Cameron Esposito recorded Marriage Material, her debut hourlong special, at Chicago’s Thalia Hall just two days before her own wedding to fellow stand-up Rhea Butcher. Oddly enough, this makes Esposito the second native Chicagoan in a matter of months to release a hometown special about, at least in part, the joys of adult partnership. Though the overlap between Marriage Material and John Mulaney’s Comeback Kid is doubtless coincidental, it’s still illustrative: the offbeat, nerdy, and “alt” performers who once signaled comedy’s future are now its present, and have all the trappings of adulthood to show for it. One of them also happens to be an out lesbian with a self-described “side mullet.”
Esposito has long drawn material from her childhood, during which she wasn’t so much closeted as completely unaware that gay was a thing people could actually be. On her 2014 album Same Sex Symbol, she compared gay people to leprechauns as equally mythical creatures during her Catholic school upbringing; on Marriage Material, out today via nascent comedy streaming service Seeso, she jokes that people called her fat because they literally didn’t know the word “dyke.”
Time and distance have afforded Esposito the ability to laugh at her own youthful ignorance, and she continues to get mileage out of it in Marriage Material. She spends a full quarter of the special delving into the special adolescent agony of having a best friend even she didn’t know she was in love with: “I knew I wanted [my boyfriend] to go home and I knew I wanted the same haircut as Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer,“ and that was it. There’s a horrifically awkward interlude in a swim team locker room, in which Esposito wrings maximum physical comedy from stuffing a mid-pubescent body into a very tiny swimsuit. And everything culminates in the particular tragedy of your friend group “experimenting” with everyone else but you.
From there, however, Esposito ventures into newer territory. It’s no coincidence that the special’s most conspicuous piece of promotion, an excellent five-minute set on James Corden’s Late Late Show, features Esposito speculating on the idea of maternity via “takeout, because we do not have all the raw materials in our kitchen.” There’s something amazing about a candid discussion of queer parenthood taking place in a format that’s traditionally been a place for straight men to air their relationship troubles, but with the exception of an unusually polemic bit about gun control and some enthusiastically pro-Hillary tweeting, Esposito isn’t a political comic. Her experiences have simply evolved, and she’s been given the stage to discuss them.
And discuss them she does. Happy coupledom doesn’t have the best reputation as comic source material, but Esposito’s insistence that love is real because a person who’s terrified of being murdered in her sleep (Esposito) can peacefully cohabit with a sleepwalker (Butcher) gets some of the biggest laughs of the hour, as does her description of planning a wedding where neither party is particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a wedding (“We’re gonna Slip-n-Slide down the aisle to the sounds of the Furious 7 soundtrack!”). Later, Esposito makes what might be the inaugural entry in the hopefully long-lasting subgenre of sperm donor humor.
Unconventional as some of her subject matter may be — an unapologetically gross sermon on periods gets a boost from Esposito’s positively gleeful delivery — Esposito has the commanding stage presence of a classic stand-up at the top of her game, and the suit jacket to match. Which makes Marriage Material a perfect match with Seeso, an NBCUniversal venture that’s admirable in concept (cater to the Internet’s ever-increasing ranks of comedy nerds for a relatively low price) but thus far shaky in execution. In between scripted series, often originally produced internationally or for the Internet and streamable via the service, and a handful of specials that haven’t resulted in much press, Seeso could use a performer with Esposito’s reputation and confidence. Meanwhile, Esposito herself turns her first-ever special into a fitting showcase.