Cameron Esposito (Courtesy of Jeff Dojillo )
By any standards, Chicago-area native Cameron Esposito has had a busy year. Since she and her fiancee, fellow comedian Rhea Butcher, moved to Los Angeles in September 2012, Esposito has debuted on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," where Ferguson and Jay Leno—a guest on that night's program—interrupted her set, invited her to sit between them and proclaimed her "the future of comedy." She recently finished a 20-city tour with Anthony Jeselnik (where at one venue, she was accidentally introduced as Cameron Diaz). And when not on the road, she appears frequently as a "Chelsea Lately" panelist and hosts her own "Put Your Hands Together" comedy show and podcast at Upright Citizens Brigade, where her guests have included Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman and many other stand-up luminaries.
Now she returns to headline Queer Comedy at Zanies next Tuesday—where Butcher also performs a set—and then appears as a special guest of fellow Chicago native John Caponera throughout the holiday weekend. She headlines the club again Dec. 1. We called her as she was prepping for a "Chelsea Lately" taping to talk about her upcoming Chicago sets and her whirlwind year.
Go: 8:30 p.m. Nov. 26; various times Nov. 27, 28-29 and Dec. 1 at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells St.
Tickets: $15-$25 plus a two-drink minimum. 312-337-4027; chicago.zanies.com
Expect some Chicago-centric jokes in her set: "It's hard to not play to a hometown crowd with the depth of knowledge that you have. When I'm touring around, I have to think about all of the things that unite us as people, but when I'm in Chicago I can get really specific. I can talk about the 'L,' I can talk about how Lake Michigan is moderately disgusting, but we still all swim in it anyway. [Laughs.] I love being home and being able to chat about the specificity of it all."
When she's back in town: "I was a longtime resident of Logan Square and I'm renting a place there for the week, just because how could you not live there once you've lived there? It's such a great neighborhood. I love Cole's Bar on Milwaukee, where I used to host an open mic forever. [There's] a real 'Cheers' vibe to it. Cole, the owner, knows everybody's name—and that's not about the theme song; it's just the truth of the bar. I love going to El Cid for their tacos and veggie burritos. And I love going to the Logan Theater, although it's a little bit of a bummer because they rehabbed it and now it doesn't smell like pee as much."
On meeting Craig Ferguson and Jay Leno: "As a comic, hey, it really matters if you have fans. It really matters if you get paid and you get to do this for a living. There's so many things that matter that kind of give you these cues along your way that you're doing OK. But I think the No. 1 thing is just being taken seriously by other comics. There's nothing that feels so good to a comic as that. If ever you're at a show, the [other] comics stand in the back. And really, the performer is playing to the back of the room. You really want to make the other comics laugh. And to have those gentlemen talk to me like I was a comic—that's what that moment was to me. And that matters so much. It was a really huge deal."
The benefits of being an out lesbian comedian in 2013: "It's a wonderful time for me to be the person I am [laughs] because I have a lot to say. Comedy is mostly about being angry [laughs] and I'm not reaching for material—it's all right out there. But at the same time, nothing can sustain a career besides competence and skill and practice."
On marriage equality in Illinois: [Rhea and I] got engaged over the summer and I can't tell you how exciting and also bizarre that still seems, after a life of never thinking that would be something that happened for me or that I would be able to do. My fiancee and I had decided that we were going to wait until it was legal, as a political statement. For ourselves personally, we didn't want to get married until it could be legal. And to sort of have that happen overnight and then to decide, 'Oh my god, now we're going to do it'—we're still living in that moment for awhile and just feeling really excited that we get to tell people that! Excited that I get to wear a ring, you know? I think at some point, it's going to hit us that we should make some plans [laughs] and actually have a wedding. But until then, I will just say that I am happily engaged."
But she doesn't want Illinois marriage equality to foster complacency about LGBT rights: "It can almost feel like a glut of information, like it just isn't a big deal anymore. I'm always wondering if people have compassion fatigue about it because now it's legal in all these states. But it will still be illegal for me to be a human person that has regular rights in 34 states. So I just want to say that we need to keep strong on the fight, because there are still families that live in those states that need your help. We still have a long way to go."