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Catching Up With Comedian Cameron Esposito

By Matt Byrne in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 3, 2013 4:20PM


It's been just over a year since comedian Cameron Esposito made the big move from Chicago to Los Angeles, and a lot has changed for her since then. She hosts two successful podcasts, the live standup showcase/interview show Put Your Hands Together, and the action movie-themed chat show Wham Bam Pow, and was named one of the top 12 comedy acts to watch in 2013 by LA Weekly.

After a strong set opening for Maria Bamford at Just For Laughs Chicago last month, Esposito returns to the city this Friday, July 5 for her first hometown headlining gig since her move. In anticipation of the show (dubbed Freedom Fest), Chicagoist caught up with Cameron to chat about her recent experiences in the ever-evolving industry, and some of her most exciting upcoming and ongoing projects.

Cameron Esposito performs July 5 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 9 p.m., Tickets on sale now.

Chicagoist: Now that you've lived in Los Angeles for a while, do you find yourself in a different headspace than when you lived in Chicago? There are way more people making a living off of writing and performing comedy in LA, how does that influence the general demeanor of the day-to-day community?

Cameron Esposito: I'm in a massively different headspace, yes. Chicago is a great city for standup because there is a real "you're either with us or against us" vibe going on. To be considered a working standup in Chicago, you have to be going out every night, most nights you should try for multiple shows. That's really the only way to be a part of the Chicago comedy scene: in person, at show (and at the bar afterward).

In Chicago, standups can make money at shows, even if it's 20 bucks here, 75 there or a pile of drink tickets. The scene in Chicago makes comics work hard on their jokes and stage presence. You have to push to constantly elevate to the next level of live bookings.

By contrast, Los Angeles has a larger industry beyond live performance: television, film, even commercials, and there is no real money to be made off of live spots. I guess it's like training hard & then hoping your training lasts until you can be regularly training again, because to be a comic in LA means splitting time and focus between live performance and all the other parts of a career that are available with industry support. Chicago is a city for standup; LA is a city for comedy, a portion of which is standup.

C: You're the host of Put Your Hands Together, a really awesome podcast that gives folks that live outside of LA the chance to hear the comics they know from podcasts, Twitter, and elsewhere do actual standup. How did the show come together? Is it still sort of surreal to work with so many talented performers week after week or has it become more or less normalized now that you've done it for several months?

CE: I feel pretty comfortable at UCB and with the other standups on the show now. I guess maybe the part that is surreal is that sometimes my co-producer will book a great comic that I don't know yet and then our first meeting will be backstage at the show. That feels very cool, being immediately able to perform alongside someone the first time you meet them. I think that's the best way a comic could meet another comic: through material. 

It came together through a series of meetings, a series of pitches & some good timing. My co-producer, Ryan McManemin, is one half of A Special Thing records. He has been in LA's comedy scene for a long time and I just arrived, I think there's a good balance of established processes and new ideas. He's amazing to work with.

Rhea Butcher, another former Chicago comic, also works on the show. She runs things backstage and often does time on the show. Ryan takes care of a lot of business and tech stuff. I host the show and do the backstage interviews. Basically, there isn't really time to freak out about who's around; we've got a 3 person team pushing 75 minutes of stage time into a cohesive show.

C: You've gotten a lot of recognition over the last few months for a series of thoughtful essays you've written about your thoughts on the ongoing "rape joke" debate, as well as the recent overturning of DOMA. Do you find it easier to compile your thoughts on these serious matters in one of these written pieces than into your standup, where there's an expectation for a certain amount of jokes per minute? Were you at all surprised by the response these pieces have gotten?

CE: I had been writing essays to read at live lit events in Chicago for several years before moving but I never put them out anywhere. I just had to write that piece about rape jokes because I didn't see the point to many of the arguments I was reading on the topic. It was comics vs. feminists, whatever that means. I've long thought that comics should tell whatever jokes or whatever topics they want to, but not be offended if their jokes offend; it's not censorship to have an opinion about a comic's jokes. There is just no other thought on the subject that makes sense to me.

I was hugely surprised by the response the essay got and I didn't expect so many comics I look up to and respect to give a shit about my thoughts. Same with the DOMA essay. I've sat through years of straight comics talking about equal marriage as if it was a topic or premise, not my life. I just really wanted to make the issue personal, to get ahead of the Chik Fil-A and dog marriage jokes a bit.

Jokes are great, but comics are also real people with real lives. I just want to do whatever is possible to be more honest and more real with my comedy and with my life.

C: Your other podcast, Wham Bam Pow, is a part of the MaximumFun media family. You're also performing on their Atlantic Comedy Fest, a comedy and music festival that takes place on board a cruise ship, later this Summer. Have you ever been a part of anything like that before? What part of this unique thing are you most excited for? Indie comedy celebrity shuffleboard? Fruity drinks with Dan Deacon?

CE: Ha! Nope. I've never been on a cruise. I've definitely never been on an alt comedy cruise where I might be just hanging around with Marc Maron & Eugene Mirman all in our bathing suits. That's actually what gets me about the cruise, we are going to be in bathing suits or shorts or summer wear at some or all points. I just can't even imagine. I can't wait to check out everyone's nipples.

C: Freedom Fest is one of your first headlining sets in Chicago since you moved. What can folks expect when they come out to the show?

CE: I am working toward recording a new album in early 2014 and I want to use material I've been generating for PYHT. So it's going to be as much new stuff as I can possibly slam into a 45 minute set. Because of the podcast, the whole evolution of this material will be pretty visible. For me, as a comic, that's the interesting stuff: the firming up of thoughts, the swapping out the ending. I'm excited about the show.