiece] in my ear, like, “Ok, say something here, say something there.” As a comic you’re kind of sensitive to another comic — like, you want to let them finish, you don’t want to step on their bit. So it was a different muscle.

So there was a producer in your ear saying, “You have to cut this guy off, we’re running out of time” sort of thing?

Oh, yeah. ’Cause comedians will keep going — there’s a live audience there, too, so if you feel like you’re losing them, you’re gonna just keep going, keep going. I had to become like, the red light in the comedy club: Alright, wrap it up!

Did you ever want to jump in with a joke but had to hold back?

I didn’t really hold myself back. You’ve got to use a little more restraint because you’re hosting. But every so often a bit gets so juicy and you got something — just like any comic, you go, wait, I think I got something for that. You toss it out there, and you let the audience decide.

Has hosting given you any inspiration for standup material?

I don’t know if I got inspiration, I wouldn’t say for my own stuff. It’s always good to be around a bunch of comedians, though. The juices are flowing, and you see various styles and approaches to comedy. Someone like Dave Hill is just so all over the place, bursting with energy — he’s jumping in the crowd, he’s silly, he’s wild with it, and then someone like Kurt Metzger is totally different. It’s like being in a dojo with a bunch of kung fu masters.

Did you ever wish the audience had chosen a different winner?

There were times when the audience surprised me. There were times when I was like, wow, that’s all the applause you’re gonna give that person? Really? I thought they killed it! But the audience can be temperamental. They like what they like.

I’ve been to some tapings and for the audience it’s a much different, lower energy than when you go to a comedy club.

Because they’re on camera. When you go to a club, it’s dark, there’s alcohol, all eyes are on the performer. The audience is just the background. But when you’re in a studio audience, you might be worrying, Do I look aight? Is my shirt too tight? That type of thing. And then you do things like pickups — we say, “Hey, we need the same energy as before,” and they realize, oh, we working!

Do you have a favorite guest?

I don’t know if I have a favorite. There are some great ones, again, like Dave Hill. Jim Norton destroyed — I mean, obviously, he’s Jim Norton. He had so many gems. He reminds me of Eminem. He’s so consistent and he’s serious. He definitely shows up every time, so that was dope. Noah Gardenswartz was funny. Kevin Barnett, his approach was very funny. It’s hard to pick a favorite.

What are you watching these days?

You know what I was really big on, I pretty much ran through Fargo Season 1 and Season 2. I like The Carmichael Show a lot. As soon as we hang up, I’ll think of three other things. I saw the movie Zootopia, I thought that was pretty smart.

What’s the one big goal you’re working towards? A movie? An HBO special? A sitcom?

I would like to just pop up in the conversation with some of the great comedians. I definitely want to put out an album, do an hour special, and I would like to write a movie. Those are the three goals I’ve got my eye on, but beyond that I still want to continue to make people laugh, be funny, put creative and quality content into the world. That’s it. Keep paying my rent on time. I’m gonna rent till the end.