Cameron Esposito on queer comedians and #MeToo: ‘We’ve been here the whole time’

In June, comedian Cameron Esposito released her critically-acclaimed one-hour stand-up special, Rape Jokes, which detailed sexual assault from a survivor’s perspective.

Since then, the 36-year old has been touring her new show Person of Consequence, which combines some elements of Rape Jokes with new material, and continued working on her podcast Queery.

Backstage at London’s Soho Theatre, where Esposito recently played a string of sold-out shows, the comedian spoke to PinkNews about being a marginalised person in comedy, the impact of #MeToo, and Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up show Nanette, which also discussed sexual violence and was released on Netflix nine days after Rape Jokes. 

Q. Why did you decide not to tour Rape Jokes?

A. Because it was exhausting and terrible to go through that. I chose to do an hour about sexual assault, and the process of making it was really wonderful because so many other survivors came out in the audience.

[But] the press cycle was really harrowing. It turns out it’s like really, really intense to talk about art that is based on your trauma. It was just hard, it was hard going through that. It was difficult. And talking about rape for several hours a day, every day, for months is also difficult. What I’m very happy with is that the show lives on my website, it is just for free and it will exist forever.

Q. What role can comedy play in the era of #MeToo?

A. What’s great about being somebody who’s a marginalised person is that I’ve always being doing stand-up in the same way. I don’t know if we’re in new eras, ever. I kind of feel we’re always fighting the same battles… It’s like folks are shocked that women are now talking about sexual assault.

Well, what’s actually changed is that the internet provides us a different pathway to success. So it’s not just like one television network executive who’s making every decision—although they still make like 99 percent of the decisions. Also, audience engagement can happen directly to a website.

We’ve always been here. We’ve kind of always been saying this stuff. You’re maybe listening now for the first time.

Esposito is in the middle of touring her show Person of Consequence. (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Q. Is this a moment for queer women, reclaiming and telling their stories, in international comedy?

A. I feel like I bristle at that question. But I think that you’re coming at it from such a good place. Like I think you’re like ‘YEAAH!’ like you’re wanting to be a cheerleader for it. But the reason I think it’s hard to hear is that I’ve f***ing been here, you know, and I’m not the first.

Man, we’ve been written out of history. Like, we were here the whole time. We were written out. It’s just now that you’re hearing from two of us [Esposito and Gadsby] that feels, like, earth shattering. What if like two women talked about something?! And, percentage wise this [sexual violence] has happened to so many people. That means that that many comics are not talking about this… Obviously visibility and accessibility are always good. But the other side of it is just the frustration.

Like, I love people being excited. I guess it’s the “new”—that’s what’s funny. The idea [that] stand-up comedy was like a straight white cisgender dude’s game and then like look at these people. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. And here’s the names of the older comics who made it so that my job was possible, you know. Anyway, blah. What do you think about that really long and aggressive answer?

Esposito’s podcast, Queery, has featured guests like Margaret Cho, Lena Waithe, and Trixie Mattel. (Earwolf)

Q. How important is it to perform comedy from marginalised perspectives?

A, Haha, I feel like every answer I’m giving you is the most intense response. But, look, I’m very intense, otherwise I wouldn’t make people laugh for a living… It really matters when marginalised voices get through. It really matters. I don’t mean to say that like it doesn’t matter. It’s huge that, like, Black Panther crushed at the box office. It matters.

And, at the same time, for a fundamental shift to occur there’s not gonna be any one, two or twelve specials that can do that. It’s systemic and what we can do is be honest about that, which is—nothing will change without all of our participation.

But, we also just have to demand a lot more. So, yeah, those people who have to help us, like the stereotypical beautiful wealthy white gay man, who is cisgendered, has to help us. Then, I also have to definitely make sure that I stand up for people of colour, that I stand up [for] a trans person that is just trying to f***ing go to the bathroom.

As a family, we are in the unique position of caring about each other even though we’re not all in the same demographic. Yes, comedy can change the world, I think, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. But also, the real work is on anybody that reads this.