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photo by Jason Smith

Cameron Esposito
grew up in the city of Chicago, most famously known for Second City, which sent many alumni to Saturday Night Live and Hollywood. But oddly enough, she didn’t get into performing until she moved to Boston. While in college there, she started training in improvisation, eventually moving back home to the windy city where she took to the stage as a comedienne.

Cameron is currently on tour in the Pacific Northwest, and recently released her first CD, “Grab Them Aghast,” on the Rooftop label.

Rooftop: Where did the title come from?

CE: The title is from one of my jokes, and was suggested to me by a friend and fellow stand up comic Adam Burke. It’s kind of part and parcel to what it means to be a stand up comic. Sometimes, you just kinda gotta shock people into a little laughter, or you gotta “grab them aghast.” In the joke, a woman is touching her pearls.

Rooftop: How long did it take you to come up with the material?

CE: The material is a reflection of my first four years of doing stand up, as I started just four years ago. I did improv before that, but switched to stand up four years ago.

It really feels like, even thought obviously not every joke was used, but it feels like four years worth of work. Which is awesome, it feels awesome to have that finished, and to have put a little cap on that and then looking forward to creating new stuff.

Rooftop: You’re very fluid on stage; you play off the audience, you improvise, you react. Was the CD recorded free form like this, or mostly to script?

CE: You know what? I tried to stay to script, because it is my natural inclination to not. I was trying to force myself to stay on point a little more, so yeah, that was the goal. Be consistent! So it’s a little more on point than my usual stuff.

Rooftop: You got your start in improv; how/why did you make the transition into stand up, and how do you think starting in improv influenced you?

CE: I think some stand up comics spend a lot of time writing before they become stand up comics; they’ve spent time sitting at home writing for years before trying it out. For me, I have a lot of stage comfort, because of my background in improv, but I didn’t have the sold, written material. So I think improv has made it so much easier for me to be on stage. But it’s also a challenge, because as a stand up you have to be comfortable enough with your material that you can go off in different directions, but you’re not making it up on the spot, obviously.

I started doing stand up, because I moved to Chicago, the HOME of improv, and I fell out of love with it. There were too many people doing it, and it just didn’t connect with me, and I just started doing stand up instead. I guess that’s me being an outsider [laughs]. You’re going to move to the Mecca of improv and start doing something else.

Rooftop: How much does your sexuality play into interacting with an audience; is it something you talk about, not talk about, immediately, or does it come up later in your set, or even sometimes not at all?

CE: It’s something that I really like doing now [telling audiences I’m gay]. I feel like because we do still live in a time where I don’t have the same rights as a straight person.

Rooftop: You do where I live; you can come get gay married in Iowa.

CE: YAY! [Laughs] My little sister lives in Iowa. I think it’s important to be out [of the closet], and be a functional, fun and cool person, and it’s not because I’m queer, but because it’s who I am. I mean, I like talking about it is because for me, completely normal. Like, I’ll reference a girlfriend, because that’s something that can be fun and challenging a little bit to an audience to figure out, initially what I mean with that word, because women will use it to reference a straight friend. Then I generally get a little more specific so people can figure it out. I would say that generally, I don’t use the term gay or lesbian on stage that frequently anymore. Although it is on my album, I do say those words, but today it’s more about being real with where I’m at as a human. I think there are some sets where I don’t bring it up at all, but I talk about my girlfriend the way male stand up comics will talk about their girlfriends. I think that’s awesome, I think it’s great to be able to bring that to people, who might not necessarily know somebody who is a lady who dates ladies.

Rooftop: How would you define yourself as a comedian?

CE: I define myself as an alternative comic, first. Meaning I’m most comfortable in like, rock clubs, or theaters, and alternative venues, because my jokes are a little more meandering and surreal than straightforward setup and punchline. The guys think that it’s great that I’m queer, and a lady, and that there’s a benefit to that because it makes me stand out. But I don’t necessarily need to play queer shows, or all female shows, like, it doesn’t… it influences me as a human, but it doesn’t exactly restrict me from what I want to do. Hang on one second…

[I hear random traffic, and a friendly honk of a horn]

CE: Sorry, parking my car!

Rooftop: Do you censor yourself at all; do you have a filter you use when talking about yourself on stage? “Oh, I should say that,” “Oh, I shouldn’t say that?”

CE: I think that generally I try… I’m always wrestling with what’s the right amount to share, and what’s not, you know? Because there is that want for including your own experience and talking about what’s relevant, and then there’s that weird line, like “ok, that would be a little bit too much.” Especially for like people who might be in my life, thinking, “Ok, I didn’t sign up for that…” For me that happens with my relationships, or with my parents, or with friends of mine, where you sort of have to sort of balance how free and open I want to be with who I am, with respect for other people’s privacy.

Rooftop: So you’d want to share more about yourself, than other people in your life.

CE: Exactly! That’s what the aim is. Where you’re sharing more about yourself than making fun of people in your life, like, “My parents are so hideous!” There’s that fine line between making fun of people in your life, and making fun of yourself interacting with them.

Rooftop: Most of what you do is personal; do you ever discuss politics on stage?

CE: Not really. I honestly think we’re already living in a time where my very existence is already political, especially my sexuality, because I don’t really think my being a woman effects other stuff on stage. But my sexuality is politicized right now, so just existing on stage is a statement. Actually just existing as a woman on stage is a statement, because it’s such a male dominated field.

Cameron’s new album, Grab Them Aghast, is available on iTunes.