Meet Me In New York: Camille Harris
What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they're comedians? No, that's not it. It is a fact, though, that America's biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York's vibrant comedy scene. It's called Meet Me In New York.
When I launched my podcast Last Things First last summer, I knew the voice I wanted to hear introducing listeners to my interview series -- Camille Harris has a playful, welcoming sound; slightly silly, but just as certainly assured and confident. Harris sings and plays the piano (and is joined by Shockwave in producing the theme music for my podcast), and just released her third album, the EP "Where I Go." It's a bit more serious of a jazzy/R&B effort than her previous two albums, "Silly Jazz" and "Beneath the Moon."
The Moon was the title of the show Harris provided musical and comedy accompaniment for with her fellow Emerson College friends for a few years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She currently co-hosts the weekly Saturday night comedy showcase, "The Weekend Drop" at the Experiment Comedy Gallery in Williamsburg. You can also find her performing music fairly regularly at Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side, and you may have seen her performing last year on IFC and CollegeHumor's Comedy Music Hall of Fame TV special.
Let's get to know more about her!
Name: Camille Harris
Arrival Date: Summer 2008
Arrived From: Emerson College, Boston (before that, Colorado)
What was your best credit before moving here? What did you use as your first credit?
“Ars Nova ANT Fest was the first thing I got into, but I was also auditing the BMI (Lehman Engel) Musical Theatre Workshop which was the only credit I was doing. I was in the ANT Fest at Ars Nova, which was so cool. I met Ben Lerman there. I met Kyle Supley there. Adira Amram I met through that. Becky Yamamoto.”
Was that the first time you performed comedy? When and where did you start performing comedy?
“No. Like in high school I did some. The first thing I think I ever did in comedy, I was MC in middle school for the talent show, all three years. Just because I was wanting to, and I remember someone told me I was a ham, and I didn’t know what that meant. But then, when I found out what it meant I was very complimented. That was the first thing. Then in high school I auditioned for the talent show with some stand-up, and I did not get in. Because I had auditioned with too many things. They had a limit on you could only audition for five things, and I was involved in eight things. So they were like, ‘Why are you doing this? You can’t do this.’ But I did. And then in college, this guy on my floor, he brought me to the Comedy Studio in Cambridge. I did like three sets there, which was just random, just because he vouched for me. And also Emerson there’s a lot of comedy, so I would go see comedy, and I wrote my musical because I was a musical theater major. And that’s when I started doing my own one-woman show, or my own show with my comedy songs. The first one I put on was this big one at Emerson of me, solo.”
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else?
“I still want to be on Broadway, and I haven’t done that. I was auditioning for Broadway, but I stopped. Because it’s really hard. It’s really hard to do.”
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here?
“The first fall I was here, I played piano in a musical that was in South Orange, New Jersey. That was paid. I always accompanied people on piano. I played for this band in 2010. The first acting gig I got paid for, I don’t know when that was – probably when I got here, some little thing. There was also my ex-husband Alex, we still kind of collaborate, but he would get things and then I would be cast in those because I knew him. So I was in a couple of little Internet spots just because of him, which was fun. I was a hand model and jewelry model for this person who was taking pictures.”
When did you start to pursue comedy more full-time?
“I guess when I started going for it was really not that long ago. I was only doing musical comedy sets for many years. And then after The Moon ended – no, when The Moon ended I did a set on The Moon, which I guess was three years ago now. And then I started my own show, and that’s when I started doing stand-up in my own show. I started going to open mics at the end of 2014, so about two years now. I kind of go in and out between the music and stand-up. Sometimes I do more stand-up than music. But I have the weekly show at the Experiment Comedy Gallery now. That’s a nice thing. But I’m going to go back to the mics as soon as my album is released.”
How would you compare the two different scenes – musical and comedy – as a performer in NYC?
“The jazz scene is really tight and supportive, the same way that comedy is. I think they remind me of each other. When you go to the jam sessions, you see people who are always there. The same thing with open mics. You go to open mics, the same people who are there. And then it changes. You go to the same open mic a year later, it’s totally different people. Same thing with the jam sessions…When I’m regularly going to mics, and regularly going to jam sessions, it just feels like the same exercise. Getting better at music or getting better at comedy. It’s your classroom.”
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?
“I guess I’m very social already, so a lot of things that I don’t think are abnormal, people find abnormal in New York, so I’m trying to think. I don’t know. I literally don’t know. People go, ‘This is so crazy! This is so New York!’ But you go anywhere else, this type of thing happens all over. There’s not only weird stuff here. New Yorkers love to think that that’s true.”
Maybe not a Pizza Rat. “Yeah, maybe not. But probably, and it probably was a raccoon. Or there was a bear in the pool there. Yeah, they don’t have subways. I think anywhere with public transportation, though, and where there’s groups of people from all over the world, you’ll find people who go, ‘That’s so weird! Stuff’s happening!’ But it’s just because humans are near each other.”
What advice would you give to any comedian or musician who moves here?
“I guess what I’d always say is what I’ve done and what’s worked the best for me. The musical that I wrote and was published, was because I just decided to pursue that completely. Basically paid things off as I went. I didn’t try to save everything up to do it. I just had to do it. Like with this album that I did? I’m not going to get a cent if I don’t just make it happen. Just record it. And then I made the money work. I feel like a lot of those people think, well, I need this amount of money in order to make it happen. You see Kickstarters or IndieGoGos – and I’ve even done this – where it was like, I need to make this amount of money and then I’ll be able to do it. But I always think what’s been working for me is, I had a musical. I was just like, I’m going to put it on! I’ll submit it to everything. I did. I mean, I submit to things constantly. I just got rejected from another thing. I got rejected from the Red Bull Music Academy in Montreal, which, like only 40 people got in. I still applied. Still got rejected. I got rejected from the ASCAP young writers jazz whatever grant thing that I applied for every single year. Now I can’t do that anymore…I just get rejected constantly. But the things which I have gotten, which were, I got a grant from DailyMotion to make ‘The Monster Under My Bed’ music video. I got ‘The Muffin Man’ in the (NYC) Fringe festival. I got Ars Nova, which has really helped me a lot, the ANT Festival. Those things that I have gotten have been cool. I’ve only gotten like three cool things out of the like 200 things I keep submitting to. But then with this CD, I’m just going to make this happen. I emailed a bunch of venues, and the only one that really gave me a good spot was Littlefield. And it’s a great, amazing venue. I love that space. So now I’m having it (her CD release party) there, and they’re so nice.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that.” Are you the kind of person who wouldn’t have a five-year plan? “I never thought about it. I always thought that was just the question that people asked people in movies.” Let me ask you the question in reverse then. How does where you are now compare to where you thought you might be five years ago? “Five years ago, I didn’t know either. I just made specific goals that I reach slowly but surely. So I had this new goal, which was my album. I’m going to have another goal after that’s done.” Have you figured out what that next goal is yet? “I have a couple of things, yeah. I have a play that I’m writing, that I think is really funny. It’s a farce. But it’s also a drama. And I think it’s great. I had readings for that last year but I had to put it on the backburner to pursue this album. I have various writing samples like that one, that I know I’m going to do. So as soon as I finish the album, yeah, I’m going to try to focus on getting another reading of my play.”
This is the original music video for "Baby on the Subway" that Camille Harris submitted to IFC and CollegeHumor, which aired in 2015 as part of the Comedy Music Hall of Fame special:
And this was the official music video for her single, "The Monster Under My Bed," from her second album.
Her third album, a jazzy/R&B EP, is available now.
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com