Cameron Esposito makes ’em laugh (queerly)

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday March 17, 2011

Though out stand-up comic and self-described "purveyor of fine jokes" Cameron Esposito, the pride of queer Chicago, is still an up-and-coming name on the comedy scene, she's already managed to make quite a name for herself for her fast-paced, free-flowing giggle-busting comedy sets.

Producer of comedy for the Windy City's longest-running alt comedy showcase at the Lincoln Lodge, Esposito has also participated in Just For Laughs Chicago, Aspen Rooftop and will be heading to the renowned Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, Ore., next month. Her comedy has also been featured on LOGO while her debut album, Grab Them Aghast, was also released last year. We're also pretty sure her impressively coiffed, asymmetrical haircut has a growing fan base somewhere on the Internet.

In preparation for an upcoming comedy showcase dedicated to the oft-overlooked St. Joseph's Day, an Italian holiday, Esposito took a break from a busy schedule of shows and other commitments and offered some insight into her budding career as one of the country's most promising young lesbian comics.

Why stand-up?

EDGE: I understand you first got into stand-up through improv. What motivated you to first get up on a stage in front of others? What was it about performing that excited you?

Cameron Esposito: I guess it’s just that I was always a funny kid and I never was, like, a jock in high school or someone or did plays or anything like that. When I was in college, my best friend convinced me to try and go on stage. I’d always wanted to but just hadn’t done it because it’s a big jump between just entertaining your friends and being paid to do it on a stage. I just pretended it was all her idea, and not some deep-seeded desire I had though. So I joined a college improv group and loved it and it was perfect for me. Ever since then, it’s been something I just couldn’t turn my back on.

EDGE: Do you remember how your first stand-up gig went? What was your first joke?

CE: At the same time I was starting to do stand-up, I was just sort of coming out, so my first set was a lot about the reaction I was getting from people about coming out and I think it was too hard for me to talk about it in a non-funny way, so I just started joking about it. I thought it went very well, but I think that to do stand-up, you have to start with some delusion on your side in general. You’re thinking, "Oh, I’m nailing it! It’s going great," and then a moment later you’re like... Well, I got one laugh in in those last five minutes so maybe it’s not going as well as I thought.

EDGE: And there’s the stereotype of stand-up comedians turning to the field as a bit of a proxy for seeking therapy.

CE: I don’t know, I think that can be very true, but I think there’s just one more step to that. It’s not necessarily that I’m always putting the audience in the position of "Listen to me or I’m going to explode!" I think sometimes different people are able to communicate in different ways, so for stand-ups there’s truth to the fact that a lot of stand-ups I know are actually kind of shy, private people who are fun to be around interpersonally but have the easiest time sort of unburdening themselves of their truest passion in a big group, instead of a small one. There’s something to be said for communication styles and for me it’s easiest to communicate with either one or 400 people.

EDGE: I just watched this YouTube video of you where this guy in the audience was shouting something heckler-ish toward you. How do you deal with that sort of energy when you’re on stage?

CE: I think because I’m in a minority category that that’s half of the fun, just being like, "Oh, lay it on me," because at this point I feel like I’ve been training for this for years. Like really, legitimately in the gym with Rocky-style punching bags, except it’s all in my mind. I don’t want to get up there and say a big "Fuck you" to the audience, but at the same time, if somebody’s going to challenge me on something, I can just be like, "Well, sir..." It’s actually fun because I think that’s part of the conversation going on. I like to hear back from people.

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Watch this YouTube clip of Cameron Esposito:

All about Fem Com

EDGE: Has your family been supportive of your path as a stand-up comic?

CE: My parents are awesome people. My mom is a preschool teacher and my dad is a lawyer so they lead very normative lives and somehow, between my older sister, a dancer; my younger sister, an actor and me, they end up going to a lot of stuff. My family has been very supportive. When I first started, my older sister, a lawyer by day, would run the lights and sound.

EDGE: Do you ever talk about your family in your act? I know you’ve mentioned in a previous interview that you try to avoid family, close friends and relationships in your material.

CE: I used to do very specifically personal jokes and then I had this huge breakup and I realized I had put myself in this position where I had all this material where I have to talk about how wonderful this specific person is. I’ve also invited my parents to shows when I first started and had material about them and I’d see their little faces just being like "Aw, man!" Over time, I just tried to get to the heart of the interaction and less about that specific person because it turns out you’ll quickly run out of friends if you make fun of them all the time.

EDGE: Do people tell you to not talk about certain interactions you have on stage?

CE: Fifty- and 60-year-olds say that a lot, or they’ll ask me to tell them a joke, on demand, at a social function. That never works. There’s too much pressure on that one person listening and usually just results in a lot of polite chuckles.

EDGE: You are behind a unique program geared toward female comics called Fem Com, which it appears you just brought to Cambridge, Mass. How was that program started and what were the goals behind it?

CE: The impetus for the program was a couple of years ago when there was this big rash of articles that came out carrying all these articles about why more women weren’t doing comedy and wondering if women were even funny. Tons of female stand-ups were being interviewed on all sides of the issue and people started asking me a lot of questions about it, but I think the thing about it is that a lot of women don’t do comedy because they don’t know where to start or the ratio of men to women is so overwhelming to begin with that it’s really discouraging.

But if you say that in a publication, your male comic friends and co-workers will be like, hey, we’re nice guys and it was hard for us too. It didn’t seem like a productive conversation so I decided instead to try and give more women the skills and confidence to write their first five minutes of material and just get more women out there to see if that changes the dynamic. There’s always safety in numbers, and that continues to be the goal of the program. Over 100 women have gone through the program here in Chicago and I’ve taught it in Boston for two years in a row. It’s so rewarding to see them out and about on the scene supporting each other. It’s become a bit of a community within a community.

EDGE: In addition to the stereotype I mentioned earlier about comics in general, there are stereotypes about lesbian comics too. Do you have any favorite ones? Do you think there’s any truth to any of them to you?

CE: Well, number one, people always tell me I sound like Paula Poundstone, which I think is funny because I love her but I don’t know if you can hear brown hair and a tie in someone’s voice. The funny thing that can happen sometimes that I like watching is seeing straight dudes on a date trying to deal with the fact that there’s a female comic on the stage. If I out myself on stage, which is not a big deal since I just talk about my life, it’s like he thinks I’m looking at his woman while he’s on a date with her. I just want to be like, "Listen, she’s not even my type. Enjoy." It brings me joy in watching that happen, it’s like there’s still something negative about a dude laughing at a chick.

EDGE: Do you have any favorite examples of gigs gone wrong? What about your favorite gigs you’ve had to this point?

CE: I will say this one time I was doing a show and it started with a group prayer so I knew it was not going to go as well as I might have visualized. We’ll just say that one ended up being not so good. When it ended, I headed directly to the door and out to the street. In terms of positive experiences, I feel lucky that a lot of cool stuff has happened to me. I had the opportunity to perform in South Africa a couple years ago, which was unbelievable because I thought I wasn’t sure if my stuff was going to translate. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it is such an achievement when you can cross the boundaries that separate different humans.

EDGE: Tell me what you have planned for this St. Joseph’s Day show in Chicago this weekend. I understand you may have some family performing with you?

CE: My older sister will be in the house, my parents are coming and my dad may even be convinced to sing. He sings adorably and is a tenor, a strong tenor. I come from this Italian family and there’s this Italian holiday two days after St. Patrick’s Day and as a little kid going to Catholic school, my dad encouraged us to wear red to celebrate St. Joseph’s and green for St. Patrick’s. My dad is really excited.

There’s going to be Italian sausage-themed striptease, a lot of mustaches, some red wine and a lot of my comic friends are doing special sketch or character work that’s all loosely Italian-themed. I told them that can be whatever that means to you. It’s going to be utter silliness for those wanting to take a break from peeing on cars. Come down to the Lodge and pee in the bathroom like civilized people!

Cameron Esposito headlines hosts the Esposito Family Spicy Meatball Comedy Show, celebrating St. Joseph’s Day with some laughs, Friday, March 18 at the Lincoln Lodge, 4008 N. Lincoln Avenue, in Chicago. Visit or for more information on the show and other opportunities to see Esposito perform.

Watch this YouTube clip of Cameron Esposito at the MO Show:

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.

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