When Lamont Price steps onstage, he owns the room. It’s been that way for more than a decade, as he made the transition from promising young act to accomplished headliner, playing established rooms like Nick’s Comedy Stop and Laugh Boston or creating his own “Comedy Is King” shows. This weekend, he plays his most high-profile hometown gig yet, hosting and curating the comedy stage at Boston Calling.
Sitting in a coffee shop in Central Square a little more than a week before the big show, Price isn’t the least bit nervous about playing a big outdoor stage. “Right now, I’m more excited about doing it,” he says. “And I’m getting ideas of what I want to do. Like, they allow me to have a DJ onstage.”
Price has performed on the side stage at the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival at the Xfinity Center, and he knows there will be a lot of competition for the audience’s attention, not the least of which will be the larger music stage. So he’s thinking ahead about how to make sure the comedians he chose get noticed. “I’ve got a couple of ideas, sort of attention-getters,” he says. “Little bits I’ve done with DJs in the past.”
The comedy stage will feature two shows a day on Saturday and Sunday, each featuring Price as host and two other comedians. Price says it was tough to pick just four; he went with Kelly MacFarland, Sean Sullivan, Orlando Baxter, and Ken Reid.
Boston Calling talent buyer Trevor Solomon says organizers were looking for someone with charisma who could curate a local stage with local comic talent. He and the producers of the festival felt Price was smart and enthusiastic, and most importantly, funny. “I just think he’s hilarious,” he says.
Onstage, Price is a commanding but casual presence. He’s good with an outlandish premise — he wants to buy a mogwai like the one in the movie “Gremlins” as a home security system and invite the thugs in his neighborhood to try to take his stuff. “I’ve got a Gremlin and spray bottle, we can do this [expletive] all night,” he says.
But he’s also a capable storyteller. In one routine, he talks about getting made fun of as a kid for not having a Nintendo game console, and his excitement at seeing the Nintendo logo visible through his mom’s shopping bags one day. But it was Nintendo cereal. To add insult to injury, his mother asked him who the characters in the cereal were. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know, [expletive], I don’t have a [expletive] Nintendo. I don’t know who anybody in this bowl is. I’m eating a bowl full of strangers.’”
Price always had confidence, even when he was an outsider growing up in Dorchester. “I always felt different,” he says. “There’s a certain way as a kid you survive. The pack mentality. And I never understood that when I was young. I think back on it now and I’m like, oh, I get it. But at the time I was like, I’m the weird one. I must be the weird one.”
He was obsessed with cartoons, and later on, TV theme songs, a subject on which he is an expert. And even though he had class clown tendencies, he and his group did well in school. “We liked everything that was considered cool, for the most part, but we also understood, ‘I gotta get this work done,’ ” he says. “You’d be in class trying to disrupt like everybody else, you know, like, ‘Yeah, this teacher sucks! What page did you say to study?’ ”
When he started in comedy, Price’s pop culture knowledge and outsider mentality gave him a unique voice. He got opening work early, and his talent was obvious. But it wasn’t until several years in that he really began to work at it to become the headliner he is today. “A lot of times people ask me when’d you start, and I tell them when I cared, which was like ’02 or ’03,” he says.
One turning point came in 2003 on a trip to New York City. Price went to the Comedy Cellar and saw Damon Wayans treat a Monday night crowd of 20 like a packed theater. The next night, Dave Chappelle dropped in and worked out material for another small crowd. “That was one of the moments where it was like, who am I not to respect the process?” he says. “These guys are icons.”
The hard work has paid off for Price, artistically and in terms of landing higher-profile gigs. In February, Price appeared in a segment on “Triumph’s Election Special 2016,” featuring Robert Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. In the bit, Price plays a gay black man who briefly talks to a group of students at the University of New Hampshire, and tests their politically correct vocabulary when Triumph asks them to describe him to a police sketch artist.
It’s squirm-worthy stuff, watching the students try to find the right nonoffensive language to capture what they mean to say. Price loved it.
“I laugh at that stuff,” he says. “I have a friend we always talk about, she says, ‘I get secondhand embarrassment for things.’ Not me. I’m the person, if you trip on the street? ‘Thank you. Thank you very much. You made my day better.’ ”
Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.