ARUN RATH, HOST:
In the world of standup, turning your childhood traumas into comedy routines doesn't exactly set you apart. But comedian Cameron Esposito really had the deck stacked against her growing up.
CAMERON ESPOSITO: I had crossed eyes when I was a kid. I wore an eye patch for eight years of my childhood.
ESPOSITO: So there's probably no reason I'm funny at all.
RATH: That's from Cameron Esposito's new comedy album. It's called "Same Sex Symbol." Esposito stopped by NPR West to talk about the album. I asked her about this next bit, about growing up Catholic in the Chicago suburbs.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY ALBUM, "SAME SEX SYMBOL")
ESPOSITO: I didn't know I was gay until I was 20. For me, where I grew up, I honestly think it would've been as difficult for me to realize I was a lesbian as it would've been for me to realize I was a leprechaun.
ESPOSITO: Like gays and leprechauns, I thought they were mythical creatures for parades.
ESPOSITO: Yep, that's true. That was my childhood. Yeah, I grew up in a very homogeneous city - zero gay people that I knew. So it was really difficult figuring out that that's what was going on with me.
RATH: So did you have to get out of there to finally get a sense of yourself, or at what point did that happen?
ESPOSITO: Yeah, I moved to Boston and I was 20. And I was in college. And I kissed a woman for the first time. And that's really when I figured it out. I mean, because I had had boyfriends. But I didn't - sometimes people ask, like, how could you not have known? And I really think it's that, like, I just didn't realize some people enjoyed, like, kissing their boyfriends. Does that make any sense? It's true, like, if you read Cosmopolitan...
RATH: You thought all the heterosexual women were faking it?
ESPOSITO: I just thought they were, like, putting up with it. Like, this is what women are like. You just put up with it. And then you tell him to go home. I mean, really if you read, like, Cosmopolitan magazine, those articles are just like hey, do what you can for that guy. Don't worry about yourself. I never thought of my own pleasure or my own attractions. I just didn't - it just didn't come up for me at all. I didn't think about it. And then I kissed a woman and I was like oh, I understand now. Yeah, that's how that's supposed to feel.
RATH: And did you get into the comedy scene in Boston? Was that the first place that you...
ESPOSITO: I did. Yeah, I started in improv when I was in college. And strangely, I was in the same improv group that Amy Poehler was in, like, 10 years prior. So when I started in improv, she was on SNL. So it was the first time that I ever imagined a possible future in comedy. Because I again, like, where I was raised it wasn't a - an arts career wasn't something I ever thought of. It was like there's three jobs - you'd be, like, an accountant, like, a miscellaneous businessman, you know, I don't know. But it was my first taste. And I did that for several years. And the day after I graduated from college, I got my first professional job doing improv at a theater in Boston.
RATH: Did you get bothered at all by the - do you worry about getting pegged as, like, the gay comic or lesbian comic? Because you do a lot of material about a lot of other stuff that's hilarious.
ESPOSITO: Sure, I don't worry about it - well, thank you. First of all, thank you. I don't worry about it. I just more think like I'm ready to get to the next point. I think all of us as a country are ready and as a comic I'm also ready, which is that I want to talk about being gay in a way that it's included in all of my jokes because all of my jokes are - I'm a gay person. Like if I'm ordering a bagel, I'm a still a gay person ordering a bagel. And straight people do the same things. You know, when a dude is on stage and he's talking about his girlfriend, he's talking as a straight guy. And so I think I talk about it so much because I want it to become invisible.
RATH: It's remarkable though at the same time that in 2014, because you do bits about this, you still get heckled and people saying crazy offensive things to you.
ESPOSITO: All the time. This happens all the time. It does seem like some people think that this is a conversation that's over, you know, because some states have accepted equal marriage or because some comics are advocates and allies now. Well, then maybe this is over as a conversation. And I can tell you from - I mean, I was in Las Vegas and I was telling a joke about being engaged. And somebody in the audience yelled you are the devil.
RATH: How do you respond to you are the devil?
ESPOSITO: Well, it was kind of an amazing gift because the person who yelled it happened to have - I don't know if they just hadn't cleared their throat in a while - but they yelled it to me with the deepest, scariest, graveliest voice so it sounded like you are the devil. But that was who was calling me the devil. So I was like first of all, sir, if anybody is the devil, it's definitely you. Also, the devil doesn't exist. And I don't know why you're so threatened by me being up here and just talking about my life. I really wonder what that says about you. So I made fun of him for a while.
But really, honestly, I mean that is it. If you care about gay people in a way where you would want them to not be what they are, I just wonder, what's up with your life? How are you doing? Are you OK? I just feel like I wanted to give that guy like a really big hug, followed by a punch. Just a punch and a hug, hug and a punch.
RATH: Cameron Esposito, it's been a blast speaking with you. Thank you.
ESPOSITO: Thank you so much for your time. And thanks for letting me see this beautiful station.
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