Identities fascinate Rhea Butcher. They’re like pins you collect over time, proudly displaying them on your jacket lapel so others can easily and immediately know who you are. Butcher wears several: vegetarian, lesbian, dog owner and only child. But identities aren’t all fun and games. Literally. Butcher details the three worst boardgames to play growing up as an only child: Hungry, Hungry Hippos; Twister; and Don’t Wake Daddy (because he doesn’t live here anymore). “That one’s a two-fer,” she quips, her dry, sarcastic tone shielding her from that past and allowing her to twist it into a joke she controls.
Butcher released her debut comedy album Butcher on August 19, and just one week prior premiered her first television series Take My Wife on August 11. In that project, she stars opposite her wife, fellow comedian Cameron Esposito. Although Esposito may be the better known and more established name of the pair, Butcher proves with her new comedy album that she’s no second fiddle.
Though identities and all the anecdotes that come with them comprise the majority of her subject matter, she doesn’t shy away from walking straight up to more political humor. After all, identities can backfire and slide into label territory, where people use those “pins” as a way to categorize and cast shame on others. “Your identity is the thing that you come to, right? It’s the thing that gives you a great big hug when you figure it out,” she explains. “And a label is something that somebody else puts on you. You have no choice in that.” Butcher breaks down their differences in one powerful joke. “So ‘Lesbian’ is an identity,” she begins in her normal speaking voice. “And ‘LESBIAN!’ is a label,” she screams, invoking the word as if it were vile being spit from a hostile southern woman’s mouth. “It’s a volume shift, really,” she adds.
Beyond discussing her past and all the ways it has shaped the “rock-a-doodle haircut and off-duty lesbian tractor mechanic outfit” she wears, Butcher plays best when she’s on her toes and reacting to her audience. In an album brimming with experiences well told—from the pepperoni pizza parties she attended as a child vegetarian to buying her dog dried bull’s penis—the moments that shine best are when she goes off-book and reveals a keen ability to improvise. As she recounts a story about recently getting a puppy, Butcher immediately halts at the audience’s lack of response. “Ooo, lizard crowd?” she asks. It’s such a quick moment it’s almost easy to overlook it, but Butcher takes that initial jibe and rather than get immediately back on track with her initial joke, she runs with it. She begins chiding the crowd for their fascination with lizards, as if that explains why they didn’t hoot and holler at her life choice to adopt a cuddlier creature.
There are moments, albeit brief ones, where Butcher’s material seems unoriginal, like discovering dogs have no concept of time. But she doesn’t stay too long with such bits. Butcher’s beginning to that joke in particular may share common ground with other comedians’ similar observations, but she quickly jumps to a more absurd—and refreshing—level when it comes to pet ownership. Like how lucky she is to have a dog who shares her political beliefs and who simultaneously tests her vegetarianism by preferring to eat dried bull penises.
Butcher lets her (short) hair down on Butcher, showing off the “real” her (at least when it comes to close captioned audiences), and proving she’s a formidable comedian in her own right.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.