United We Stand: Comedy couple teams up for stand-up tour

Comedians and real-life married couple Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher are coming to Philly as part of their “Back to Back” standup tour Oct. 6 at the Trocadero.

At this point in their careers, Esposito and Butcher are used to their professional pursuits being intertwined — they are the stars and creators of TV comedy series “Take My Wife,” which makes them notably the first gay, married couple to co-create, co-star and co-run a TV show. Also, back in their home base of Los Angeles, the two co-host the weekly comedy show and podcast “Put Your Hands Together” at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

But it is stil rare to see two comedians who are in a relationship performing on the same show. So we asked them if their material when they are apart is the same as when they are together.

“If Rhea is not on the show, I just say the worst shit about her,” Esposito said jokingly. “No … it’s not typically different. What is a little different about this show is that we will do our own sets separately, then we’ll also do a set together as a team.”

Esposito added that sharing the stage with another comedian does take some getting used to, even if you are married.

“The skill of stand-up is learning how to take up space and completely command the audience’s attention and be the only one that they are listening to,” she said. “Since we both started doing stand-up by ourselves, learning how to relax those boundaries and allow somebody else to draw focus is really hard. It’s also really fun because I love doing my job and new challenges, like performing in bigger venues or different cities. Doing stand-up with Rhea also helps to keep it interesting; it’s like being a singer-songwriter, then joining a rock band.”

We asked how their individual styles of comedy compare — which almost started a slight rift.

“Huh … interesting … ” Butcher said.

“You don’t know this?” Esposito asked.

“I do know it,” Butcher said. “It’s just I’m never the one that answers these questions. Cameron is fiery and intense and driven; I mean that in a positive way. She commands and takes control of the room. Whereas I am just a cool cucumber, trying to come in and make everybody listen to me by sitting on a chair backwards and talking chill.”

We also asked if there are any hard and fast rules about what aspects of their relationship they aren’t allowed to joke about on stage. 

“I feel like that happens all the time. ‘Please don’t talk about this,’” Butcher said. “That happens a lot. Usually we’re just trying to figure out who is going to talk about something, but then the beauty of what we do is we can both talk about it. You get one perspective then you get the other perspective, which is what is unique about our duo and part of our stand-up. You get to hear both sides and that’s what sets us apart.”

“I would also add that we’ve never had a disagreement about what things are private and what things are useful for comedy,” Esposito said. “That’s something that makes it a lot easier. Of course, we have a private life like everybody does. We protect our family and we protect each other. There’s stuff that Rhea does that is super-funny so I have to make fun of her for it.”

“We communicate very well,” Butcher added. “We’re on the same page about what is public and what is private. When you have that agreement with someone else, that is what makes you stronger.” 

It probably doesn’t hurt that the two mine their relationship for stories to tell on their sitcom, “Take My Wife,” which had its debut on the Seeso comedy subscription service. Seeso recently shut down, so the future of the series is up in the air.   

“We don’t know,” Esposito said about the show’s future. “It’s not the most pressing thing right now. We have a second season that never aired. We’re focusing our attention on trying to get that somewhere where people can actually see it. From there, we both have other awesome stuff coming up in the future. I love ‘Take My Wife’ and would love to make more seasons of that show but, for right now, the focus is on trying to get people to see what we have already made.”

Esposito and Butcher said they perform for all kinds of audiences in a lot of difference media, as the key to their success is staying busy.

“It really is just tackling all that is important,” Esposito said. “Rhea and I have podcasts and a television show. I’m writing a book. We’re doing a lot of touring. All of that has to happen for every type of audience and that is how you sustain a long-term career.”

Both said that streaming services serve a great purpose as an avenue for LGBT writers and show creators who might not be mainstream enough for TV and cable networks.

“There are barriers to entry and what’s exciting is that those barriers no longer prevent people from doing it themselves because there is the Internet,” Esposito said.   “Phones make it really easy to have a television-production studio in your pocket or podcast using the microphone on their phone.” 

“A lot of people are making their own stuff because they can’t go through traditional channels in the industry,” Butcher added. “Things are changing but the progress is incremental. I think a lot of people are making their own things to make their own thing.”

“A lot of queer folks come [to our shows], all kinds of groups,” Esposito added about their comedy appeal. “And a lot of people who love comedy come. We are lucky to work and play for all of those audiences. It’s also really nice to hear from people on social media about role-modeling for younger folks in the queer community. This is an opportunity to exist in different spaces where maybe we wouldn’t have felt safe 10 or 20 years ago. It doesn’t mean that things are better; it just means that our community is a community that likes a lot of different things, and we go see those wherever they happen.”

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher perform their “Back To Back” tour 8 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Trocadero Theatre, 1003 Arch St. For more information or tickets, call 215-922-6888 or visit www.cameronesposito.com or www.rheabutcher.com.