Through BuzzFeed's "Ask a Lesbian" video series, biweekly A.V. Club columns ( "Who in the World is Cameron Esposito?" ), and stand-up routines around the countryincluding appearances on "Conan" and "The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson"comic Cameron Esposito ( a former Chicago and Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree ) readily tackles sexism, dating, and coming out, all with a queer edge and an outstanding side mullet.
Windy City Times: What can fans expect from your Jan. 15 comedy show at The Hideout?
Cameron Esposito: I'm trying to have it be all new material, which is challenging. I just put out my most recent album in October, so you want to tour on some new stuff, but it takes a while to write.
WCT: Your fiancé, Rhea Butcher, is opening the show. What's it like working so closely with your partner?
Cameron Esposito: One good thing is that Rhea used to open for me before we were dating. The worst part is trying to do business with somebody that you care about so much. There are many emotions involved, everything is heightened. Traveling together is great, but when traveling goes bad, you're stressed out at each other. I never thought I'd end up with a comic, but it's amazing because she totally understands where I'm coming from and we're going through the same things.
WCT: You're LA-based now, but hail from a suburb of Chicago. What are some of the marked difference between LA's lesbian scene and Chicago's?
Cameron Esposito: I don't really hang out in the gay neighborhoods here. I travel so much, so when I'm in town, I mostly hang out with other comics. In terms of LA's lesbian scene being different, I don't know! Unless they wear more necklaces and sleeveless shirts and eat more kale. But I will say that I used to definitely spend a lot of time in Andersonville and Boystown. It was more mixed into the city in Chicago, where LA is just sprawling. You'd never really be over [in West Hollywood] without having the intention of going there.
WCT: While in Chicago, you started a series of classes for female comics called "Feminine Comique" as a response to Christopher Hitchens' infamous "Vanity Fair" essay, "Why Women Aren't Funny." How did that come about?
Cameron Esposito: There was a big movement. Hitchens' piece got a ton of traction at a time when social media wasn't the same … people were just cutting it out and mailing it to each other, I guess.
WCT: Carrier pigeons.
Cameron Esposito: Yeah, they were sending carrier pigeons! Every news publication published their own response to that story, whether it was the variance in numbers between men and women [comics], or why women don't do more comedy. All female comics were getting phone calls. I think I'd only been doing stand-up for two yearsI certainly wasn't at a professional level and I was fielding phone calls from people that were asking me, "How is it hard to be a woman in comedy?" And the truth is, it's always hard to be a minority. That's a ridiculous thing to ever try to deny. Women were being asked to speak on behalf of all women. Dude comics were reading these articles and there was a lot of backlash happening. So, I wanted to see if I could change the conversations a little bit. I approached Mark Geary, who worked at a now defunct show called "The Lincoln Lodge," to ask if he'd help me put together a class to train women to write their first five minutes of material. The idea was to incubate women's writing skills in a safe place to get them telling jokes for each other to be a little bit more comfortable. And, the wild thing is, it totally works. Crowds of 200 people, about 50/50 male/female, used to come out to see this open mic at Cole's, which is not normal. It was such a great open mic because balance makes everybody better. Eight white, straight dudes in a row, it's going to be really hard for that eighth white, straight dude to seem interesting. Comics of color, queer comics and female comics really help to create a balance where everybody's jokes are better. The class still runs, it's taught by a woman named Kelsie Huff.
WCT: What inspires your act?
Cameron Esposito: I don't know if it works like that. After awhile, it's like learning a language. You just think in jokes, it's a way of training your brain. It's a filter on your world experience and the way you interact with the world.
WCT: Best set ever? Or worst set ever?
Cameron Esposito: Honestly, I can only remember last night. As a comic, it's such a continual process to do this job, you're just focused on your next set. My last set went really well, I had new material I tested out, so I feel like a brilliant stand-up comic today.
WCT: Ask you again next week?
Cameron Esposito: Right. If you totally bomb on your last show, you wonder if you should keep doing it, if you're a terrible comic and also person, and if you should ever get back on stage again.
WCT: Who are some comedians that you look up to?
Cameron Esposito: Maria Bamford is a wonderful comic. She's a really honest, lovely person who is trying to be the best human she can. Huge fan of Sarah Silverman, and also Ellen DeGeneres … I guess that's a ridiculous thing to say in "The Windy City Times," but seeing someone talking about their life honestly, however much she was able to at the time in her entertainment career. She'd just come out, she was battered and bruised and she still reclaimed her connection to comedy, and that was really inspiring.
WCT: You've been called "comedy's next breakout star" by "Chicago Magazine" and the "future of comedy" by Jay Lenohow's that for pressure?
Cameron Esposito: Actually, it doesn't feel like pressure at all. This is a field where most of the time, you don't get any feedback. People will shake your hand and say, "Thanks for the show." You don't have a boss, you don't have quarterly reports, you don't get a raise, nobody to check in with. Comics are loving to each other, and super kind in congratulating each other, but it's a solitary field. You need those moments like that to just feel like a little bit of a sense of relief that you're going in the right direction. Otherwise, you're just yelling into the void like, "Is this working?" Less pressure and more a giant relief!