Who’s Really Writing The Funniest Moments on Comedy Knockout? Damien Lemon Takes Us Behind the Scenes

Wednesday marks the third season premiere of truTV’s gameshow Comedy Knockout, in which comics battle through a series of games to determine who’s the funniest person there…and who should apologize and think about what they’ve done. Ahead of Wednesday night’s 11pm premiere, we chatted with host Damien Lemon about dream guests, how he’d do in a game, and why you should hold on any dental surgery you’ll be getting until after the season debut.

The Interrobang: What can you tell people who haven’t watched the show about it?

Damien Lemon: For someone that’s never watched it before: this is a comedy program, so be ready to laugh! Hopefully you can do that. Hopefully you don’t have any stitches in your mouth, or didn’t come from the dentist.  It’s basically three comedians battl[ing] to be the funniest in the room. The comedian who is deemed the funniest is going to win a trophy, while the one who loses has to apologize for being terrible at comedy. That’s it, in short. But beyond that, on their quest to be the funniest in the room, we play all types of games. There’s a little bit of roasting going on, a little bit of off their head improv going on, we just have a good time. And it’s in front of a live studio audience. You can live and die by the crowd.

The Interrobang: How’s the audience like seeing comics doing something different from their routines?

Damien Lemon: The audience is up for it! The audience is up for it because they don’t know what these comedians are up for. They’re really just there to hear the funniest jokes. They’re ready to laugh. They’re ready to see where you go with it, where you take it. Because the setups can be so wild that you could take them in so many different ways. I think what’s so cool about the show, is that there are three comics; so that means oftentimes there are three different styles.

There could be one person that’s really doing a lot of puns, is on a pun run. And you could be like, “that’s ridiculous. Oh, okay, that’s enough,” but then the commitment makes you say “Wow!” and flips you again. So there’s stuff like that. There’s comedians that are just better in the moment, there are comedians that know how to play to the crowd…it’s a combination of so many different things.

The Interrobang: Any favorite moments on any previous seasons?

Damien Lemon: It’s such a blur, there are so many episodes…but there are so many of those moments. In the moment, it’s like “Oh, that’s crazy.” Because when we shoot it, it takes a while for it to air. So sometimes you’re watching it and you’ll go, “Oh, I do remember that!” But in the moment, when you’re in the studio, it feels even [more] different because it’s in that moment.

There’s plenty of good moments in the apologies! One of the funny things about the apologies is, the apologies aren’t written by the comedians. I should make that part clear. So this is the first time these comedians are reading these apologies for why they’re terrible at comedy. It’s basically our writers’ room skewering you in a playful way, and then we’ll mine your social media – we might go on your Instagram, or find an old photo you thought you tucked away on Facebook, and bring that out. It’s about seeing the reaction. These comedians don’t know what to expect. As they’re reading it, they’re seeing it for the first time just like everybody else. So it’s a moment.

The Interrobang: What would you say the breakdown between the comedians and the writers’ room, in terms of the jokes you see on the show?

Damien Lemon: More often than not, the comedians are gonna stay true to their voice. The writers’ room is gonna suggest directions for the comedians to go. A light suggestion, giving suggestions so you have a reservoir of ideas to go to. You get the packet a few days before you shoot, so the comedians have time to think of a few jokes – you know, put their own spin on things – or do that with some of the writers on the floor. It’s a nice mix of both. Sometimes you don’t know if something was the comedian’s joke, or if that was the writer’s joke…and sometimes you definitely know. There are certain writers that have signatures. So it’s a nice little combination.

The Interrobang: How does the fact that many of the comedians know one another, affect how they show up to compete?

Damien Lemon: I think it helps a lot. You know, when there are comedians that know each other, they can get a little more “inside,” go a little…I don’t want to say “aggressive,” but they know you! So they can talk about things that’ll make you go “WHOA!” They have a little more ammo, they’re a little more invested when they come up working with each other.

The Interrobang: If you got into a situation where you got to compete, and could take that and use it with people you knew, who would you wanna go up against?

Damien Lemon: Oh, man! I guess my comedy peers- Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor… [laughs] You know what? I guess I haven’t really thought about that, I don’t really know!

The Interrobang: Would you rather go up against people you knew, or people that you didn’t know but knew their work? Which would you prefer?

Damien Lemon: That’s a good question. I think…it depends on the person. If you don’t know the person, you don’t feel that extra layer of “is this too far? Am I gonna have to speak to this later on?” If this is a stranger, I’m going all out! I don’t know what you’re sensitive about- I’m trying to win!

The Interrobang: If it were Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and you…realistically, who’s taking [the win]?

Damien Lemon: I’ma give it to Rich. Just cause he passed. No, I’m joking. I think Rich could get it. I’d just be happy to be on the stage with them. I’d be so starstruck, I wouldn’t even speak! “Damien, it’s your go!” “Oh, it’s…is it? Oh!” But it’d be very interesting.  I feel bad he wasn’t around for this era of comedy, I think he’d be really good at it! Yeah, I think so. Just counting the fact that he was really good back then.

The Interrobang: Is there anybody you want for the show that you think would be good at it, that hasn’t come on yet?

Damien Lemon: I would love to get Obama on the show [laughs]. I always say that! I would love to get Barack Obama on the show. Just cause I’d like to see Obama again! He’s done a couple podcasts, he did the Letterman show, who knows? Comedy Knockout might be on his list. Tracy Morgan would be fun, he’d be all over the place with it. Ellen would be fun- seems like she’d be good off the top of her head. Who else…

The Interrobang: Could people team up and do it?

Damien Lemon: People could team up, yeah, what teams are you thinking?

The Interrobang: I was thinking like Sydnee [Washington] and Marie [Faustin], like if they were one contestant? Or like John Early and Kate Berlant?

Damien Lemon: Ohh! That could be cool, Joe List and Mark Normand, Desus and Mero…

The Interrobang: This could be an episode!

Damien Lemon: Yeah, I like that.

The Interrobang: So the list is long but substantive, I feel like some good work got done here.

Yeah, this is a good list. Feels like progress.

The Interrobang: Anything else we should know going into Wednesday?

Damien Lemon: Just be ready to laugh! Know that we’re starting season 3 off with a special episode, so you’ll wanna get there early.

Comedy Knockout premieres this Wednesday at 11pm on truTV.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.
Amma Marfo
Amma Marfo
Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.