When Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher take the stage Thursday night in Seattle for the first show of their comedy tour, “Back to Back,” they can boast about hitting both personal and professional milestones that alone are a feat to achieve.
“Look, I'm not trying to be too jazzed on myself, but … we are actually unique in the stand-up world and also in the queer community,” Esposito told NBC News. “There hasn't really been another twosome of comics that have been married and also toured together.”
As comedians, both Esposito and Butcher’s respective comedy albums, “Same Sex Symbol” and “BUTCHER,” each hit number one on the iTunes comedy chart. Meanwhile, as wives, they’ve sustained — touted, some might say — their relationship in an industry where the short-term showbiz marriage is status quo and the washed-up, substance-abusing comedian is cliché.
Now, Esposito and Butcher could soon be among the few showrunners whose defunct series was brought back to life by a trending Twitter hashtag (Netflix’s “Sense 8” was perhaps the first).
The pair had completed the second season of their online show, “Take My Wife,” loosely based on their lives as comics and spouses, when the show’s network, Seeso, announced in August that it would be shutting down (Seeso and NBC News share the same parent company, Comcast NBCUniversal). That prompted an outpouring of support under the hashtags #TakeMyWife and #TakeTakeMyWife.
“If you were wondering if social media campaigns matter, they do,” Esposito said. Asked if the show had been picked up by a network, she said that they couldn’t “fully speak about the latest.”
The groundswell in support of “Take My Wife” happened after Esposito tweeted about how running the show allowed her and Butcher to include “women, queer folks and people of color in all-levels [sic] and aspects of production.”
“Oftentimes, when people say ‘diversity,’ it's like a buzz word that just means ‘old folks and white women,’” Esposito said. “What we tried to do was create a show that really looked like our lives. So, 54 percent of our cast were out, queer actors. And, that really mattered to us.”
Historically, TV and Hollywood have seldom put LGBTQ women front and center on screen, let alone at the helm. Shows that have centered the lives of queer women, like “The Real L Word,” “Ellen” or even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” featured queer characters that were mostly white, middle class and conventionally feminine.
In recent years, streaming platforms have been more diverse. Shows like “Orange Is the New Black” on Netflix and web series “Brown Girls,” which was recently picked up by HBO, have featured a range of queer and trans women onscreen, as well as behind the scenes. Esposito said she and Butcher aspire to be in the “pantheon” of directors and artists like Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae and Jill Soloway, “who are lifting other people up and bringing them with them.”
According to Butcher, all too often, a show driven by queer people and/or people of color is made to be a litmus test for all shows with these groups at the helm. “It's almost like you give a gay show a shot, or whatever labeled show a shot, and then if it doesn't do well then, ‘Oh, we're not gonna touch that,’" Butcher lamented.
“All these other shows will make the same show about an angry dad surrounded by all daughters or all sons,” she added. “We'll make that show a million times, maybe with a different actor, or the same actor, but like, that show can fail over and over and over again until they find the right one.”
Studio executives need not look far to see that there is an appetite for Butcher and Esposito’s work. On the “Back to Back” tour, they’ll head from the Pacific Northwest down to the South, up the East Coast, and then through the Midwest (they’ve hired a bus driver, as Esposito is “really bad at parallel parking,” Butcher said).
As the Trump administration has rescinded guidelines to protect transgender students, ordered a ban on trans people in the military and backed a Colorado baker in a Supreme Court case who refused to make a same-sex wedding cake, this isn’t the first time Butcher and Esposito have toured during a politically divisive moment. Their last stint on the road was during the fight for marriage equality when “every morning you woke up and some state passed a law banning marriage equality and then some other state legalized it,” Esposito said.
According to Butcher, “Back to Back” will feature a mix of old and new material, hitting on the consistent themes throughout their work.
“I'm excited to — slash scared — about going out on the road right now, because there's like so much going on politically. And, as a comic, when you are part of an underrepresented group, you're inherently political,” Esposito said “I feel like it's very hard to write material right now, because every day there's like 87 new things to discuss and new stones unturned.”
For fans who can’t catch the couple on tour, don’t worry — the comedy duo will continue to be prolific online. Esposito recently launched “Queery,” a podcast where she has in-depth conversations with LGBTQ newsmakers. Meanwhile, both co-host the stand-up comedy podcast “Put Your Hands Together.”
As co-hosts and spouses — now bus tour co-headliners across the country — Esposito and Butcher are constantly navigating career and home life together.
“I mean, we are in direct competition with each other,” Esposito said. “But, the good news is: I think Rhea's really funny.”