Cameron Esposito on Same Sex Symbol, Fame and the Future of Comedy

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Cameron Esposito can’t relax. In October, she released her second album, which she’s currently promoting with a tour that included a stop at the New York Comedy Fest. Same Sex Symbol is now seventh on the Billboard Comedy Chart. Even before all of this, she was busying hosting twopodcasts and appearing on the talk show circuit, including a now-famous appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson when Jay Leno, also a guest that night, called her “the future of comedy.”

We momentarily stopped her to discuss her new album, vacation spots, and how she’ll know when she’s made it.

Paste Magazine: Your new album Same Sex Symbol has been out for a few weeks, are you still busy promoting, are you recovering from putting it together, or are you already miles away from it and working on the next big thing?
Cameron Esposito: All of the above. One thing that’s really strange about releasing an album is there’s so much excitement when you record it and it’s released months later and you try to rebuild your excitement again and make sure it gets all the promotion it deserves—I’m actually pretty happy with how this one turned out—then like a week later it feels like well that’s over, but it’s not over. You got to keep going. It’s not like I’m some massive name in every household in America where everybody who would’ve bought it or would’ve heard about it has already heard about it. So, I’m definitely trying to reach smaller dinner tables as it were. That’s how people listen to comedy albums right, around the dinner table?

Paste Magazine: That’s what I hear. What’s the difference between this album and your first album, Grab Them Aghast?
Cameron Esposito: It’s so interesting to do this job, because you literally get better every show. Grab Them Aghast was a moment-in-time recording, where I was a couple years in and I had the opportunity to record something. I wanted to kind of document where I was at the time. What I don’t think I realized about comedy albums is that, when you release your album a couple years in and you’re like, “these are jokes that I’m doing,” you also are going against like, Richard Pryor, you know what I mean? It stays forever; it’s archived alongside everybody else who’s ever made anything great. Not that I look at that one as a failure, but it’s just so early. It’s fun to get a chance to evolve and to realize “I hate how that sounds. I love how this sounds.” I can’t wait until three or four years from now when I hate how this current album sounds.

Paste Magazine: You’ve been doing comedy for 11 years?
Cameron Esposito: Yes, you’re right. I did improv for a bunch of years before I did stand-up. I’m only about 7 or 8 years into stand-up but yeah, a decade, I guess so.
Paste Magazine: So how have you evolved?
Cameron Esposito: I started doing improv in college. I went to the same college that Amy Poehler went to 10 years before I did. So while I was doing improv and silly act outs. Amy Poehler was on SNL doing Weekend Update or whatever she was doing at the time. It was the first time that I realized “oh, there could be a path to this.” So I think I thought my path would be improv because the only person I knew in comedy—and I didn’t even know her I just knew of her—was doing that. So I think [transitioning to] stand-up was the opportunity to speak for myself and come out on my own terms when it was so specifically important in my life.

Paste Magazine: “Cameron” is a great name. How did you get your name?
Cameron Esposito: My mom just yelled it out when I was born. I am do love my name. “Cameron Esposito” is a serious amount of name. I will say that it’s also the bane of my existence because my last name sounds way more Latina than it is, because it’s Italian and so for my entire life people have called me “Carmen.” People I know will sometimes call me “Carmen.” People will email me at the address cameron@cameronesposito.com and they’ll be like “Hey, Carmen.” You had to type it twice! You have to type it two times.
Paste Magazine: You have to want it.
Cameron Esposito: The point is I cannot wait until I’m famous enough that people will just know that my name is Cameron. That’s the goal. That’s when I’ll know I’ve made it.
Paste Magazine: When people start calling people named Carmen, “Cameron.”
Cameron Esposito: Exactly. Somebody should be giving Carmen Elektra the same shit I’ve been dealing with my entire life.

Paste Magazine: You host two very different podcasts. What’s your favorite part about podcasting?
Cameron Esposito: For Wham, Bam, Pow, which is a sci-fi and action movie podcast, we record it in the studio with no audience and it’s always interesting to tour around. People really do come out to shows off those podcasts. People really do want to interact with you. They get to know you and want to come support your stuff, so it is really wild and cool to meet people that listen. On Put Your Hands Together, which is my stand-up podcast, one thing I love about that is my producing partners and I have always had the same mission, which it to try to create a show that replicates the feeling of being in a live stand-up show. Then to put that out into the world so if you live in a smaller market—like for instance somewhere in Missouri—and you can’t usually see a bunch of different headliners because they can’t necessarily afford to come through there, you get to feel what it feels like to really be in the room for a stand-up show. When people come up to me on tours they will say, “It’s so awesome to get introduced to new comics I wouldn’t have known otherwise.” I just think it’s been enormously successful in it’s mission.

Paste Magazine: Do you feel pressure to keep exploring other avenues of comedy or is it purely a passionate exploration?
Cameron Esposito: That’s a really good question. I think right now you have to do everything. Yeah, [I’m writing a column] for the AV Club and working on a book proposal and I’m trying to develop a television show and touring and putting out an album and all this other stuff. And it kind of feels like it’s nothing. The amount that you have to create right now is so much. And that’s okay; it’s actually really exciting right now and great because nothing feels stale. But it’s also a really exhausting time to be doing comedy. I think it’s a really exciting time because it’s kind of like the Wild West. You can just create whatever you want and entice people to be engaged in your catalog, cross-reference between all of your stuff. You’re building this whole overarching, you know, brand or entity where you have a whole personality and taste and all that stuff. But it’s also never enough. You’re never ever done. So it’s an exhausting time too.

Paste Magazine: Besides you, who do you think is the future of comedy?
Cameron Esposito: (laughs) Well, I’ll tell you who has really impressed me since I’ve been out in L.A., because I just moved here two years ago. I feel like when you’re that close to when you got here you really see who’s had things rolling and it’s so fun to watch. I think Kurt Braunohler is really interesting because he is heightening pranks and absurdism into something that will eventually be on television. He just shot a pilot for a new Comedy Central show and I really hope it goes somewhere because to take the cruelty out of pranks is so cool. That’s what he’s doing; helps just like hiring skywriters. It’s awesome to watch and to watch people find him and love him. Ron Funches is really fascinating to watch also because Ron has this really infectious laugh and a really laid-back attitude and everybody wants to work with him. Like he’s in everything right now. He’s hot; he’s just too plug-in-able. There’s never a moment where you’re not like, “Hey, you know, I feel like this would be improved by somebody’s who’s really likeable, like some somebody who couldn’t be more likable.” It’s fascinating to watch his stuff takeoff. Two people who I started with—well, not started with, they were the seniors when I was a freshman—Kumail Nanjiani and T.J. Miller have really become television stars and, in T.J.’s case, sort of a movie star. They use to come to this show that I ran in Chicago where there was no microphone. (laughs) I didn’t realize having a microphone was important because I had just started doing stand-up. So when you’ve seen somebody start from that and how much work it takes and for it to start to get rewarded—you just really wonder what they’re going to do next. I’m excited about all those people.

Paste Magazine: What would you love to do that you haven’t yet done, in comedy and otherwise?
Cameron Esposito: Oh, wow. Y’know? Alright. I would like to—that is a really good question. Comedy: I would like to host a late night talk show. Done. That’s easy. We’ll see when I get there. Every day’s endeavor is harder. I would like my Andy Ritcher to be Rhea Butcher. She’s a hilarious stand-up comic and also happens to be my fiancée. So that’s putting it into the universe because sometimes if you ask for something you get it. In terms of non-comedy, I would love to go on a vacation. Is that a crazy thing to say? I know not many people get to go on vacation, but I travel so much for work and I never visit any of the places I go to. You’re so exhausted and then do two shows a night. You’re kind of a weirdo hiding in your hotel room during the day because you don’t know anybody there and you aren’t really there to visit anyway. I have, in the last two years, been to more places than I ever would have imagined that I would have gone. But I haven’t seen anything. (laughs) I’ve seen the inside of hotel rooms all over the United States and Canada. So I would love to—where would I like to go? I don’t know, Richmond, Virginia or something and just hang out and take tours of old buildings—that kind of thing. We’ll see. We’ll see if I’m ever able to relax. It’s also self-propelled. I could just relax if I wanted to, but I never will.

Same Sex Symbol is out now on vinyl from Kill Rock Stars Records.

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