Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher are comedy pioneers.
Need proof of how the couple has blazed a trail in the comedy world? Take My Wife, the semi-autobiographical sitcom based on their relationship, employed an all-female writers’ room and nearly half the performing roles were played by out LGBTQ+ actors. These stats don't even scratch the surface of what they accomplished during the program’s two seasons.
But about that second season: The groundbreaking series is without a streaming platform now that its former home, Seeso, has closed up shop. As many eagerly wait by their Twitter feeds for any news about the show’s future, fans have the opportunity to see the married (to each other) duo on their “Back To Back” tour, making its way to Crescent Ballroom on Tuesday, September 26.
“We’re looking forward to showing up and being greeted like the rock stars that we are,” Esposito jokes.
Esposito and Butcher will take the stage separately to chat about love, individuality, politics, and pop culture. And they'll end the evening by performing material together. They have toured together before, but not in this way.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some challenges I have not seen yet," Butcher says. "But I love a good challenge."
As they prepare to hop on the tour bus and hit the road, the couple took a few moments to talk with Phoenix New Times about the pressures of breaking new ground, the politics of comedy, and haircuts. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
New Times: I became reacquainted with your material on a road trip my wife and I took recently. The thing I love about road trips is that they give us the opportunity to talk and learn new things about each other. Do the two of you have a similar experience when you tour together?
Cameron Esposito: We have never gotten that question, so good one. I think that is absolutely true. We have been in so many different types of situations together.
We’ve only been married for a year and a half and been together for five or six years, but it feels a lot longer. We are very lucky to have shared so much.
I would never have expected this for my life; that I would go on a tour bus with my wife, travel the country, see amazing things together, and try to find the vegetarian food in every city.
I can’t help but notice that the one thing the internet has gotten behind is Cameron’s new haircut.
It is this seemingly positive moment for Twitter. Have you been surprised by this?
Esposito: I was so ready for a change. I think part of it is because Take My Wife is not around. I don’t know if you feel this way, but it feels like we are in a new era. It seems to be about moving forward and taking down the walls between us.
This is a serious answer to a haircut question, but I feel like I am a different person than I was a year ago. I think a lot of people feel that way.
That’s true. There’s even a clip I saw on Viceland where Rhea said that getting up on stage can be a political act in itself. When did it start to feel this way for you?
Rhea Butcher: Specifically, I don’t think I sat down at a desk and wrote on a piece of paper that I would make a political statement. It is true that it has felt this way to me, but in a more nebulous way.
The political statement for me when I started was to myself, standing onstage and being honest. I was 28 years old and was out to almost all of my family. I was not super-forward with my queerness necessarily. Getting onstage made me more accepting of myself and allowed for a stronger political statement.
Esposito: When you are in a marginalized or underrepresented group, just asking people to look at you is pretty punk rock. The easiest thing to do when you are in a marginalized group is to make yourself feel small.
I’m not trying to pat us on the back. Anyone who does this job is asking to be looked at, I think that is what Rhea means: that standing on stage is a political act.
I know Ellen [Degeneres] exists and she is on television, but I have never been in a room where a woman with short hair asked people to watch her tell jokes. I thought that was fucking cool and brave.
You are both pioneers in comedy. Do you feel like you have to have to be the expert in LGBT issues or are you still figuring it out?
Butcher: Can I just say thank you for saying that to the two of us because I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that to me. I am genuinely thankful for you saying that to me. I think I am going to cry now.
Esposito: You just made Rhea burst into tears but in a good way.
When I started doing stand-up, it was when people started talking about marriage equality. It was legal in probably one or two states. I found that I would be on a show with eight straight white dudes and they would all have a joke about marriage equality. I realized that if I did not speak up that nobody on that particular show would be speaking from a first-person perspective.
Sure, there’s pressure. I look to other voices and queer people too. I’ll retweet people or hire them to work on our show so we’re not closing the door behind us. I’m just glad I have this space and people want to listen to me. That was not always true. People made laws about what my life would be like without hearing from queer people. It is an enormous privilege.
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Butcher: I am no longer crying so thank you. [laughs] You can print that I started crying. I would prefer it that you do.
I totally agree with my wife, as I usually do. I’ve always wanted to make some sort of statement and show people like me that they are not alone. Musicians and performers have helped me figure myself out like The Gossip, Le Tigre, and Chris Pureka. All three have gender-queer members in the band or are gender-queer musicians. Seeing them was a huge step forward for me spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I wanted to be a part of that.
My biggest fear is making a mistake and saying the wrong thing. The one thing that makes me not worried is that I know I will make mistakes and I am open to being corrected and having conversations. It is all about evolution and we are trying to figure things out.
Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher are scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, September 26, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $35 via their website.