Full disclosure: I’ve known Cameron Esposito for the better part of a decade when we both lived in Chicago. At the time, she was still fairly new to comedy, and I was running an online magazine for local lesbians with my now ex-girlfriend. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Cameron perform in all kinds of venues, from hosting circus gigs to legit comedy clubs to last night’s album release show at the Roxy in West Hollywood. And while it may seem to some like she’s having some kind of overnight success with appearances on late night shows, two upcoming series in the works and a major role in the all-star comedy Mother’s Day, the feminist lesbian comic who proudly rocks a side-mullet and tailored men’s jackets has been working hard for this well-deserved moment, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Cameron’s new comedy special Marriage Material, released yesterday on NBC Universal’s new streaming service Seeso, is truly a perfect example of her brand. Shot in Chicago two days before she married fellow comic Rhea Butcher, the special is an hour of accessible but progressive-themed jokes that include but are not limited to gun control, sexual identity, periods and (of course) relationships.
“I had a boyfriend,” Cameron says of high school, “but I also had, like a best friend.” She’s talking about the kind of best friend who she slept in the same bed with (despite there being 11 other empty and available beds in the house), and who enjoyed putting on their boyfriends’ football jerseys and tackling each other “in friendship.” This kind of shared experience has queer women laughing in acknowledgement, and straight people laughing at the absurdity. And while a Cameron Esposito audience is always sure to include a lot of “haircuts,” as she pointed out at last night’s show, there are also a good amount of dudes and girlfriends and what I can only assume are allies who are interested in hearing a confident, funny, dogmatic woman sharing thoughts on why she thinks Hillary Clinton haters should stop saying they hate her instead of hating something she stands for.
So many comics use self-deprecation to make themselves the butt of a joke, and inevitably, it works (not just for women, but especially for women). Cameron is the anti-thesis of belittlement; she comes across as proud and self-assured, which is ultimately read as powerful. This doesn’t mean she can’t poke fun at herself, although it’s always more of a humblebrag than a true dig (for instance, she was the captain of her swim team in high school, but only because she was well-liked, not actually good at swimming), but that begs the question why we expect comics—women comics—to have to play down their successes and instead, point out their failures? Is it because failure is more “funny”?
Cameron Esposito is succeeding, and she’s doing so without apology. Marriage Material offers up a kind of connection queer women will appreciate that doesn’t lead to themselves being the punchline, because in Cameron’s comedy, it’s more about the limited ideas some people have about what it means to be a woman or a lesbian or a human being. Anyone willing to listen to that kind of educated comedy should, and that’s something I can tell you has been in Cameron’s set-list for years.