Love is in the air, or maybe, it’s the fact that it’s cold and folks require a warm body to off-set the cost of heating. Whatever the case, February is the month of romance. In the spirit of Target’s Justin Bieber valentine clearance, I bring you Lez Stand Out: The Romance Edition with an adorable couple of lady comics who just happen to also be a couple, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher.
Now I’ve gotten mixed reviews on whether the comedy scene is a good place to pick up the ladies, seeing that it’s seemingly dominated by straight men. I personally have found my queer comedy crushes few and far between and the fact is, the few lady comedians that I have come across are amazing, witty, and taken by other lady comics. Senses of humor are sexy and they are the first to realize that fact. Imagine having two! Endless amounts of belly laughs, knee slapping good times and witty banter. At least, that’s how I imagine Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher’s relationship. Seeing that both ladies are some of the most conversationally natural and honest comedians in the scene, I assume the only difference between their comedy and personal lives is the stage.
Rhea was born funny. And as far back as elementary school, she remembers honing her skills because she wanted to make girls laugh. She’s been a fan of stand-up since she was a wee butcher.
“I always liked stand-up since I was a kid,” Rhea said. “I would watch Stand-Up Spotlight with Rosie O’Donnell on VH1 with my mom constantly. Being from Akron, Ohio, though, it wasn’t really on my radar as something one could really, do. I moved to Chicago in my mid-20s and started in improv. After realizing I didn’t want to always be the mom or the silent girlfriend or just the plain old lesbian, I tried standup and never looked back.”
Cameron wasn’t always the amazing stand-up you see before you. In college, she tried and quickly fell out of love with the group dynamic of improv. Not having a background of seeing the stand-up greats, she just followed her love of speaking in front of people and telling stories. Getting paid the big bucks was an afterthought.
And as one of the most naturally talented comic to ever grace the stages of Chicago and make her way to Los Angeles, Cameron has had her hand and distinct voice in most of Chicago’s comedy pots. She is also on a one-woman mission to help other women break into the business. Noticing there was a gaping hole in the stand-up scene where women should be, and realizing it was hard work to break into the boys club, Cameron started the Feminine Comique, a crash course in stand-up comedy exclusively for women. Using her notoriety from being a cast member of the famed Lincoln Lodge and founding Chicago’s best open mic night at Cole’s Bar, she has always been one to trail blaze the way for female comics, helping them feel comfortable all while finding their own comedic confidence.
That’s how they met, one of Rhea’s first stops in her stand-up comedy career was at Cameron’s open mic night.
“I wooed her with my hilarious jokes and stage presence,” Rhea said. “Just kidding. I think it was my hair. The comedy scene is not a great place for picking up chicks as it is mostly dominated by straight white males who are sadly not my type.”
“We were friends before dating and toured a bit together before dating,” Cameron said. “I’m not sure whether the comedy scene in general is a good place to meet women — I mean there are about eight women total doing comedy — but it was a great place to meet Rhea.”
The rest is a part of sweepy side bang history and it’s not hard to see what attracted them to one another. Fashion mullets and plaid button downs aside, they are both outrageously talented, seriously crush-worthy ladies who, unlike most couples, work together only to create higher levels of awesome. On the occasion they do a show together, they very comfortably play off of each other while continuing to joke about their dating lives. Their recent show at Curious Comedy Theater in Portland, Oregon highlighted both of their senses of humor and showed just how effortlessly they can engage both a crowd and each other.
“I generally try to make myself the punchline, or just keep things kind of light hearted and absurd,” Cameron said. “But it is odd just to even talk about my relationship at all when folks know exactly who I’m talking about. That said, I also think that’s kind of cool. Audiences can meet both of us, hear both sides of a relationship, see that lesbians are not gross or strange but instead awesome with cool boots and kind things to say about one another.”
“I had to throw out all of my ‘take my illegal non-wife, please’ jokes,” Rhea said. “It does feel odd to talk so specifically about your significant other. Usually referring to them is not as specific as ‘You know, the woman that was just talking to you? That’s who I’m talking about.’ It’s definitely a balancing act that I think we’re both still trying to figure out.”
In a field where lesbians can many times be seen as tokens in the comedy arena, Rhea and Cameron are making sure to maintain their own personalities while showing that ladies have a much different and often times more dynamic perspective on what’s funny.
“I think we both try to speak from a place of truth, making fun of stereotypes and also making fun of where and when they apply,” Rhea said. “I try to be conscious not to throw any ‘type’ of lesbians or gay or queer people under the bus. Like I’m butch by hetero terms — I have a joke about that already being my name — so I try to talk about how awesome that is and why I think it’s fun and cool rather than making fun of someone else for say, wearing cargo shorts or something. To each their own; I try to only talk about my own. Also: cargo shorts are very functional!”
“I actually think the lesbian stereotype is pretty outdated,” Cameron said. “Birkenstocks haven’t really been a thing for years. There is a new, hip, artsy type of lesbian stereotype that I love: weird haircuts, tiny flannels, skinny pants and 75 long, drapey necklaces. That is totally in my wheelhouse and I love joking about it.”
They’re also not afraid to shy away from being out or educating a crowd.
“I definitely do [feel a responsibility to educate the general public on the finer points of being queer],” Rhea said. “Gay rights are being talked about constantly in the media, politics and on stage. I think I would not really be doing my job if I avoided talking about being gay for the sake of ‘privacy’ or something like that. I’m super proud of who I am and if I can make people laugh with me and learn a little something about me and my experience in life, that makes me very happy.”
“I figure these are the people that vote on my rights, post kind and terrible comments on message boards,” Cameron said. “They are the people that will raise their kids alongside my future one day kids. And I want them to know me. Because then at least if I have reached out, then I have done my part to work on the hate directed at our community.”
Last year Rhea won the Chicago Queer comedy contest at Zanies. Both ladies have an unmatched and natural level of confidence that allows them to engage any crowd. Their brand of conversational comedy allows them to relate to anyone, quickly erasing any preconceived notion of them being any sort of token on stage. They very much take advantage of the fact that coming out can oft times be a hilarious process that translates to anyone’s coming of age story. They embody their struggles, and as Rhea pointed out, “We ARE those things.” They’ve harnessed the power of being honest in their personal life and use it to relate to audiences. These two ladies exemplify that process of introspection and being comfortable with what you find.
Seeing that they are the first to engage the ladies of Chicago, they of course named some of their peers as their personal favorites, siting Candy Lawrence as the best in Chicago who can always make them laugh as well as The Puterbaugh Sisters.
“Rhea and I have very similar taste in comics, so I’m agreed on all the names she mentioned,” Cameron said. “I also think Wanda Sykes is amazing. And right now I am digging on this LA-based comic called Katie Crown. Keep your eyes open for her — she’s rad. And Rhea is hilarious. Just totally hilarious.
Rhea of course also named Cameron (“She makes everything funny”), which means, I’m right: They do keep each other laughing on and off stage. Which really should go to show that they’ve figured out the secret to lesbian life, processing is better done with punch lines.
You can check out the ladies at Put Your Hands Together, the weekly standup show, Tuesday nights at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater at That’s Rad in Los Angeles. Not in LA? There’s a podcast for that, getting great reviews for being the first weekly podcast of its kind.