Stand-up comedians often struggle for decades before finding success. Like most show-business professionals, many hope for that one “big break” to elevate their careers.
New York City stand-ups Chris Distefano and Damien Lemon got theirs at a relatively young age for the stand-up world. Lemon was 34. Distefano was just 27. They now perform nationally, and are headlining this weekend at the Columbus Funny Bone, an Easton venue which has pulled in acts as big as Dave Chappelle.
For Distefano and Lemon, their break didn’t come from doing stand-up at all. Instead, it came from an MTV2 show called “Guy Code,” which premiered in 2011. The show followed a basic premise: get young comedians and others to sit in front of cameras and riff about topics of interest in young male culture. It’s a simple show that opened up a lot of doors.
“Doing the Columbus Funny Bone and traveling outside of New York, I don’t think I’d be doing it had I not been on ‘Guy Code,’” Distefano told The Lantern Wednesday. “We do stand-up all over now, and get recognized in the streets by whoever watches the show. It’s a cool feeling, and I think we all have a lot of new opportunities that we all feel.”
“Guy Code” was a hit starting in its first season, becoming MTV2’s highest rated show ever. The show later broke its own records twice – in its second and third seasons – and led to spin-offs such as “Girl Code,” which features appearances from Distefano and Lemon, and “Guy Court.”
Despite the prominence of their television careers, Distefano said it hasn’t gotten in the way of his stand-up. His growing fame gave him the opportunity to do a set on “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2013, and he and Lemon are both set to have half-hour specials premiering on Comedy Central this summer.
“It’s been purely productive,” he said. “When we doing ‘Guy Code,’ we were filming in the morning and the comedy shows were at night. For me, it hasn’t gotten in the way at all, it’s just made everything better.”
Lemon said, if anything, “Guy Code” has helped augment his stand-up material.
“Sometimes, some of the things we talk about on ‘Guy Code’ can form something that I want to talk about on stage,” he said.
Because they don’t choose the topics they talk about on the show, Lemon said it has helped improve his comedic chops.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “Sometimes you have to figure out what’s funny about stress. I know one of the topics at one point was funerals. Initially, you may be like, ‘Damn, funerals may not be the most funny thing’ but if you think about it, there’s a lot of funny in funerals, just because of how awkward it feels. It’s a sensitive subject, and just like anything else in comedy, if you can figure out what’s funny about it, it can become extremely funny because people feel it immediately.”
Yet most of their material comes from their own life experiences. Distefano is from Brooklyn and said he jokes a lot about his family, especially his father, who he described as “a shady, possibly organized-crime-type character.”
Lemon said his material changes frequently, often as new issues arise or his own life circumstances change.
“I might give my whole take on the Donald Sterling situation. I have material that’s developed just from that story breaking and how I looked at it,” he said. “I’ll talk about being in a relationship about as summer’s starting to approach, and that’s developed just based on the season changing.”
Despite their fame on television, both said stand-up is still the most exciting part of their careers.
“You’re just in the moment when you’re live. Anything can happen and you’re feeding off the energy of the crowd,” Lemon said.
Distefano agreed, and said the live shows are more fun as they become more famous.
“When you’re starting to do longer sets and you have a fan base that’s coming to see you, you have a lot more freedom to what you can say,” he said. “The audience already identifies with you. They already know who you are. That’s why they’re at the show. But when you do stand-up on TV, for the most part you only do five minutes. There are strict rules on what you can and can’t say. In live performances, anything you want to say, goes.”
But his favorite thing about touring doesn’t have to do with being onstage at all.
“My favorite part is watching Damien try to find all the food spots in whatever city we’re in,” Distefano joked. “And I like the way he’s able to fit 10 pairs of Jordans in a carry-on suitcase.”
The comedians are slated to perform six sets between Thursday and Sunday at the Funny Bone in Easton. The show is for ages 21 and older, and tickets are $20 and are available through the Funny Bone website.