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In the world of lesbian comedy — or comedy in general — Cameron Esposito is the new reigning queen. Esposito, best recognized by her trademark asymmetrical haircut or her comedic delivery (a cross between Tig Notaro and Paula Poundstone), has her audience rolling in the aisles on her new stand-up comedy special Marriage Material, debuting March 24 on the new comedy streaming service Seeso, operated by NBC.
Filmed in front of a live and enthusiastic hometown audience at Chicago’s Thalia Hall mere days before her wedding to fellow comic Rhea Butcher, Esposito skillfully demonstrated why she’s an in-demand performer. WiG spoke with Esposito about the special and her career in February.
In the realm of comedy, Chicago is known first as the home of improv and then as a place for stand-up. Did you put in your time in the improv scene or did you go directly into stand-up?
I got my start doing improv in Boston during and after college, then moved back to my hometown Chicago, an improv Mecca and never did improv again. I’m 10 years into stand-up and have definitely found my home.
It’s interesting that you did improv in Boston, a city that is well-known for its stand-up comedy scene. Did you partake in the stand-up scene when you lived there?
I did the opposite. Only improv in Boston. Only stand-up in Chicago. Well, stand-up and whiskey and thin crust pizza. That’s right, thin crust in Chicago.
You talk about going to Catholic school in Marriage Material. Were you a class clown?
Nope. Total jock. Three-sport athlete, captain of the swim team, into reading and committed to student government. But I was a big wacky. Like very friendly and wore lots of weird belts.
You include social commentary in Marriage Material on subjects such as guns, marriage and body shaming. What is comedy’s role when it comes to social issues?
I believe comedy is one of the best ways to process pain and inequality. It puts folks at ease in a way that creates real dialogue and movement on issues that, if approached directly, would trigger knee-jerk emotional responses. But, also, comics really just talk about what they’re interested in and I’m most preoccupied with working for social change.
You make references to your haircut in the special. I wanted to ask you to say a few words about the connection between Chicago comedians, such as you and Emo Phillips, and their iconic hairstyles.
Emo still sports his classic cut, which is beautiful to behold in person. My wife and fellow comic, Rhea Butcher, is known for her David Lynch-esque (hair) as well. But other than us, Chicago stand-up is kind of a sea of beards and glasses. Well, a lake, I guess. A lake of beards.
Your show was taped for Seeso in Chicago a couple of days before your wedding to Rhea. What’s it like living in a two-comedian household?
You work in a very Chicago-specific bit about the homophobic Old Navy preacher. How important is it for you to include, as you call it, “local stuff” into your show?
It’s always fun to connect with the audience in a specific city and give them some points for being unique and having a culture all their own. On my side of things, though, the motivation is even stronger. Connecting to each city I’m in keeps stand-up fresh and keeps the challenge alive. And I love a challenge.
Menstruation humor is a big part of your show and you talk about how no one ever makes jokes about it. Are there any subjects that you consider to be off-limits?
(Laughs) “Menstruation humor” is an amazing statement. No, no topics are off limits. However, heavy or taboo topics require special care, attention and clarity. That’s when things go south: when a comic takes on a huge topic without realizing it’s huge.
You and You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk will be collaborating on a series exploring gender and sexuality for FX. What can you tell me about it?
It’s set in Chicago!
That’s it, huh? OK, Cameron. Finally, if Thalia Hall was a drag queen, what would she look like?
Divine in a Bears jersey.