Cameron Esposito is an up-and-coming lesbian comedian who recently made her debut network TV appearance on Craig Ferguson's "The Late Late Show."
The stand-up artist had the performance of a lifetime with Jay Leno, an unexpected guest on the show, interrupting the comedian and inviting her to come sit with him and Ferguson. And once she joined them, the duo had a startling -- and awesome -- declaration for her: white, straight men are on their way out and "lesbians rule," with Leno claiming that Esposito and her peers are the future of comedy.
The Huffington Post recently caught up with Esposito to discuss her groundbreaking television debut, as well as her own endeavors within the comedic spectrum and the role she expects LGBT comics will play in the push for full equality and inclusion for all LGBT people.
The Huffington Post: In your performance on “The Late Late Show” earlier this month, Jay Leno called you and your peers “the future of comedy,” a pretty remarkable statement. How did all of that come about?
Cameron Esposito: So it was on Craig Ferguson’s show and Jay Leno was the other guest on there. It was pretty unusual because late night hosts don’t often have time or space in their lives to guest on each other’s shows -- they are often recording at the same time or working their little buns off in general. That was pretty unusual and then especially with Jay’s retirement coming up –- just probably kind of a special moment anyways because I think he’s about to go through a big change in his career. It was also a special moment in my life because it was my network TV debut –- my first time doing stand up on network television. So you have a dude who’s leaving his network TV job for, I’m sure, other things in the future and then me just starting my career.
In terms of being labeled the “future of comedy itself,” how did it make you, as an LGBT comic, feel?
Well, number one, I totally agree with him! [Laughs] You know, there’s a couple of different things with that. I was of course nervous to just be on TV and have that many eyes on my stand-up for the first time. But also, Jay and Craig actually stayed to watch me, which late night hosts don’t always do and certainly the guests don’t do. So that was kind of wild because I really wanted to play to them –- you know, when you’re a comic you’re really trying to make the other comics laugh. And best possible result I guess is that the comics you’re trying to impress would then call you the future of comedy, right? That’s the best possible result! Kind of surreal and unexpected. But also, I really like that the way it came up was we were talking about my identity as a lesbian and then I also look like a tiny woman between the two of them. I mean, really, the photos are kind of wild because it’s these two older-than-me dudes who are much bigger. But the reason that they said it is because the impetus was kind of like straight white guys like us are on the way out –- I think that’s actually what Craig said. And then Jay said, “Yeah, you’re the future of comedy” and then, you know, when you are a woman in this field you don’t have numbers behind you necessarily –- not to say audience support, I just mean more men get this job than women. And it is really excellent to have two people that have had such legendary and successful careers as those gentleman realize that there is something that a female voice can offer. I definitely felt that in what they were saying -- it was really cool. I mean they were joking – but were they? [Laughs]
As LGBT people are gradually folded more and more into mainstream social and political life, what role do you see LGBT or queer comics playing in this push for full equality?
I think that any time you’re using humor to connect with people you have them relaxing a little bit. They are having fun so it’s a great time to also come in and change their minds about some things. I love the approach of getting in people’s faces and protesting and making noise, but it’s just a companion to that approach. Which is not sugarcoating anything -- I mean my comedy is pretty honest and pretty political as well, but we’re all laughing together so maybe nobody feels as upset by my very threatening lesbian sexuality [laughs]. If you can just calm people down a little bit, like, "Listen, it seems like maybe lesbians are scary but I’m really small and I have a smiley face and also my life is just normal. I’m just a normal person and I’m good and I’m bad and there’s nothing about the fact that I’m with a woman that should concern you or is actually any of your business."
I would also say that I primarily work in the sphere of alternative comedy, which actually has nothing to do with LGBT or anything like that –- not that kind of alternative. It’s more like I work at the UCB Theatre, which is Amy Poehler’s theater out here in Los Angeles. A lot of the kinds of people that would come through there would be like a Sarah Silverman or Aziz Ansari type of person -- I’ve had them on the shows. It’s less of a strict set up and punch line -- like think less Seinfeld and more Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari. The reason I bring that up is because it’s actually pretty different than gay comedy shows -- gay comedy shows don’t really take place in the same neighborhood as those shows. I like that I’m on shows where most people are straight and performing for a mixed audience because, for my particular sensibility, most of my friends are straight, actually –- I also have a lot of gay friends. But I like talking to people that might come from a different perspective and I think, especially as a comic, when you work for social change, being in a more mixed environment is a really great way to get everybody on board.
Building off that a little bit and incorporating what you talked about with alternative comedy, since you identify as a member of the LGBT community is there a specific way that your comedic style is framed through that identity?
I guess I would say partially my answer is all of it, like even the fact that I have a sense of humor at all –- if in watching my things it makes you believe I have a sense of humor -- which I do! [Laughs] You know, humor is a coping mechanism for when things are hard and a lot of comics overdevelop their sense of humor because there’s been a time in their life that they felt particularly vulnerable. And so when I was a little gay kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, and then also happened to -- during that time of my life -- have crossed-eyes and wear an eye patch –- just imagine a little kind of rough-and-tumble little bumbling kid with an eye patch who is also pretty confused about why she feels the way she does about the world. My point is, you learn to joke so people don’t laugh at you first. You learn to be funny so that you’re the one making the jokes and you can stay ahead of the game –- almost like a safety issue, honestly. If you really ask, all comics have their things that helped them develop their sense of humor and I think for me a big part of it was being gay.
Would you like to talk a bit about your “Put Your Hands Together” podcast and your position as host. What can listeners can expect if they decide to tune into it?
What’s awesome about the show that I’m so proud of is that it’s a first of it’s kind stand-up podcast where we record a live show and then we put that out [as soon after the live show as] we can for people to listen to. And what’s really rad about this is that if you live in LA you might have a chance to see some really great comedy. If you live in say Kansas City, Kansas, then you might not have a chance to see eight different great comics. You might just see one comic when they come through every two or three years. And so it’s a really weird exporting of the scene that’s happening in LA, New York, Chicago, Denver –- some of the bigger comedy meccas, but specifically LA because a lot of really successful, famous comics just live here so you can get them to come to your show! [Laughs] We do short sets on there so it’s not going to be anybody’s album, it’s not going to be their hour comedy central special –- it’s a way of checking in with your favorite comics and finding out what they’re doing right now and hearing either their jokes or sometimes they’ll do an interview with people that are on the show. So it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty new. The UCB took a real risk on us. They have a very successful long-running show called “Comedy Bang Bang” that ended after a decade because they got a television show on IFC and that show is going so well that I think it just became really hard for them to also put on a live show every week. Anyways, we took a risk, we stepped in and it’s been great!
Who are some people involved with that podcast?
I host it every week and it is co-produced by Brian McManemin from A Special Thing Records and also we have an actual show producer, Rhea Butcher. So the three of the really put the show on and the people that you can expect to come through – we’ve had Bobcat Goldthwait, Maria Bamford, Paul Tompkins, Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Anthony Jeselnik, Bob Odenkirk –- specifically for alternative comedy, those are some of the biggest names there are. And we’re just really happy about being able to get those people to come to the show -– it’s so awesome!
In terms of the future, where do you see yourself going? What is next for Cameron Esposito?
First of all, I’m going to keep getting on your television in a bunch of different ways -- that’s the hope. And I’m going to keep podcasting in a bunch of different ways and the exciting thing about being where I am right now in my career is I have a bunch of different projects going on and I have no idea what will gain momentum at what time or what things will go first. There’s a lot you can expect from me. I also think, and here’s where I’m quoting Jay Leno, that I’m the future of comedy so I think you’ll probably see me on late night TV someday! That’s the hope -- that’s the goal.