With very few exceptions, comedians have the deck stacked in their favor when they go to record a stand-up album. They know the crowd is going to be with them through every beat and punchline, and the result is audible joy. But Cameron Esposito took it one step further by recording Same Sex Symbol in the friendly confines of Portland, Oregon. What better place for this self-proclaimed Thundercat to let loose her denim-clad lesbian self? Heck, she even managed to reduce a young woman named Julep to tears of joy at one point, sidetracking the evening in a wonderful way.
Let’s be totally fair, though: Esposito has the chops to win over a far less progressive crowd. If you saw her debut television performance on Craig Ferguson’s show, you witnessed the audience (including an adoring Jay Leno), completely give themselves over to her riffs on her early struggles with her sexuality and growing up in Chicago. She’s clearly got the goods for bigger stages than the rock club in Portland where she recorded this disc.
Yet it’s also great to hear someone preaching to her particular choir. And even better when Esposito easily handles a dumb dude in the audience who, in the middle of her story about meeting Christina Hendricks, decides to holler out, “You’re hot!” (either in reference to Hendricks or Esposito—it’s hard to tell). In fact, it almost delights her how brazenly thick this gent is in saying such a sexist remark in front of a crowd of “militant lesbians,” as Esposito puts it.
Outside of those moments, the side-mulleted stand-up keeps the proceedings upbeat and joyous and full of her infectious confidence. She advises any folks that might confuse the actions of porn stars with actual lesbian sex (“Rule #1: Stop clitoral slapping… 0% of women… want to feel like, ‘It’s half-time at the basketball game and we’re down by three. GET IN THERE!’”), dresses down men who loudly proclaim their heterosexuality to anyone within earshot, and tells some great anecdotes about her days as a teen dating the captain of her high school football team and visiting a strip club for the first time (“It’s all of your friends and the butthole of a stranger”).
Same Sex Symbol also serves as something of a time capsule. She talks towards the end about her belief that Oregon’s gay marriage ban will soon get struck down, something that actually did happen about eight months after these shows. As she says, the tide is turning in the U.S., a feeling that many of us have had over the past year as more and more state governments come to their senses about this issue. When people listen to this album in 50 years, they’ll be shaking their heads at how backwards everything seems, a feeling that today’s comedy fans can experience sampling the works of Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, and Joan Rivers. Like those three, Esposito’s work is sure to stand the test of time, bringing plenty of laughs even years later. That’s the mark of greatness.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.