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Comedian Cameron Esposito Might Be The Most Chicago Person Who Lives In L.A.

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 22, 2016 3:12PM

Cameron Esposito (left) and her wife Rhea Butcher (photo courtesy of Jessica Nicola)

Comedian Cameron Esposito blew the lid off the nationwide period cover-up. In a joke heard across the internet (embedded below), she explains once and for all: periods are gross as hell. “I wake up in the night, and I am bleeding!” she says in the bit. “Out of my body! A crime scene!”

Later, she hammers the final nail into the maybe-periods-are-beautiful coffin: “CHUNKS!”

Like most comics, Cameron currently lives in Los Angeles. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs, though, and spent years based here, performing at venues like the Hideout (where I first saw her) and Cole’s. Even now that she’s moved away, she stays true to her Chicago roots. She filmed Marriage Material, her new special that comes out on Seeso Thursday, at Thalia Hall—and two days later, she and her wife, Rhea Butcher, got married at the Hideout.

A few days before her special’s release, I talked with Cameron about her wedding, her upcoming projects, and her go-to place for Chicago-style veggie dogs.

What do you miss most about Chicago, now that you’re based in LA?

I miss the community that Chicago has. LA is a wonderful place to live if you do this job, and I’m so happy to live here, but there isn’t really public transit, or bike culture, or cool bars that people hang out in. I miss just, the public meeting places, the parks and the boulevards, how every corner of every street is a street festival in the summer. In LA, people socialize at home more, so it’s very deliberate. You have to make plans, and that’s fine. But god, I love the fact that in Chicago, you can just show up to Cole’s in Logan Square and know that you’re going to see people there that you know.

In your special, you talk about growing up in the Chicago suburbs. Which Chicago suburb did you grow up in, and what was its, like, claim to fame?

I grew up in Western Springs, Illinois. That’s about 15 miles due west of the city. I suppose its claim to fame when I was a kid there is that David Hasselhoff went to high school there. Eventually also Bo Jackson moved there, and his kids went to school there as well. He's clearly... he's one of the most talented athletes of all time. (Editor's note: Bo Jackson is one of the only American athletes to be an All-Star in two sports, baseball and football. Now you know)

Growing up in Western Springs, what was your sense of Chicago? Did you think of it as an exciting place? A scary place?

My dad had an office in the city, we went there often, and then my mom was very into arts and culture so we would come down and go to museums or plays. So I went to the Art Institute a bunch when I was a kid, and the Museum of Science and Industry. I think I felt like Chicago was really big. Like that the buildings were huge and that it was a giant city. Chicago is, obviously, is one of the largest cities in America, but I think it just has a real small-town feel when you live there.

When did you move to Chicago proper to do comedy?

When I was 24, right before my 25th birthday. Ten years ago, actually. My sister lived in Humboldt Park, and was looking for a roommate, and I was going to grad school at the University of Chicago, getting my social work masters, which I then dropped out of.

What prompted you to drop out? Were you doing comedy on the side?

I was. I started doing comedy in college in Boston, doing improv, and then I got my first job doing it professionally the day after I graduated from school, but I didn’t understand that comedy was job you could actually have. Like it could be your primary thing. So during all that time I had day jobs, and then I moved to Chicago thinking like, yeah, I’ll just... do two jobs. I’ll be a school counselor during the day, and I’ll be a comedian at night. What I realized was that this is actually a job you need to focus on with your full energy—and also, this is a job!

When you were starting out in Chicago, were there any teachers or role models you had in the local comedy scene who helped you realize comedy was a job, or shaped your style, or just influenced you along the way?

I took a couple classes at Second City, but honestly it was so long ago I don’t even remember who taught them. It was more that the standup scene was having a real resurgence. When I moved back to Chicago, it was to further my career as an improviser, but then I quickly found standup, and the standup scene was just starting to have its first boom after the ‘80s. People who were there are now national names, like Kumail Nanjiani and PJ Miller and Hannibal Buress. When I was starting out, they were beginning to get on television for the first time. So there was kind of this senior class of people, if I was a more a freshman. I was watching them have success, and I realized it was something you could actually do.

You filmed your special at Thalia Hall. I’m curious what drew you to that venue? They've been getting crazy talent lately. You filmed there, and Dave Chappelle did his residency there. How is Thalia Hall doing this?

On my end, how it happened for me, is you’re always looking for the next-sized venue. I love Chicago. There are so many wonderful places I’ve played there. Like, the Hideout is somewhere that I love so much. I got married there, that’s how much I love it! But the capacity is such that I knew… you know, you’re trying to sell as many tickets as you can… I don’t think I could do the Chicago Theatre yet, but give me two years. The next one is probably the Vic, in terms of size.

And then Thalia Hall is beautiful, it’s perfectly redone. I knew I wanted to shoot the special somewhere people hadn’t shot something yet, and I knew that I wanted it to look like it was in Chicago. I mean, that building, that traditional gray brick—it really looks like Chicago, it really looks like my hometown. But you know, you kind of have to do the biggest place that you can, so that you can maximize your money. Cause at the end of the day, you’re making a living.

Wait, so let’s talk about your wedding! What factored into your decision to get married in Chicago, besides that you grew up here? Does your wife also have Chicago ties?

Well, my wife is also a comic, and she and I met in Chicago. We both used to perform at the Hideout, and I just really love the people there, the people that run it.

You said in your special you were going to have a slip ‘n’ slide at the wedding—did you really?

No we did not! That was a silly joke. We got married in December, and it was like 60 degrees on that day, but I think a slip ‘n’ slide would have been bold even for us.

What was the wedding like? As much as you’re willing to talk about it—was it big? What type of cake did you have? What did you guys wear?

You know, I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s kind of a private thing. I would just say, it was a small wedding—it was about a hundred people—and we just threw like, a party. We had tons of dancing, and we served Chicago-style veggie dogs from a place called Flub a Dub Chub’s that I love, and it was awesome.

Okay, so back to your special: How long did you work on it for? What was your process like? How did you know it was ready to film?

Well I’ve been touring pretty heavily for the past two and a half years. I just got off the road, thank god!


Thank you! I’m so happy to be home for a little while. So what I did to prepare for the special was, I had an album that came out in 2014 called Same Sex Symbol, and I toured on that for about six months. You go through every major city, and you tell those jokes, and then you can’t come back to that city and tell those same jokes. I mean maybe one or two, but you can’t really do a repeated hour. So I continued to tour, and you’re kind of forced to create something. You have an hour to fill onstage, so you just fill it!

Do you have any projects coming up, outside of your special, that you’re excited about?

I’m in a pretty big movie that comes out at the end of April that’s called Mother’s Day. Folks should go see that in theaters! It stars Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson.

Wow! Power trio!

Yeah! Yes. Power quad...ruplet!

Yeah! Power quad! Whom do you play in that?

I play a gay mom, and it’s a Gary Marshall movie. Gary is a very very famous and successful director who created the television show Happy Days, and also made the movie Pretty Woman. If you are familiar with any of those very small properties. So it was really awesome working with Gary on that.

You’re also working on a new show for FX with You’re The Worst creator Stephen Falk. Can you tell us anything about that?

It’s a show about a straight sister and a queer sister who live in Chicago. (Cameron will star as the queer sister.) Right now, we’re writing the pilot, so hopefully that will move forward and we can come home and shoot a show!

Do you have any dream shooting locations in Chicago, if this gets all green-lit and goes ahead?

Right now, it's set in Logan Square. Maybe you would see me in my old neighborhood!

Marriage Material comes out on Seeso on Thursday. This conversation was condensed and edited for clarity.