Cameron Esposito is not the only comic challenging the gendered and outdated standards of stand-up comedy, but she does it with such momentum and charm that it seems like she might be leading the charge.
Her new special–a pay-what-you-can online hour of standup about Esposito’s own experiences with sexual assault, gender roles, and growing up a closeted Catholic lesbian is defiantly titled Rape Jokes; all the proceeds go to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States. She told the Chicago Tribune, “I just want the No. 1 Google result [for that phrase] to actually be a survivor’s story.” (When Googled in August, it was.)
Stand-up comedy remains one of the most difficult entertainment forms for women to break into. Women make up just over 15 percent of Wikipedia’s list of American standup comics, and if you think of traditional stand-up material, you don’t necessarily think of empowered, funny women.
Esposito is part of a growing group of women–including Hannah Gadsby, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro, and Esposito’s own recently-separated wife Rhea Butcher–who are fighting back against both the typical stand-up criteria and the typical stand-up comic himself.
Her comedy, while she proudly proclaims it ‘PC,’ is far from the toothless and feel-good picture that those in the “politically incorrect” camp might paint when preaching the dangers of the #MeToo movement. Instead, she turns the target around on them with a near-mischievous glimmer in her eye:
“There are a lot of people in my field who have a problem with ‘PC culture’ ’cause they’ll say things like”–she brings her voice to a frail whisper and gasps–“‘how can I tell jokes? How can I tell jokes without all these words? I need them.’ And I’ll just say, if there’s any particular word you need to do this job, I am a better stand-up comic than you … I used different words yesterday then I used today!” she exclaims. “Get on my level!“
She tells her own story of survival as someone who sees the importance of sharing and hopes she can connect with others. It’s hard to describe a story like hers as “funny,” but Esposito’s warm-yet-biting humor makes her braver than a comic who uses rape as an abstract punch line.
Though the political is always a strong theme in her material, and often inescapable for her in her everyday life (she acknowledges growing weary of strangers’ reactions to her asymmetrical short haircut and collection of motorcycle jackets), Esposito’s stand-up has plenty of simple human moments too. She can masterfully tie together stories of first love, comedies of bathroom errors, and life as a comedian in the spotlight–weaving them together with wry cultural commentary, snarky impressions, and heartbreaking personal moments.
Her online television show Take My Wife chronicles Esposito and Butcher’s true story of road marriage (touring and doing stand-up together) and domestic marriage. It’s full of the same kinds of tender, inspiring, sharp, and painful breakthrough moments as Esposito’s stand-up, but its future is unknown in the wake of the couple’s separation.
It’s not hard to fall for Esposito, even if you’re not the motorcycle jacket type. She’s energetic, expressive, and strong. Her current tour is named after the former sole description on her Wikipedia page: “Person of Consequence.” She brings it to the Blind Pig on Sept. 29.