Cameron Esposito is known for her unabashedly honest stand-up about her lesbian lifestyle. She got a big break when she performed on The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson last fall, calling fellow guest Jay Leno a lesbian — to his face.
Since then, Esposito has been busy with multiple projects. She writes a column for the website AV Club, she has a video series for Buzzfeed, she’s been keeping up with her two podcasts and — on top of all of that — she has a new comedy album, “Same Sex Symbol," just released on vinyl.
Cameron joined us in the studio to talk about her busy career, why she moved in Los Angeles to pursue comedy and what it was like keeping her sexuality hidden while attending Catholic school.
Has moving to Los Angeles changed the way you approach comedy?
It definitely allows you to see your career in a larger scope. You know, Chicago is a city that really lives and dies on live performance, which is why it's a great place to come up as a comic. And I think that's a great skill to learn. It's like going to the gym. You know, you just get strong and you are powerful and commanding and you know how to play different situations. You learn how to play a basement or a large theater, and then you come to L.A., and L.A. doesn't really have the same focus on live performance. It's more just trying to figure out how to plug your skill into some other things.
You have podcasts, your own column, video series, traveling on tour...
Yes, I'm writing a book. All these things are happening — trying to develop a television show as well. But that is the norm now. This is what is happening in comedy right now. I would say that for most people that I know, that I'm close friends with in L.A., this is what their daily schedule is like as well. It's travel and then coming home and e-mailing and meetings and such. It's such a business-y job these days. You're like managing a full company if that makes any sense. Of course there's an art to it and I hope that I never stop performing live 'cause that is the best thing. It's the basis of all of it. But, just to be able to exist for a long time, you have to constantly reinvent yourself.
An organizing principle in your stand-up is that you're a gay woman. What point did you decide to incorporate your sexuality into your act?
What sells right now — but also the trend right now in what people want to do and what people respect from each other as comics — is honesty. It is talking about your own life. I'm a lesbian person so when I talk about my life, I talk about being a lesbian. And I'm also kind of motivated by... I didn't have the easiest time coming out. And I think most stand-ups are kind of in it for the time travel element. Like, that's all stand-up is, is just correcting history and also fighting back against injustice. And I think, for me, some of the biggest times I've been wronged is because of my sexuality. So it comes up a lot.
What do you mean by being "wronged because of your sexuality?"
Well, I came out while I was at a Catholic college. It was terrible. It was awful. I went to a school where sexual orientation was not in the non-discrimination policy. I could have been kicked out of school. And this didn't happen. But the reason it didn't happen is because nobody was out. Like, I had some friends... very few friends, including my girlfriend, that I knew were also gay, but nobody really talked about it.
Do you use your comedy as a way to outreach to the LGBTQ youth?
Sometimes people are like, "Do you think you have too much of a mission?" No! I think this is awesome! I mean, really, I had nobody that told me that it was gonna be okay. Like, even my parents, who love me very much and are very supportive, were really worried. They didn't know any gay people. They didn't know anybody that lived a happy life and it was awful to feel that the thing I knew was true for me was gonna sink the rest of my life. I'm hoping to talk to kids out there who are in that position to be like, You're gonna be totally awesome and everything's gonna be fine.
Do your parents come to your comedy shows?
I actually had to tell them to stop coming for a while. They were appearing at too many shows. And listen, nobody wants to do stand-up comedy for their parents and at this point they've heard me say, literally, every curse word and describe, literally, every sexual scenario. And generally we just don't talk about it and have Thanksgiving together.
Cameron Esposito's album, "Same Sex Symbol," is available via download, CD and on vinyl.