Stand-up comedian Derrick Cameron visited with youth at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Facility Wednesday (Aug 29) to share his experiences in the entertainment industry and provide a positive outlet for youth at the center.
The long-time comedian’s visit to the detention center was the first time he has spoken at a facility for youth involved in the justice system. The visit is part of Multnomah County Juvenile Services Division efforts to bring pro-social activities and role models to youth at the detention center.
“I love being in different places that [may be] different for me,” Cameron said while sharing his story with the group. “I can push myself beyond my limits and learn from those experiences.”
Cameron’s career began while he worked at a department store in California after graduating from high school. During a company cruise, he asked to use a microphone for a few minutes before the band started playing. He quickly learned that he could make people laugh just by sharing his inner thoughts.
“That was the first time I was able to hear a response to my crazy inner thoughts, Cameron’s website explains, “I will never forget that feeling. The next week I signed up for amateur night at the Comedy store in La Jolla, CA. I was always able to make my friends and coworkers laugh. What I was curious about was could I make total strangers laugh. When I found out I could, the fire was lit and has not burned out since.”
Today, he travels the world to bridge gaps and break barriers through comedy. His resume includes appearances on the Tonight Show, Comedy Central and Comics Unleashed. Cameron also serves as a motivational speaker and is often booked at middle schools across the country.
"Many of the youth here today have never had the opportunity to see a comic do stand-up with a positive message or hear from a person who's accomplished so much, despite their obstacles," said Pam Guzman, Juvenile Custody Services Specialist. “A simple appearance, by someone like Derrick, can make a world of difference in their lives. And demonstrates the power of humor.”
Cameron shared a message of hope and perseverance but noted the challenges to the business side of the entertainment industry.
As a black comedian during the 1990s, he experienced difficulty being accepted in the entertainment industry. Oftentimes comedy club owners assumed his humor would be too inappropriate for the audience. Despite their doubts, he won over both crowds and club owners with his performance.
“They didn’t get what I was doing but I knew I was on the right path because the crowd liked me,” he said.
Cameron stressed the importance of working hard to be recognized. For him, it took an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“I ran into brick walls all along the way, but I kept going,” he told the youth. “I went from being a stand-up comic to being a stand-up comedian. It took me two decades to get to that point.”
Cameron opened the floor for youth to ask questions about his experience.
One young man asked about the most challenging obstacle in Cameron’s three-decade-long career.
“The biggest obstacle was people telling me I couldn’t do it,” he replied. “I was always different and looked different.”
The group also asked about Cameron’s lifestyle, finances, how to navigate dating and how to follow the right path.
“I like girls who like me,” he laughed. “If they don’t like me I leave them alone.”
“You just don’t quit,” he replied to how to follow the right path. “You keep going at it and don’t let anything knock you off your path.”