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Cameron Esposito works on personal material
by Charlsie Dewey

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Lesbian comic and Windy City Times 30 Under 30 alum Cameron Esposito returned to Chicago for two weeks at the end of March, performing 14 shows at the Den Theatre.

Esposito was here working on new material and said the smaller venue and Chicago audience was the perfect setting to test out the more personal material she's been developing, which includes the topics of sexual assault and sex education.

"I'm working on a new hour and usually when I've done that in the past it's meant going on a giant tour in as many cities as possible over eight months, but this material is very personal, so I've decided to try and do it in a different way," she said.

As women across the country join the #MeToo movement by sharing their personal experiences, Esposito said it was important for her to do so as well. Her new material includes discussing her own experience of sexual assault while in college.

"It feels important right now to talk about my history with sexual assault," she said. "This is a topic that has been in the news for the last year. To me it feels like comedy is a great place to deal with any topic that actually creates harm and trauma. I think that is what humor is for, but what I usually see is standup that has thrown out the idea of assault but not talked about the realities of assault or even the people involved."

Esposito said taking this more personal approach will hopefully help create a greater sense of immediacy and a stronger understanding of what victims experience.

"If I start talking about it maybe other folks will too, and talking about it in this way, from the perspective of a survivor," she said.

Esposito is also taking on the topic of sex education in the United States—or rather the lack, thereof. Using her Catholic school upbringing as a springboard for the topic, Esposito discussed the fact that even public school children aren't provided with much useful information.

"The spectrum is nothing to [putting a condom on] a banana—that's it," she said.

For the tour, Esposito is drawing on her unique experiences in an effort to actually connect to the universal experience. "I'm trying to move individual experience into the larger experience that we all share," she said. "So, my cultural background is Catholicism, but sub in your own, that is what I want.

"I think the specificity of my experience is actually pretty universal. I didn't have sex ed because I went to Catholic school, but it turns out we don't offer sex ed in this country. Sex ed is not something that is part of anyone's education. … The most you get is the condom on a banana, that is someone who has had a lot of sex ed."

Esposito said while the shows pretty much went as expected, being in Chicago for two weeks gave her a chance to connect with the city's up-and-coming comics. She booked 14 local comics ( one for each night ) as openers.

"I'm from Chicago and it's where I started doing standup, but usually when I come to town I hang out with my family or I go do the one night of shows. I don't really hang out in the scene. So it was really cool to connect for the first time with folks that are a couple of generations below me that I don't know at all and hear what material they are doing."

She was also impressed with the growing diversity, having started standup when the Chicago comedy scene was limited to only a few queer and female comics.

"There are so many queer folks and that was awesome, because that was my goal working in Chicago, to try to effect the scene," she said. "And a lot of those folks started through a standup class I created in Chicago called the Feminine Comique, and a lot of them started at Cole's Bar, where I had an open mic and where I met Rhea ( Butcher )"

Esposito said her audience has also changed substantially as she's garnered more accolades and recognition nationally. Where once she played to rooms of mostly straight people, her audiences today lean LGBTQ, which she said brings it's own set of challenges.

"Maria Bamford talked about this before, once you start drawing your own audience it's very interesting. Before you had to convince people to be on your side, but now people come in and they know your viewpoint, and so you are trying to up your game to continue to entertain and surprise and present new information.

"When you are someone's favorite band, you can play their favorite song and it can be like a greatest hits and the audience will be jazzed; when you are somebody's favorite comic, it should be the exact opposite experience. You should be on the message they vaguely know you to be, but blowing their minds with the new shit, but it's hard to do that."

Esposito is currently taking her set to the East Coast, but people can catch new episodes of her podcast, "Queery," every week throughout the summer. Seasons one and two of Take my Wife, Esposito's show with wife Rhea Butcher, are also available on iTunes.

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