• Megan Baker
  • Rhea Butcher and Cameron Esposito

Chicago expats Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher both got their start as open mikers here in the city and have since moved to LA where they cohost the podcast Wham Bam Pow, coproduce the stand-up showcase Put Your Hands Together, and maintain separate stand-up careers, all as an engaged couple. They’re currently on tour together to promote Esposito’s new album, Same Sex Symbol, which just surpassed albums from Sarah Silverman, Jim Gaffigan, and Patton Oswalt on the comedy charts.

Back in August I chatted with the pair about their upcoming tour for our Fall Arts guide. As happens with editing for print and space restraints, what ran was the bare bones of a pretty charming and insightful talk. In honor of their stop at Lincoln Hall tonight, I’ve pulled together some bits from the cutting room floor.

What is it like to be two comedians in a relationship who work together so much and are now touring together?

Cameron Esposito: Rhea, do you want to start?

Rhea Butcher: Oh, I was waiting for you to start. This is very emblematic of what it’s like to be two comics in a relationship, waiting for the other one to start. I’m really excited about it. I love working with Cameron; she’s one of my favorite comics.

Esposito: Rhea and my relationship is different I guess because we were both dating other people when we met, and I liked Rhea as a comic before I ever knew I was interested in dating her. I was there the first time she ever did stand-up actually. She was performing at Cole’s in Logan Square, and I was running the open mike there. Some comics have a period at the beginning of their career where they can’t figure out what to talk about or they’re figuring out who they are on stage, and I was so impressed with Rhea right away because she immediately knew who she was. I was looking for someone to open for me on the road, and I asked Rhea to do it. We worked together that way before we started dating, and what’s been really exciting and also really challenging is trying to figure out how you have a relationship as equals when we started with this sort of mentorship relationship. Stand-up comedy really runs in classes, so when Rhea started as a freshman I was like a senior in the Chicago scene. But in our relationship at home we are equals and Rhea is so good at so many things that I am terrible at, so it’s an interesting balancing act. It’s so nice to have somebody that knows what you’re talking about.

Butcher: There’s just a lot of specific fears and goals and people that you’re meeting that if I was dating an accountant, they’d be like, “What are you talking about? Who cares?”

Esposito: If we were dating accountants, we’d have a much easier time on our taxes.

Butcher: Oh yeah, we would have great books.

Some of my favorite moments are when you guys riff together, have you thought about taking that on the road?

Butcher: It’s something we’re working on doing more. It’s like a host-sidekick kind of a thing that we’re working out, and it is superfun to do.

Esposito: It’s a really interesting and intricate balance because I really want us to succeed as a couple because Rhea’s my favorite person to work with, but also I know that we need to have our own things going on. I don’t think we anticipated when we moved out here that we would want to work together so closely. Again, it’s that trust issue. I love working with other comics, and they’re my best friends, but the interplay that Rhea and I have is so much more rooted in the honesty you can have in your house.

Butcher: We have a very honest home.

Esposito: Yeah, we have a very honest home filled with lots of like, “You needed to tell better jokes.” Nothing like two people being very serious about comedy. That’s one of my favorite things about doing comedy for a living is that everyone is laughing, but the people who are doing it are the most serious people in the world. And then if you just multiply that by two, it’s a massively intense household.

Butcher: We just have whiteboards everywhere. Every single window in our house has been A Beautiful Mind-ed. Just full of jokes.

Because you live together and spend so much time together, do you find that a lot of your jokes overlap?

Butcher: We have had instances where things happen to us and we discuss almost immediately, “Oh, that one’s yours.”

Esposito: Not long ago I told one of Rhea’s jokes on stage accidentally. I knew as it was coming out of my mouth that it was not my joke, but not until the second I said it.

Butcher: And her face when she realized that she said my joke—

Esposito: And I apologized profusely because that’s a nightmare. We also try to make sure our cadences aren’t similar. Especially as female comics, people tell me things like, “You’re like Ellen!” or “You’re like Tig!” and make these comparisons that are not accurate.

Butcher: Like when people tell us we look like Tegan and Sara. No, we don’t look anything like Tegan and Sara, we’re just gay.

You do open up a lot of your sets with, “I am a woman, I am a lesbian.” Do you feel like that’s something you need to get out of the way before you start your jokes?

Butcher: I think people automatically assume that about me because of everything, energy, the way I carry myself, the clothing I wear, the haircut I have. I talk about the fact that I’m gay and a lesbian because I want to use those words so people hear those words. And I don’t want there to be any question about whether I’m proud to be those things, because that’s my identity, and I want to talk about my identity and how I got there.

Esposito: I think for me, if I get on stage and I don’t say I’m gay, I think people wonder, and it puts them in their head a little bit. I look . . . half gay, I guess, with the side mullet. I’m a little more on the questionable spectrum, and I don’t want people to think, like Rhea was saying, that I’m not able to talk about it. I also don’t want people to think about it so they’re focusing on the jokes.

What Chicago comedians do you try to check out when you’re here?

Esposito: I love Candy Lawrence. I also love Kristin Clifford, she’s a newer face working at the Lincoln Lodge right now which used to be my home club, and I really like her stuff.

Butcher: Goodrich Gevaart, he’s a pal of mine; we actually started literally on the same night. The other two gals who ran the Comedy Expo, they’re also my pals, Katie McVay and Stephanie Hasz.

Esposito: And my longtime collaborator Adam Burke, I’m always happy to see him when I’m in town.

What are you looking most forward to in coming back to Chicago?

Butcher: I’m really excited to have the buffalo chicken wrap from Handlebar; it’s my favorite thing.

Esposito: I hope I can borrow a bike. There aren’t really cyclists in LA because the drivers are all driving at 9,000 miles per hour so you’ll just get mowed down. Chicago, please enjoy your public transit system. It’s AMAZING.

There are a few people here who would argue with you on that.

Butcher: No! You don’t understand! We miss it so much!

Esposito: I would love to be jammed up next to some really smelly guy, rattling on the train down to the Loop.

Hopefully you can hop on the el while you’re here.

Butcher: I’m just gonna ride it around the Loop twenty times.

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, 7 and 9:30 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, lincolnhallchicago.com, $15, early show sold out. 21+