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Esposito’s busy career in comedy began with a Poehler moment

Mandee Johnson

Cameron Esposito could probably use a break. But she won't be taking one for a while. It's not her style. She's currently hosting two podcasts and is bouncing around the country performing stand-up dates, including Thursday's show at Johnny D's. She's working on a book about coming out, developing a one-hour stand-up special and a TV show, and filming a role in a new indie movie called "Operator." She has put her biweekly column for The Onion's A.V. Club on hiatus for the summer, but that's about as much breathing room as she'll give herself.

"This summer I'm taking a small break from my A.V. Club column because I'm writing a book," says the Chicago native, speaking by phone. "Actually, as soon as I get off the phone with you, I'm going to be writing a book."


She sees this hectic pace as normal for someone trying to make a career for herself at her age. "I'm in my early 30s, and this is where you push, push, push to get things into place. You know? You're not brand new. You're not a senior-level partner yet or something. So you just are like, grinding."

Esposito first got the bug to do comedy as an English and theology student at Boston College, working with the long-running improv troupe My Mother's Fleabag. Amy Poehler, who was then at the beginning of her tenure on "Saturday Night Live," is an alumni of the group, which inspired Esposito to think of comedy as a career.

"That was the first moment that I realized that you could actually do this as a job," says Esposito. "Not that I knew her or anything, but just the idea that we had this vague tangential connection made me realize, 'Oh, people actually do this.' "

Even then, she had a hard time defining a normal schedule. When she graduated, Esposito went to ImprovBoston and eventually got a job working with the Main Stage group at Improv Asylum, even though she also had a day job at a high school. It turned out to be a bit too much to handle, and she eventually left Improv Asylum. "I had no idea what an adult schedule was supposed to look like, and I was working 80 hours a week," she says.


She returned home to Chicago and its rich improv tradition, and she also had a chance to dip into the Los Angeles scene. Looking back, Esposito is thankful to have started in the Boston improv community, which she says is much more diverse and open than its counterparts in other cities."Maybe they did theater at one point, but not even everybody," she says. "There's like jocks and nerds and men and women and people of all races living together. It's like a fascinating microcosm."

Esposito has played to audiences of every stripe, doing material that ranges from sci-fi movies to getting heckled for being a lesbian. She says most of her audiences are straight and most of her experiences have been rewarding. "People are really jazzed to see me up there, and there's a lot of people that are really grateful that tell me that, [because] I'm representing who they are," she says. "And there's also people that I'm not representing that are into my comedy because it makes them laugh."


Not every scene, and not every audience, is so open-minded. Esposito also tours with her fiancée, Rhea Butcher, as her opening act. She wrote in her column last month that she had been worried about how well they would be accepted on the road, as lesbians and as a couple working together. She sees attitudes toward gay rights changing for the better, but she worries about complacency. "We're onstage just being like, 'We wanna get married!' in places where we can't get married," she says of touring with Butcher. "There's a lot of liberal people who seem to think this fight is already over, because we have won the majority of people's minds. Nationwide most people think that equal marriage is fine, therefore the fight is over. But not really. It's not until laws change, it's not over."

She considers herself an advocate, as well as a comedian. "You know, it's not just laughs. Of course it's not."

Career gains or social advances — everything happens a little at a time. And that's why Esposito is still juggling so many responsibilities at once. "The more you learn and the further you go, and you just walk through another door that you have no idea, like, what's going on in there," she says. "I think your best skill is to be pretty quick on your feet."

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.