Interview: Stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito

Talking sexuality and joke writing with the rapidly ascending comedy star.

RAGHAV MEHTA
Updated 5/4/2015

Stand-up comedian Cameron Esposito isn’t shy about her sexual orientation.

Not anymore, at least.

It took years for the 33-year-old comic to even realize she was gay – 20 to be precise. Raised in a predominately white area of suburban Chicago, Esposito, who is headlining Acme Comedy Club this Tuesday, never knew any gay people growing up. She didn't struggle with sexual identity or gender politics; in fact, she frequently describes herself as being something of a quiet jock in high school. She even spent her senior year dating the captain of the football team.

“I played on a zillion sports teams but otherwise I was pretty shy, so I spent lots of time reading and a ton of time watching TV,” Esposito explained over the phone.

Since her much-blogged-about TV debut on “The Late Show with Craig Ferguson” last year, wherein Jay Leno deemed her “the future” of comedy, Esposito has become a fixture on the national stand-up circuit. After spending years toiling in the scene in Chicago, she relocated to Los Angeles in 2012 where she quickly gained traction. Despite numerous late-night appearances, a 19-city tour with Anthony Jeselnik and a recent guest role on IFC’s “Maron,” she's still figuring some things out.

“I’m still finding my audience. Specifically in the last year, a lot more gay folks come out to shows and that was never really true,” Esposito, who also pens a consistently insightful column for the A.V. Club, explained. “I came up in a lot of alternative comedy rooms and clubs like Acme where there are more straight people in the audience, because generally there are just more straight people in the world.”

Esposito’s commanding stage presence coupled with her aggressively personal storytelling is what makes her such an intriguing new voice in comedy. And while her worldview is certainly influenced by her sexual orientation, it doesn’t define her material.

“As you can tell by my haircut, I am a ThunderCat ... and also a giant lesbian! Of course I am, of course I am. I have a side-mullet. I look like most of Portland’s men,” Esposito declared emphatically on her critically acclaimed 2014 album, “Same Sex Symbol.”

She’s not a one-note wonder, though; she’s not just “the lesbian comic.” Esposito's act is specific but also accessible. From militant feminists to diehard comedy nerds, she draws an audience that is at once diverse and impassioned.

“Because I’m a woman, women come see me. Because I’m a gay person, gay people come see me. But also hardcore comedy fans come out and those are mostly straight men," she explained. "So, I really like this new mix of people. That’s what is really rewarding to me, to get a bunch of different kinds of people to laugh at the same thing. That’s when you know you’ve written a really good joke - when it’s universal but still specific to your personal experience.”

In a creative climate that’s long been dominated by straight white males, Esposito is at the forefront of a progressive movement in comedy. It’s an industry in the midst of a cultural sea change. That’s not to say America is fully caught up, however. Esposito still occasionally faces discrimination at shows. In Las Vegas last year, an audience member interrupted her set by yelling “You are the devil!” and storming out. She’s also routinely asked if she’s concerned about being pigeonholed as “the lesbian comic.”

“I get questions like, ‘Why do you talk about your sexuality so much?’ And it’s frustrating because all comics talk about their sexuality,” Esposito said. “Straight guys are always talking about dating and because most people are straight people, they don’t even realize that they’re talking about their sexuality. So, I’m just doing the same thing as everyone else.”

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