comics talk to comics

Samantha Bee Talks to Cameron Esposito About Pregnancy Humor and Hillary Hatred

Photo-Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photo by Getty Images

The onscreen comedy landscape gained a necessary dose of perspective last month with the premiere of longtime Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee’s TBS weekly talk show, Full Frontal. Then, this week, another important, unique voice made its way into homes and on to devices with the release of comedian Carmen Esposito’s stand-up special, Marriage Material, on Seeso. We figured that the only thing better than seeing the two comics on their respective solo programs would be a conversation between the pair; fortunately, they agreed and spent a lively 20 minutes talking about dealing with the physical signs of onstage nerves, why pregnancy can be hilarious, and how to deal with all the odious woman-hating that’s been bubbling up this election season.

Samantha Bee: Cameron, I’m so excited to be talking to you. I think you’re so great.
Cameron Esposito: It’s great talking to you. Your show is going so well!

I’m having a really fun time. I have wanted to put you on the show. I’m not exactly sure when or in what capacity.
We will wait until that perfect moment.

We will find a perfect moment. Because I think you’re so great. This is fun. It’s a lovefest.
I’m overjoyed. Yesterday I taped The Late Late Show, and I got to hang out with Connie Britton for a minute.

What? She’s wonderful. Tami Taylor means a lot to me. I saw Connie Britton on the red carpet at, I think, the Emmys, and I went directly to her. I didn’t put my fingers in her hair, but I wanted to. I did touch her dress. It was velvety and beautiful. She was okay with it. I asked first. I was respectful. I was respectful of touching her body in her velvet dress.
I believe you. That’s exactly what I would do. That level of respect. It’s interesting, because on that show they do the interviews together on a couch. Not me, because I was doing stand-up, but it was her and Mark Cuban — and because Mark Cuban was there, James Corden started asking a lot of political questions.

Like, related to the election?
Yeah, like, let’s go through each of the candidates and talk about who’s viable.

Oh no. That’s not fair. You’re just trying to stay together and not flash your underwear. There’s lots of things that you’re physically thinking about, and it’s very uncomfortable. I never do well when people are like, “Okay, here’s the fun part. I’m gonna ask you 30 questions in 12 seconds, and you answer them with immense wit and keep them all really short. Sound bites please. Go. Include everyone.”
And strong opinions.

I just want you to feel comfortable making as many jokes as you can in five seconds without preparing. Go. Always a pleasure.
How many times do you run your stuff before you’re taping your show?

Not too many times actually. We tape around 5:00, so before that we do a rehearsal for camera blocking and stuff around 1:00 or 1:30, and that’s pretty much it. Then we go rewrite it, and then I say it out loud. I sit with it for a minute. We don’t spend too long with it. I learned that skill at The Daily Show. There would be times when I would go out and be cold reading on a teleprompter. That happened quite often. It wasn’t the most balanced way to perform something, but it’s a skill set I feel pretty comfortable with. Also, on my show, if I make a terrible mistake we can redo things. I don’t like to do that, and I don’t often do it, but it could happen.
That is what I was trying to remind myself. A lot of things make me nervous, though not many of them are performance-wise. But doing stand-up sets on television makes me very nervous.

I don’t do stand-up. I have no idea how you do what you do.
I feel like I’m going to forget all my jokes, and then I’ll shit myself.

It’s obviously a mental disorder that causes us all to go into performance because it’s terribly nerve-racking. Sometimes my legs shake. I mean literally, my knees knock. Do your knees knock? It’s the worst feeling in the world. They knock.
Here’s a thing. When you’re holding a mic, it’s even more visible when you have shaking hands. You cannot have shaky hands. That is no dice.

No, you have to be a surgeon. You have to be a surgeon with your hands. I’m so young and feminine. My knees knock just like a girl scout. With my tube socks. But you can see them. It doesn’t happen often but it does happen. I hope it never happens to you.
I haven’t ever had them do this. I’m sure you’ve now brought it upon me.

I’m sure I have.
It’ll be a nice memory of this phone call.

And don’t let your neck get red, because that’s also awkward. I know a woman whose throat turns red when she performs.
Oh yeah, that’s a thing. That’s a real thing.

It’s a terrible curse because then production stops. Everything grinds to a halt because they’re like, “Her neck’s getting red!” Then the makeup team flies in, and they’re trying to powder this red neck and there’s sweat and it’s awful. It makes the neck redder. Then the face goes red. You have to hold production for two hours for the blood vessels to constrict.
I was shooting a movie with this very young actor who was so nice and we were really hitting it off on set. Then during our scene, it was so hot. Like, L.A. summer in a school with no air conditioning.

She was sweating, and it was dripping off the end of her nose. And she was so young that she didn’t say, “I think I need a break or I’m gonna pass out,” so I felt the need to step up. I was like, “Listen, we gotta get a team in here.”

Shut it down. Fly them in. We need a towel, we need a series of towels. Hey, you got married. Congratulations. I know a lot about you. Is that creepy?
No. I know you’re married.

That’s true.
You’re married to someone you work with. I’m married to someone I work with.

That’s nice. How do you like that? Everyone asks me about that, and I love it. Do you like it? You must like it.
I never would have thought that that’s how things would have gone. But the awesome thing is the further I go in my career, the more I realize this is somebody who really understands this. Because it is like your whole thing. And not just because it’s a seven-day-a-week job, but also just what you’re talking about. Rhea, my wife, is just so funny, it’s infuriating.

There’s a common language when you work with your spouse in this world.
There is, and it’s really awesome. And it prevents me a little bit from being up my own ass. There’s somebody there with me who’s like, “You need to calm down about this,” or “Hey, here’s another joke that’s good,” because you’re a brand. You’re a small businessperson but your business is yourself, and it’s really important to share that with someone so you don’t spiral out of control.

It’s true. We definitely surf the waves of emotion. If I’m being hysterical about something, which doesn’t often happen, [Jason Jones, her husband] may be in a better place to level me out. Then we switch. We go back and forth. Over the course of our careers we’ve always worked together. That’s how we met. It’s nice to have a soft place to fall when you aren’t feeling great. I don’t think it would be the same if Jason was in finance. It would be harder to communicate the importance of trivial things that I find important.
We were together for a very short time and then moved to L.A. and took on that experience together, which made me realize “This is the person I can count on.” Because everything happened. We moved, and then we both had grandparents pass away. It was all these things at once.

You can build something together when you’re starting at a new base level. That’s great. Happy for you.
And you have kiddos.

We do. We have three kids.
I am so curious to see how having kids works, because as a woman who performs on things where you see me — like, I’m not a writer — that’s a thing.

Yup. I certainly spent a lot of time pregnant on-camera. But I did have a job where no one cared. You can do your job massively pregnant if you choose to go down that road. It’s fine. It’ll be hilarious. It’ll add to your comedy in ways that you never expected. Like when you elbows grow hair for no reason. Things happen to you that you can talk about. Or you can just ignore it. Have I ever seen a massively pregnant stand-up? It doesn’t feel familiar to me. It’s not a thing. Can you please do that? I would love to see that.
There are two L.A. comics that I know who have done it through some portion of their career, there’s Laurie Kilmartin* and Ali Wong. But they’re both also writers. They’ve done on-camera stuff, but there’s definitely a cushion of hibernation.

I want you to go up on your due date. I want you there a little bit in labor, just when you’re like, “I think it’s happening, but I’ll still do my set.” Because you totally can. “Just let me take a breath.” Oh my god. Please.
There’s for sure a part of me that can’t wait to tell this kid that he or she was really good for my career. I was on the rise, but when I was carrying you, that’s what really popped it, so that’s why you can go to this private school.

There’s something so great about that giant belly. I used it so much as a prop and a bit. It was so alarming to people. I remember one time, it was a man-on-the-street thing, and at some point I dropped the microphone for no reason and sprinted across Columbus Circle. I was massive, and everyone was so horrified, like, “Are you okay?” And I was like, “I wouldn’t be doing something if I thought it was threatening to me or the baby. I just think it’s really funny to watch a massive woman clearly about to have a baby sprint across the street.” And it was. It worked.
Yeah, there’s you, and Amy Poehler was on TV a little bit when she was pregnant. There was a whole subplot … okay, listen, during any given conversation there’s going to be a portion where I get into The L Word.

Okay. Yep. I loved that show so much.
It was really important to me. And so, there was this plot on L Word where this couple was together and one of them was pregnant on the show, and the actor that was her wife was pregnant in real life. But because they decided that the other character was pregnant, they couldn’t make the person who was really pregnant pregnant so they just carried groceries in front of her for the entire season.

Wait who was that?
Jennifer Beals. She was pregnant for an entire season.

Oh my god. Really?
She’s so thin and sinewy that you can’t really tell.

Wow. But I do remember the other one being totally pregnant on the show. That’s hilarious.
And then she got really pregnant. It was a whole thing where they were trying to figure out how many pregnancies they could really write into the show. She’s always behind the bar cleaning it, or carrying a bowling ball. It’s not intentionally funny but it’s very funny.

That is amazing. Fortunately, it’s better when you don’t have to conceal it. It’s better when you can just be free and wear clothes that are too small and have your navel stick out.
Well, the final thing I want to talk to you about, it’s the most serious. I’m so stressed out about what’s happening with Hillary. Do you feel the amount of misogyny on your end? Just being on the internet, being in the world?

I have been very surprised. I feel like I’m very cynical and I’ve just inhabited this world for a long time, and I am really shocked by how much people don’t want a female president. It has really taken me by surprise. I’m gobsmacked by it.
I feel the same way. I think the way she’s being talked about feels very personal to me. When I look at the words people use about her, and it’s about her tone of voice, or just that she’s a crazy bitch, which is not even language I thought people used anymore. After all these years of people asking what it’s like to be a woman in comedy, I thought that we were in a different place than we are.

I’m shocked by how many reasonable people wouldn’t vote for her for reasons that are so in their DNA that they’re not even really aware that they’re just reacting to her like she’s their mom or something. It has really astonished me. We’re gonna be covering Hillary a lot, and I’m really excited to do it.
I’m really glad that you’re doing it. It’s really important to have a woman weighing in. It’s not even pro-Hillary, first of all, I fucking love her, but it’s not even that, it’s that people aren’t even talking about what’s actually happening, and I just think it’s wonderful that you’re doing the thing you’re doing.

It’s gonna be a wild year. I’m anticipating a lot of peaks and valleys.
You know what else? It also makes me feel unsafe in the way people are talking about her, because I’m so shocked by it, and then I’m like, “Oh, people really hate women. I thought people just hated women but people really hate women.” And it had made me realize for the first time what black people have been going through for the last eight years. Obviously, I know racism is happening, but I don’t think I realized.

We have so much access to people with personal opinions now in a way that we never did before. We are constantly confronted with opinions of everything that we say and do. So it is a kind of otherworldly experience to dive into that. I certainly never read anything about myself, which is why I am able to stand on two feet and live my life.
I cannot read anything about myself.

You cannot. You truly cannot.
I’ll tell you, through the filter of me, people are saying good stuff about you.

Oh, that’s nice. I appreciate that. That’s good to know.
You don’t even have to worry about it.

Well, Sam, I think I’m gonna let you get back to work.

This was a total pleasure. We will talk again. We have things to talk about. We’ve only done five shows. It feels like I’ve been doing the show for 100 years, but it’s only been five shows.
It feels that way to me, too.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

*The article originally included an incorrect name. We regret the error.

Samantha Bee Talks to Cameron Esposito