How Cameron Esposito Plans to Revolutionize Comedy in 2018
"There’s no part of me that thinks that my being a woman or being a gay woman has benefitted me in the comedy world. What if 2018 was the year when it did?"
You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.
This year's particularly brutal news cycle was made somewhat easier with the levity of Put Your Hands Together, a podcast that feels your pain, puts a smile on your face, and pushes you to keep fighting.
Co-hosted by wives Rhea Butcher and Cameron Esposito, the podcast evolved into Back To Back, a month-long comedy tour spanning nineteen cities and the only show of its kind headlined by married lesbians. Not only do the couple hold the current No. 1 comedy album spot on iTunes, they also turned their Houston performance into a fundraiser for hurricane victims. And somehow, in her free time, Esposito hosted the podcast Queery, in which she engages in hour-long conversations with LGBTQ people about identity, and much, much more.
Broadly with Esposito about her string of successful creative projects this year and comedy in Trump’s America.
BROADLY: You worked on many projects this year—any that you're particularly proud of?CAMERON ESPOSITO: I’m probably most proud of my first bus tour this fall, with my wife, Rhea Butcher. Working with Rhea to create something that audiences have never had an option to see before, which is two queer people in a single comedy lineup who are married and doing this on a bus in Trump’s America which was really amazing. We recorded an album [on the tour], Back to Back, which was #1 on iTunes.
After 10 years of touring, I had been in Los Angeles for two years to work on TV projects, so it was incredible to be out and get beyond a phone and social media and really see people and really perform for people.
How do you think the political climate of 2017 affected your work?
It really made it impossible to stay here in LA I got my first job working professionally in comedy the week that I graduated from college, which was also the week that Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same marriage. My career has always been on a path with the queer civil rights movement that has really caught fire in the last fifteen years.
We got to this place under Obama where life was fun for a brief period of time, do you remember it? It felt like every day wasn’t such a push. Yes, there were still many things to be done, but there could be some times where you could just be with friends or just be working on a television project here in LA.
But I really think that we are being lied to about what’s going on in this country. I think that people are pretty freaked out and scared. More people are united in feeling confused and upset, especially people in the middle of the country.
How was this apparent during your tour?
I have always felt that being on the road. I’m from Chicago, and when I say we’re being lied to, I mean that this idea that people on the coasts have really different needs than people in the middle of America.
Obviously, I am aware of regional differences and the fact that a job or housing market may have local aspects that people need to deal with, but queer people are everywhere. People of color are everywhere. Every type of person also lives in our major cities, and we are more mixed in with each other and need the same things, which are way beyond jobs. We need civil rights protections. We will never be equal in the marketplace if we are not equal on paper legally. That is what I just continue to find to be true every time I go on tour.
What made you want to launch Queery this year?
I am also very proud of the podcast. Essentially, the podcasting boom started with standup. It’s now a journalistic endeavor but it didn’t used to be. I feel like for queer folks this is such an amazing moment for us because we have been written out of history, we have been ignored.
I used what Marc Maron was able to do in his garage, which is capturing conversations between two people who knew exactly what each other was talking about and inviting people into that. That is something that queer people haven’t had the opportunity to do. We haven’t been running industries so we haven’t had the money, support, backing – a podcast is very cheap and you can literally capture history. You can get somebody’s voice.
"There’s no part of me that thinks that my being a woman or being a gay woman has benefitted me in the comedy world."
We have lost so many members of our community in our very recent history; the AIDS crisis was twenty years ago. We don’t have to lose our history any more. I am so amped about that idea.
You also hosted a weekly show & podcast with Rhea, Put Your Hands Together, how does comedy tie in to that mission?
My comedy is always pretty raw and honest. Wouldn’t it be amazing, looking at what is happening right now, when it seems like maybe people want to listen to women, maybe a little bit, maybe just a soft murmur?
It’s very exciting to already have a skillset that is worth listening to. I have had success in my career and I also could have way more success. There’s no part of me that thinks that my being a woman or being a gay woman has benefitted me in the comedy world.
What if 2018 was the year when it did?
Let’s talk about your haircut.
One of the biggest moments of 2017 for everybody! It’s literally the president. I have always been out on stage, but I have also tempered the way that I presented myself to an audience. I worked in predominantly straight rooms, it turns out the country is predominantly straight. It’s hard for a queer person – there’s going to be many situations where you’re just naturally outnumbered.
Almost by accident, I was shaping by what I was doing to make it palatable, because I do believe in the power of that. Ellen has to exist in people’s house during the daytime so that people aren’t so scared, and then I can get married. That has to happen.
But when we elect a sexual predator whose voice we hear talking about his own predatory behavior before we elect him, when we are there, then it turns out I no longer have to have long hair. That’s what I decided. Even if it was only long hair on one side!
I’m moving into a different zone. This last year, I’ve really felt a call to be more specifically creating space for the queer community. Which is also why Queery launched this year. I will always be somebody who is here for everybody, but when a particular community is being actively stamped out, then that is where my attention has to be.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
The biggest thing I have learned this year, because I am a diehard feminist and I am so into queerness and I am realizing every day the blindspots I have had towards racial inequality in this country. Like, holy shit am I white. I am on the side of social justice and I have been fighting and I am really grateful: I completely changed my methodology of who I follow on social media.
I used to follow mostly comedy folks. I don’t know if you remember Twitter prior to this year, but it was like, there were jokes on there, which is totally bonkers to remember. But as it became more of a news source, I moved away from comedy and am also looking for journalists, people in tech, podcasters and thought leaders who are really outside of my community. Comedy can become an echo chamber like anything else and it’s a field that’s dominated by straight white men, so even if you follow people of color, a year ago was different than it is now. People were making jokes, now they’re working towards education, which is what I’m doing, too. We’re all moving in that direction.
If this level of growth and expansion of experience and understanding is possible—I also think that nobody’s suffering is worth that, I’m not hoping that more terrible things happen—I am glad I’m paying more attention as things are happening. I’m looking forward to continuing that in 2018.
There’s this thing that’s been peddled in comedy that P.C. culture is some enemy of comedy, which is garbage, by the way. P.C. culture is just someone being like, "Hey, write better jokes." It’s challenging yourself to be better at comedy. I really hope that people can look for me to continue to grow as a voice in my field and also as a performer. If I’m getting more information I’m going to be better at comedy.
That should be our response to getting more information: not fear over PC culture, but [rather] "Oh my god, I can get better at my craft."