Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The road to equality

(Photo: Mandee Johnson)

I’m mid-tour on a packed spring run. I’ll play 22 cities in four months, most of them clustered in May and June. I was in Denver last week, headlining Comedy Works, and stopped for a night at WiseGuys in Salt Lake City on the way back to L.A. This weekend I’ll drive to a gorge in the middle of Washington state to play the Sasquatch Music Festival. Well, we will.


My opener on the tour is Rhea Butcher, a fantastic comic I met in Chicago and who also happens to be my fiancée. We began touring together before we were dating; I loved her material, thought she seemed like an easy hang, and asked her to open for me when I began headlining rooms in the Midwest.

When I realized I had feelings for her, it came as a great surprise. The idea that I might be able to share my life with another comic had never crossed my mind. Suddenly it seemed possible that I might be able to hit the road with a true partner—somebody I already liked as a comic—then chat about shows hours after they happened, while drifting off to sleep.

There was a period after we began dating when we didn’t tour together. We had just moved to Los Angeles and needed to establish ourselves as our own comics. I wasn’t yet headlining nationally, and I’m a generation ahead of Rhea—I started earlier. I cut my teeth as an opener the first year we moved and Rhea held down the fort at home—working to establish herself in the local scene.

We almost killed each other that year. I was gone for the better part of eight months. When I was home, I was exhausted. Rhea still worked a day job as a graphic designer and she worked from home. When I was in town, we both did.


We knew a few people in Los Angeles and tried to be social, but L.A. social life requires careful planning—everyone we knew traveled as much as I did. We got in more than a few fights because we were sick of looking at each other 24 hours a day.

Over time, things began to turn. Rhea and I and our friend Ricky launched an action and sci-fi movie podcast; Rhea and I and our friend Ryan created a live stand-up show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. I landed a bunch of television work and began to write this column. Rhea began performing at top L.A. shows and at festivals. I started headlining clubs, then small theaters, and eventually it became apparent: I’d benefit from taking an opener. Someone dependable, who made me laugh and who also was decent company over breakfast.


Rhea and I discussed our options. I could take her, but what would people think? Would they assume she couldn’t get other work? Would they assume I asked her just because we were together—not because I’d already seen her on the road and could be truly honest with her and loved her jokes? Finally: Would I even be able to follow her?

Usually, the best opener is someone totally unlike the headliner. That way all risk of the opener stepping on the headliner’s material is sidestepped. Could we play large, mainstream, alternative-comedy venues as a lesbian double-bill without alienating straight audience members?


As it turns out, yes, we can. We have been. Not long after those first chats we decided together that it was ridiculous not to try. The things we worried about—the perceived girlfriend booking and the no-two-lesbians-in-one-place-at-a-time rule—were idiotic. Not because they haven’t been thought, but because I didn’t become a comic to make everyone happy. I became a comic to create the show I wanted to make, and attract whatever audience felt spoken to by that show. Rhea did, too.

If I could pick any comic out there to tour with, it would be her. And I can pick, so it is.


That Rhea and I tour together is no crazier than that we are together, preparing to get married. I worked for 15 years to become a headliner, and to earn the right to bring an opener and create my show on my terms. Over those same 15 years, as I fought for my place in the comedy world, I’ve been fighting for my place in the greater culture too.

I’ve been fighting onstage for the right to share my career with a comic I respect and admire and offstage for the right to share my life with a person I respect and admire. I bring Rhea because she’s the best person I can imagine bringing and I’ll marry her because she’s the best person I can imagine marrying.


As we hit these 22 cities this spring, we’re passing through states that would recognize and legalize our marriage and those that wouldn’t yet. By the end of this run we will know how the Supreme Court has ruled on equal marriage and whether the nation at large sees what audiences are seeing: that we more than work well together, we improve each other. It’s my belief that the Supreme Court will see this, and that it will rule in our favor.

Cameron, Rhea, and equal marriage: all coming to a city near you.

Cameron Esposito is an L.A.-based stand-up comic, writer, and actor. Her new album, Same Sex Symbol, is out on Kill Rock Stars records. Follow her on Twitter at @cameronesposito.


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