I did a show on recently at a local club. There was a newer comic on the bill as well– a newer comic but a grown man. Like probably 40. His set was pretty unintelligible– just a lot of general yelling about thick butts and how sexy he finds them. And not in a clever way. I mean, who doesn’t like thick butts? But just saying that you like thick butts isn’t a joke. I guess what I mean is, he lacked punch lines. That’s fine. Pretty much every comic starts without punch lines. We’re all trying to find punch lines. We’re all always trying to find punch lines. That’s like half the job. The other half is making sure your jean jacket is clean.
What was amazing, though, was how unfazed this man was. None of his jokes got much response, but every time he’d set-up a new joke, he’d ask for a round of applause to get the crowd on board. “Round of applause if you watch reality TV.” (half punch line…teeny response). “Round of applause if you like Facebook.” (half punch line…teeny response). I found it inspiring. His jokes were bombing but he was acting like it was all going over really well, so he wasn’t bombing. I always find that really cool to watch– when a comic moves through material without acknowledging the room is tough. This room wasn’t particularly tough, but still, I was on his side.
I went up at the end of the night. Technically, I was the headliner. I had a longer set than the other comics, but I say “technically,” because it was just 15 minutes– a great, long set in LA, but not a typical headlining set. Eight other comics went up before me, so the room wasn’t particularly fresh. And there was an audience of about 10, so they were doing some hard work staying engaged, but they were trying. My set was going well when, about halfway through, I mentioned my distaste for “lesbian” porn. I’m talking about the stuff that’s on the Internet, where two women are clearly just dancing around to please the off-camera man– either the director in the room, or the guy at home watching. It really grosses me out, and I especially bring it up onstage because it’s a pretty accessible way to talk about my sexuality. And to set some boundaries.
For years guys would come up to me — other comics, audience members, married heterosexual audience member couples — and proposition me after shows. I would be just talking about my life — having a girlfriend, going to a movie with that girlfriend, whatever — and for some reason, that would get folks going. They’d want to talk to me about my sex life, or worse, their sex life. And the thing is, I’m not into men. Because I’m a lesbian. So I’m not into men. Or really married women. Or straight women. Or like, you know, whoever because I’m meeting them after a show where I was just talking about my girlfriend. Of course, women are oversexualized. We know that. We sell beer with that. But two women, well that’s the stuff of Sweeps Week.
Porn is a huge part of that. I’m fine with folks watching whatever (consensual) stuff works for them, but I’m not super stoked on men (because this part is always men) absorbing my actual life into their Web history. One time after a show, an 80-year-old man asked me if he could will me his collection of softcore pornography. I think I had been talking about The Terminator that particular night. But 80-year-olds aside, I’m not going to hide my sexuality either. Because if I stop talking about my life, and about my sexuality with some degree of candor – not even a huge degree, but some! – then comedy is just left with a sea of dude comics miming wieners onstage forever. I don’t hear myself represented on stage, and that’s okay. I’ll represent myself. I’m happy to.
Sooo…I was on stage. And I said I don’t personally dig watching two gals together in a sexy way on the Internet. Instead, I said, I like watching two, large, muscular, clean-shaven black men. I said this, partly, because it’s true. I’m a lesbian but I still can see that men are attractive. I just don’t want to be with them. Does that make sense? I mean, I have eyes and also, at some level, human beings are human beings.
If you’re going to tell me that you can’t determine good looking folks of any sex, I’m going to call you a liar. We’re all on a spectrum. We all have things we are specifically attracted to. Brad Pitt is beautiful. And so are two hot, muscly black dudes. To me. I’m into it. I just am. And, because pornography is geared toward men, those two dudes together can sometimes seem like they’re actually having a good time, which is nice. There’s no woman to worry over, or two women to worry over. I’m not saying those dudes are all stable and making choices, but it just seems like maybe at least they aren’t in giant, imminent danger. After I mentioned my interest in watching two dudes together, that newer comic — I’ll call him BabyBombsAlot — yelled out “Oh no! Nu-uh! No way!”
I stopped because it’s been a while since I’ve been heckled by another comic. I asked him, “Why did you just have that reaction? Because I’m talking about two dudes?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“But I’m talking about what I like. What I’m into. What makes you think you get to have an opinion?” I responded. I can’t remember what he said. Some nonsense. Then somehow – of course – we got to talking about two women together, which shockingly, he was completely fine with. In fact, he mentioned that he’d “Like to get in on that, just mix it up like some gumbo.”
Then I said this to him:
“I don’t know in what world you think yelling out about a threesome at a show – to another comic – is going to get you a threesome, but this will not happen. In fact, I wish I could take the concept of two women together away from you. Because it’s not for you. I wish I could go on your laptop and block your access to Orange is the New Black.”
That got a huge laugh and I tore into him for a while. Nothing too cruel, but he couldn’t seem to stop. During each back and forth, the audience was on my side. He never apologized or backed off or understood what I was saying. I suppose I should have expected that actually. I mean, the dude did not look back during his set. Maybe that wasn’t strategy. Maybe it was privilege. He just felt like the audience was on board with his jokes no matter what or, if they weren’t, that was their problem. And while he was yelling, there was a definite feeling that in his mind, he was speaking on behalf of the entire audience. I could just feel it. He had bombed, I was killing, but still, to him, the audience was his. Yeah, they were into thick butts. No, they weren’t into two dudes. He knew it. He had to tell me.
That bummed me out. A normal, schlubby straight dude — not super gross, but not fit or well-dressed or put together in any way — thinking his opinion needs to be shared, even after he’s already had his time onstage. I sat through his straight, schlubby set. I tried to support his interest in thick butts. But he could not sit through mine. He couldn’t listen to me say that I like to watch two men together. He couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t allow that anyone in the audience might agree with me, but he felt totally comfortable inviting himself into my sex life. The whole moment was just a great embodiment of the gay experience: a straight dude, shouting about how two dudes together is gross and propositioning a lesbian at the same time.
I’m engaged. I wear flannel. When I dated men, I dated football players and track stars. I tried the best dudes. Fit, well-put-together guys. Guys who wouldn’t have yelled out at a show. They didn’t work for me, and they would have been unhappy with me. Because I was never going to be into them.
So to BabyBombsAlot, I say this: You don’t have a future in comedy. Not because you don’t have punch lines yet. Maybe a little bit because you think it’s fine to heckle another comic, but mostly not because of that. It’s because, as a comic, you have to be able to speak for yourself, to eloquently and honestly convey your opinions, viewpoint, — your whole self, really — to the audience during your time onstage. That’s what I’m trying to do. What the fuck are you doing?
This was originally posted on CameronEsposito.com on June 27 and has been reprinted with permission. Cameron Esposito is a Chicago-bred, LA-based comic and the host of the Put Your Hands Together podcast.