In the pantheon of TV shows created by and starring comedians, Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher's "Take My Wife" stands apart.
Whereas there was once the married couple of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on "I Love Lucy," the creators of this series refer to their show as "Lucy loves Lucy."
Esposito and Butcher are no strangers to working together — they host "Put Your Hands Together," a weekly podcast and stand-up show held at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles, and they are going on a comedy tour together next month. But "Take My Wife" was a different kind of project for them.
"We made a show that we felt really reflected our real lives, not just in the writing of the show and the acting, but also who we were able to work with," says Esposito about their cast and crew, which included mostly women, people of color and queer folks.
The first season of "Take My Wife" was released on the comedy streaming service Seeso. They were preparing to release the second season when Seeso announced it was shutting down. Esposito then posted a tweet about the show's diversity statistics which immediately trended on Twitter.
When Esposito and Butcher stopped by The Frame, they talked about why they wanted to release these statistics publicly and what the future holds for "Take My Wife."
On their mission for season 2 of "Take My Wife":
ESPOSITO: We had this mission for season 2 that we were able to accomplish. We made a show that we felt like really reflected our real lives not just in the writing of the show and the acting, but also who we were able to work with. And who we were able to hire. In our casting, our actors, 54% [were] out LGBT folks and that mattered so much to us. [We had] mostly female department heads, lots of people of color involved in all aspects of the production including on-camera. So, yeah, I just wrote this tweet that was a condensed version of our stats. We knew our stats, that's how important it was to us, and I wrote out this tweet and it had a viral life. I mean, we had a write up in Vanity Fair because of this, and it's about an unaired season of television!
BUTCHER: For me, in our first season ... our writers room was all women writers and then we had a male writers' assistant which is essentially the flip-flop of the traditional make-up of a writers room in Hollywood. And it was a passion project not just for Cameron and I but for the women in that room because ... many of them had been working in [writers] rooms for years -- like, tens, of years -- and not getting to have any input or even speaking in some of those rooms, let alone having a personal impact on the scripts in the show that they were helping create. So we couldn't have made it without them. And two out of those three women were white women so that makes four white women. So to me I was, like, well this is a great start but you have to continue doing that. You have to continue opening, broadening the search.
Why Cameron Esposito tweeted out the show's diversity statistics:
ESPOSITO: For the last few years, this feels like one of the biggest topics that is talked about in Hollywood. How do we change representation? And the answer is, for Rhea and I, it took a mandate so we were very specific with our production company and with each other. We knew exactly what we wanted to do, the types of numbers that we were shooting for, and we asked for a broader search. We did the casting ourselves so that we knew... you know it's hard to bring someone in a casting room and say "hey by the way are you an out queer person," but when you're actually in the community you know who is. And so that's why it matters to change the power structure in terms of giving different types of people the opportunity to run a show.
Why diversity is important in front of and behind the camera:
ESPOSITO: I want to stress that this wasn't a "men-out," this was a "women-in." The other thing that I would say about the specific hiring that we tried to do, we looked for people with experience, with vision and with goals. But who needed that next credit to join their guild, or for people who needed that next credit to move into a different pay bracket, because we really believe in training up women, training up people of color, training up queer folks, so that they can change Hollywood. You give those four women jobs and then they go on to other [jobs], and next year you have an opportunity to hire more. You get those people jobs and then they go and they work in other rooms. We're certainly not the people who have pioneered this. I look at somebody like Ava DuVernay, I look at somebody like Jill Sololoway --
BUTCHER: Issa Rae --
ESPOSITO: Yes, exactly, Issa Rae. This is happening right now in the industry. It's very exciting not just because of the shows that are going to be made right now but because of the next two to three generations of shows that are going to be made.
Why name use the old "take my wife" joke from Henny Youngman as the title of the show:
BUTCHER: I always kind of viewed it as kind of taking it back a little bit. Like taking a thing.
ESPOSITO: Take back the wife!
BUTCHER: Yeah, take back "take my wife." ... The pantheon of comedy of going pretty far back and taking this somewhat "hackey" joke of getting rid of your wife or whatever, but then making it about a sweet story of two people that are in love and [are] having difficulty ... trying to figure everything out. So like, to me, it always was switching the feeling of "take my wife" from, Take my wife, please! to, Oh man, take my wife!
ESPOSITO: Yeah! And I will add to that, like, in that joke structure, in the, Take my wife, please, that follows so much of stand-up comedy where traditionally this is a straight dude, he's onstage, kind of bitching about his wife, and she never gets to speak. Like, where's her moment to come out and be like, You know what, straight up, I do not shop! Like where is any of that? ... So what I love about our show, what I love about the two of us working together --
BUTCHER: There's no hack joke from the voice of a woman!
ESPOSITO: [laughs] Well when the two of us work together, "take my wife" is Rhea, "take my wife" is also me. That is also what's kind of cool about working, the two of us together, that we're both comics, you get to hear both sides of a relationship. There isn't somebody that's right.
On engaging in serious themes in their comedy show "Take My Wife":
BUTCHER: The episode that deals with sexual assault, I wanted to make that episode because, at the time, a lot of internet conversation in the comedy world was about rape jokes and whether people should be telling them or whether it's censorship. Like all these conversations that I feel like [were] a predecessor to the election and everything that's happening. We were having sort of these pre-conversations online and women were getting really torn down about expressing opinions about that and something that Cameron said a lot was whenever a TV talk show or something would have a roundtable about this issue, they would bring on a male comic and then they would bring on a woman. So then the conversation was, Oh, the comic is a man and the audience is a woman. And so who's in power in that dynamic? The comic because the audience is not supposed to heckle. So all these things were happening and we weren't really talking [about] those fully ... For me, I wanted to make an episode of television that was from a female comic's perspective about hearing a rape joke at a show.
ESPOSITO: Yeah, what I didn't feel like I had heard was a first person survivor's perspective who's also a comic because so often when we talk about something like sexual assault ... like, we'll roll out the statistics. This is how many people have been sexually assaulted. And then somehow comics still get onstage assuming that there are no survivors in the room in the audience. Assume that there are, first of all, that's what I would say, because statistically there are definitely. And not just one, multiple. And probably statistically there's another comic on your lineup who's also a survivor of assault. That doesn't mean it's off-limits as a topic. That just means, your joke better be good. You better have a funny joke. And if your joke is not good or not funny then do you mind if I talk about it instead? Because it's something that's actually affected me. And I feel like that's the conversation we need to have about comedy.
On the future of "Take My Wife":
ESPOSITO: So I want to be very clear about this. We only heard from places after our show trended on Twitter with those details and with the response that we had. If you are a member of an underserved community and you want television or film that looks more like you, if you ask for it, Hollywood listens. I mean, people want to make money. People want to make shows that are critical hits but also that have a devoted following. We have heard from folks. And this has been only because of fans demanding it. It's really cool.
To hear the full interview with Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, click on the player above.