Comedians Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher bring their real-life marriage to the screen with Take My Wife, their new streaming sitcom on Seeso. Somewhat Maron-ian and Seinfeld-ian in concept, it tracks the exploits of fictionalized versions of its lead characters as they balance their newly wedded lives with their comedy careers.
Although jokes and riffs are key to the show, it also provides a fascinating peek into the backstages and green rooms of the comedy world, giving audiences a taste of the standup grind. The duo recruited a number of their funny friends for the series, including Maria Bamford, Jonah Ray, James Adomian and Paul F. Tompkins, among others, to play themselves or other thinly veiled characters for added realism. More surprising, however, is how sweet and romantic the show gets, but then again, the two women are still relative newlyweds—married in December 2015—so they’re probably not “acting” too much.
On Tuesday night, Paste had a chance to attend the show’s Los Angeles premiere. After the screening of two episodes, Esposito and Butcher were joined by fellow executive producers Scott Aukerman and David Jargowsky of Comedy Bang! Bang! Productions for a panel discussion, moderated by Jeff Goldsmith of The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast. The conversation proved lively, entertaining—and enlightening.
Here are five interesting tidbits we learned from the Take My Wife screening and panel.
Esposito explained that a few years ago, she was booked at SXSW, and her lodgings required a 1.5-hour walk each way to the festival. During that walk, she’d call Butcher, who was then working as a graphic designer in Chicago, to spitball ideas. One of those ideas was a podcast in which they would talk about their lives in an honest way. “It was going to be called Relatable Lesbians,” she said. “Part of it is that, ‘Yeah, we’re relatable. We’re lesbians. You can talk to us as if we’re normal people.’ And the other part of that is like, ‘Fuck you. All lesbians are relatable.’” They ended up buying the domain, and sat on it for a while, but that particular podcast never came to fruition. “I really think this show is what we were imagining that whole time,” Esposito added.
Take My Wife had an all-women’s writing staff that included Butcher, Esposito, Gretchen Enders, Caitlin Gill and lead writer Shauna McGarry (Anger Management) who spent four weeks in the writers’ room crafting the series’ scripts. Each episode was shot in approximately three days. “For Comedy Bang Bang, we do it in two,” Aukerman said about his faux talk show on IFC. “But for a narrative, shooting out on location, it’s really, really insane.” Added Esposito: “This show was piloted, written, shot, edited and delivered within seven months…six…within six months. That is bonkers.”
An audience member asked Esposito and Butcher about the inspiration for Frances, one of the few recurring characters on the show. Played by veteran producer and actress Laura Kightlinger (Will & Grace, Saturday Night Live), Frances is the couple’s wacky L.A. neighbor. “She’s the neighbor we did have, but she’s the good version of that neighbor,” Esposito said. “She’s actually named for my grandmother,” Butcher added. “She has the dry wit of my grandmother as well.”
Turning to her wife, Butcher asked, “Did you want to cover the neighbor part?”
“Oh we just used to have a neighbor that used to give us…”
“Trash,” Butcher interrupted.
“Jesus Elmos,” Esposito clarified. “He would paint an Elmo. He would paint a poor likeness of Elmo on a piece of printer paper…and then he would write, ‘Jesus loves you.’ In quotes.”
The said neighbor would leave the art on their front stoop in the middle of the night, which isn’t creepy at all.
Goldsmith asked the panelists about epic fails in their careers.
“I’m drawing a blank,” Aukerman said in a bit of a funny cop out. He did eventually tell a story of getting heckled so badly at a coffee shop that he invited the guy to come up to the stage. The heckler read poetry while Aukerman got a chance to turn the tables and taunt him.
Butcher remembered doing a show at the Telluride Comedy Festival in Colorado, with noted comics like Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, Nick Kroll and others also performing. She found herself not being able to speak properly (because of the altitude) and her jokes weren’t landing to boot. “I usually don’t talk at the audience when it’s not working, but I was just like [sarcastically], ‘Oh…right you guys don’t get it…I understand.’ [I] just went off.” She left the stage in tears, upset that she just bombed in front of a bunch of guys she respected, but another comic told her that they had left to get pizza. “And I was like, ‘Oh thank God!”
Esposito’s worst fail can be seen in the show’s third episode. When she first moved to L.A., Esposito was hired by fellow comedian Anthony Jeselnik to open for him on a big tour. Since their standup styles are so different, his audience wasn’t as receptive to her humor. “His audience doesn’t know why I’m there. They think that I have been hired by the venue to prevent them from seeing Anthony for another half hour.” Their first show of the tour was at a casino in Connecticut, and she says it went so badly that she called her mom when she got off stage and asked, “Can I come home?” She had another 40+ cities to go. But Jeselnik gave her a pep talk, re-created (with another actor) on the show, telling her that it was ok for an opener to bomb. A headliner, he said, was a different story.
“Well, one advantage is that Seeso bought the show,” quipped Esposito. “That is the best advantage,” added Butcher.
“We are women. We are queer women. We are being honest about our lives, and I believe there is a huge audience for this show,” Esposito said. “I also believe there is a really specific audience for this show. Who knows how it will turn out? It might be 27 lesbians’ favorite show or a bunch of dudes might watch it, too…I don’t want to be on NBC and getting cancelled with this show. This is my life. I don’t want to be in a space where hateful people are confused about what this is. I want this to be a place where people know what they’re getting, want to be there and are excited about it.”
All six episodes of Take My Wife are now streaming on Seeso.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.