River Butcher is a comedian, actor and writer born and raised in Akron, Ohio, and who is returning to his roots for a one-night stand-up act at The Den Theatre on Friday, March 11.
Butcher began performing improv at The Second City then took their act to other local venues in Chicago including Zanies, The Hideout and The Lincoln Lodge.
Butcher co-hosted with comedian Cameron Esposito the web series She Said for Amy Poehler's Smart Girls Network. Their relationship together was explored more with Take My Wife, on streaming service Seeso. Another co-host gig on a podcast with Esposito titled Put Your Hands Together was recorded weekly at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in LA until it ended in 2019.
His first comedy album, Butcher, was released in 2016 and debuted at number one on iTunes. Television appearances include Adam Ruins Everything on TruTV and a spinoff of The Fosters called Good Trouble.
This multitalented trans man uses pronouns that include they/them as well as he/his. Butcher discussed their life in the business of comedy before an 11 year anniversary this August, describing it as, "It feels like a lifetime and brand new all at the same time!"
Windy City Times: Hi, River. Where in the world are you?
River Butcher: I am in Toronto right now.
WCT: How is traveling with everything going on in the world today?
RB: Traveling to Canada is very different than before. I will say that [laughs]! I had to prove that I am here for work.
I like traveling with masks because people are quieter. You have to find the silver lining when you can. I feel like people are more chilled out on a plane with a mask on.
WCT: As far as germs it seems more sanitary on an airplane to wear masks, doesn't it?
RB: Yes. I have been traveling with stand-up since 2014 and I was getting to the point where I was sick a lot. I was already starting to wear masks. These days, I wear a mask outside to protect myself and the tour. I haven't been sick for three years!
WCT: What hot topics are you tackling on this tour?
RB: I just put out a half-hour special with Comedy Central called A Different Kind of Dude. A little material taken from the top is about my recent transition. I would like to go more into that experience and what it has been like while in a pandemic. That is a hot topic to me at least. I have always talked about gender. I have experienced gender a lot in my life and I feel it is relatable for people.
I would like to flip the script because there are so many cisgender comics out there that are talking about transgender people. Similar to my experience before where male comics were talking about female comics or straight people were talking about gay people, white cisgender men have used us as topics, but in queer culture, those things are really just our lives and not hot topics. My comedy is always about presenting experiences, not topics.
I used to think I should be more universal and get into the mainstream, but then I realized anything can be universal, so I talk about my experiences and people can get on board with that or not. We have all been missing the live experience of standup and this is what I do.
WCT: You are describing your style of stand-up act as conversational to the audience. Do you like the audience to engage with you by talking?
RB: No. I do have a conversation style, but I do write jokes. I have setups and punchlines. That momentum gets messed up when people speak out.
I am also not a tyrant on the stage though. During my comedy special, a guy talked about his life and it was so big that I had to address it. I have that happen a lot.
I create a very queer space in my stand-up and people sometimes feel a part of something that they don't always feel when they are out in the world. Speaking back to me may happen more in that type of situation.
WCT: How do you feel your stand-up audiences have evolved in terms of respecting the LGBTQ+ community?
RB: It is interesting because the goal of comedy is for people to pay to come to see you. They know who I am, so that's not a problem. There's not a conflict there because they know what they are getting into.
If I were opening for a nonqueer comic then things would be different. That is the journey of the marginalized comedian to do both.
Audiences are very smart now because of the information on the Internet. I have to bring my A-game. I like to put out content in a live setting so that is what my audiences are there for. To be out on the road with joyful moments is what I like to create for people.
WCT: With people finally seeing comedy live again, do you feel an eager vibe from the audience when you enter the stage?
RB: Yes, but there is still a hesitancy. My audiences are generally considerate and concerned about the pandemic. They usually relax at some point so we can have a good time together.
WCT: How was playing a non-binary character on Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts?
RB: It was a lot of fun! I love voice acting and would like to do more of it. I am one of a pair of twins on the show and was told it was a non-binary character before I took the role. When I first watched the finished product the other cartoon character had long hair and I thought it was my character. I had gender dysmorphia over a ponytail even though that wasn't even my character.
WCT: How was working on Netflix's Friendsgiving?
RB: Jane Seymour was so much fun to hang out with, along with Ryan Hansen. The dinner scene was fun to shoot and watch everyone have a good time while it was filmed.
WCT: You have made many podcasts over the years. Would you like to make another one?
RB: Yes, I would like to do another one because I feel it is something I am good at. I miss my baseball podcast all the time. I just grew tired of always talking about baseball, not on the podcast, but everywhere else in the world. I kept guesting on other podcasts and talked too much about baseball. Don't turn your hobby into a job. If you want to love something purely then keep it where it is and just enjoy it.
WCT: What were your thoughts on the podcast on HBO's And Just Like That…?
RB: It thought it was funny and pretty accurate until they did a call-in segment. That is not how we do that.
WCT: What are you working on for the rest of 2022?
RB: I have stand-up dates in March and April. I will be headlining the Netflix Is A Joke Festival in LA. I will put together an hour set for that appearance and see how it goes.
I am working on a pilot episode for a show and hope to make another comedy special soon!
Catch River Butcher in the act at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., on The Heath Mainstage on Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. (The original date was Friday, March 11.) For tickets, visit TheDenTheatre.com or RiverButcher.com, or call 773-697-3830.