“Too bad it’s illegal for two female comics to be on the same bill,” Cameron Esposito quips in the first episode of her new digital series, Take My Wife, which premieres August 11 on NBC’s comedy-centric streaming service Seeso. On Friday, during a preview screening and panel discussion at Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival, Esposito and her co-creator/co-star/wife Rhea Butcher discussed the series alongside executive producer Scott Aukerman and guest stars Paul F. Tompkins and Matt Braunger. The point of the show, Esposito said, is to answer the question that every female comic is all too familiar with: “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?” (“Moderate,” Butcher quipped.)
Butcher called Take My Wife “the Canada of our lives — because we come from the U.S. and we come here and it’s just slightly different.” The first episode quickly establishes the world of Cameron and Rhea (a close-up shot of their lace-up boots nestled in a closet together got a big laugh), who live together but aren’t yet married at the beginning of the series. Cameron is a full-time comedian who hosts a standup show in L.A.; Rhea works from home designing logos for “Uncle Bob’s Fish Sticks” and does the occasional standup set.
Cameron is lonely (“Don’t these people know I’m eating pho alone in my car?”); Rhea is frustrated and bored. “You should be doing this full-time,” Cameron urges her girlfriend in the first episode. “What, and quit my job making frozen food logos?” Rhea replies. “It’s God’s work.” At the end of the first episode, Cameron convinces Rhea to quit her job and host the showcase with her, a reflection of the real-life UCB show the couple hosts every Tuesday night in L.A.
Newlyweds Esposito and Butcher have obvious chemistry as a couple, but they’re also a wonderfully dynamic comedy duo. During the panel discussion, Esposito cracked that she would give a really long-winded response to a question and Butcher would then answer it in one perfect sentence — which pretty much sums up their relationship. Onscreen, Butcher’s low-key, deadpan vibe perfectly offsets Esposito’s fireball energy.
Take My Wife also features the kind of mentor-mentee relationship you rarely see onscreen. Cameron is invited on tour as the opening act for a big-name comic played by Matt Braunger, who pushes her to keep developing her act despite audiences’ tepid reactions to her routine. “Your greatest allies are the men you work alongside, and the women you work alongside,” Esposito said.
In the first episode, after appearing on Jonah Ray’s podcast, Cameron keeps fielding angry tweets along the lines of, “We get it, you’re gay.” In the panel discussion, Esposito said that story came from a similar experience when she made her first appearance on the “Comedy Bang Bang” podcast shortly after moving to L.A.
Scott Aukerman — the host of “Comedy Bang Bang” — piped in here, saying he began to notice a difference in the audience’s reaction when he’d have a woman on the podcast: “I would get a ton of messages saying, ‘I hate her voice and please never have her on the podcast again.’” He’d get this kind of blowback any time he had a guest who wasn’t a straight, white male. But, he said, straight people talk about being straight any time they mention sex or dating. He insisted, “People should be allowed to talk about their lives in comedy.”
For your average straight, white, male comic, Esposito said, “Your viewpoint is invisible” — a given. Take My Wife, on the other hand, offers a glimpse of the comedy industry through the eyes of a lesbian couple, drawing a connection between Rhea and Cameron’s commitment to comedy and their commitment to each other.
That analogy is at the heart of the series: If you love something, stick with it and good things will come.
“It’s incredibly ballsy to do this show,” Braunger said. “The world is not as woke as we want it to be. If this were on ABC, people would be losing their goddamn minds.”
Take My Wife premieres August 11 on Seeso.