What happens when two comedians say, “I do?” Naturally, the lines of home and work become a little bit blurred. At least that was the case for Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher: One month after exchanging vows, the two budding comics tossed their honeymoon plans aside, teamed up with Seeso and dived headfirst into creating a scripted series titled Take My Wife. Although the six-episode arc, which premiered earlier this month, is largely fictional, the storyline skews awfully close to a typical day in the lives of the comedic couple.
Playboy caught up with Esposito and Butcher to discuss why it’s a terrible idea to make a TV show with your spouse, why they are the Katie Ledeckys of comedy why you won’t find any Vaseline on the on the camera on a Take My Wife set.
What was the inspiration behind Take My Wife?
CAMERON: We have a live stand-up show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles. Seeso was looking for people to do original programming and they asked us if we would want to film our stand-up show. We pitched them back a scripted version where you go home with the two hosts and you see a slightly fictionalized version of our lives. We fell in love with the moments where Rhea and I got to talk about our lives as a family and as two women trying to make it in a really cutthroat industry. And that’s the show.
We always hear that being a comedian’s wife is horrible because you end up the butt of so many jokes. What is the dynamic like with both of you being comedians and married to each other?
RHEA: When I’m on stage, I never say Cameron by name. I’m always like, “my wife.” I like to talk about situations that have happened between us in our relationship but not to ever make my wife the butt of a joke, because I love my wife—how could I do that? But we definitely have some conversations where we are like, “OK. Who gets that one?”
CAMERON: Traditionally, this has been a straight male field. The people on stage have been talking about the people off stage that didn’t have a voice. A straight dude comic doesn’t talk about his wife a bunch and then she comes up on stage and goes, “Actually, this guy is completely lying to you.”
RHEA: It would be so great if a wife jumped in and said, “Well actually…”
CAMERON: And that’s essentially what our show is. It’s both teams being represented. Rhea and I have similar sensibility on what’s off limits. But I have totally accidentally told Rhea’s jokes. We are together so much that there have been moments where I have opened my mouth to say something and one of Rhea’s jokes fell out. As a comic, to steal someone’s material is the worst insult you could ever give them. It’s like doping in sports. So I’m also onstage going, “Oh no!” And even if I know Rhea gets it, it’s such a betrayal that I have to go, “I’m sorry!” I’m down on my knees like, “Please. Let me come home tonight.”
Is anything in the marriage completely off-limits when it comes to jokes?
CAMERON: We decided not to have any nudity.
RHEA: And that was all me, because I was like, “Cameron, we can’t do this. We’re an actual couple. People know that we’re actually together. And screen shots of us naked or suggestively naked will live forever.”
CAMERON: I wanted to show a realistic depiction of lesbian sexuality because so often on TV, women are making out and suddenly the camera gets super slow motion and Vaseline is all over the camera and then immediately both women are having simultaneous organisms even though nobody’s hands are touching anything. So I was like, “Rhea we could really show it like it is.” And she was like, “Why would you want to show people in this situation?” I think we will make that other show somewhere down the line. But she is totally right. When it is your actual life—sorry guys, we’ll have to keep that for another day.
But you do have sexy scenes on the show. Does it feel like you have a camera in your actual bedroom?
CAMERON: A little bit. When we were in bed, it would just be our director and our director of photography and then Rhea and I. And all of a sudden we would be in jammies. I would just say that it is very confusing to be in your pajamas in bed with your wife and to remember, “Oh yes, I am on camera and should behave as such.” And the opposite started happening. When we were coming home, I was having lucid dreams where I kept thinking that the director and DP were in our bedroom.
Handing out granola bars while dressed as a granola bar isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.
In the show, there’s tension over the fact that your characters are in different places in their careers. Have you ever gotten competitive with each other in real life?
RHEA: Every single day! Have you noticed how much we are competing in this conversation?
CAMERON: To do stand-up, you fail for years. And then you have some successes and then you fail again. It’s a job you wouldn’t do if you didn’t think you were the best person in the world to do it. Every comic thinks they are the best at this job. You have to. And to have two people in the same household that both think that about themselves but also about each other can be intense. I think Rhea is unbelievably talented. I’m such an advocate for her and her career. But at the same time, she better get out of my way.
RHEA: I feel exactly the same way! I feel like comedy is kind of how Team USA works. So in gymnastics or swimming or running, they do the team relays or the gymnastics team all around first. And then those players have to compete against each other individually later. So you have to be able to be a team but also have enough drive and confidence in yourself to be like, “Yeah, but I’m the best one on the team.”
CAMERON: Which one of us is Michael Phelps and which one of us is Ryan Lochte?
CAMERON: Trick question! We’re both Katie Ledecky.
RHEA: Yeah. That’s what I was going to say.
CAMERON: Nailed it!
Do you recommend making a show with your significant other?
CAMERON: No don’t do this. It’s a terrible idea! I mean, it’s almost killing us. It is a true testament to how much we are committed to each other that we are still talking to each other. We started making this show one month into being married. We cancelled our honeymoon to make it. It’s so much time spent with another person and so much pressure. It’s a terrible thing to do to any relationship. That being said, it’s the best. It’s the show of the season. So far reviews have been amazing. Rhea gets exposure and she’s somebody that I would want that for more than anyone. And our family business grows. So you’re really putting it all on the line. I really think anybody that has a family business gets what I’m talking about. You wake up every morning freaked out like, “Am I going to be able to provide for my family and are we going to make it?” It’s the same thing, but just where somebody comes and does your makeup for you.
RHEA: It’s a living nightmare to work with your spouse because you’re just together all the time and you have to work everything out together. You have to divide and conquer and one person is not going to be able to pull the weight and then the other person won’t, so you’re always working that out. Ultimately, like Cameron was saying, having the show come out has been so great. It’s just awesome to have this creative being that we made together.
CAMERON: It’s like a baby!
Is it practice for a future actual baby?
CAMERON: It’s practice for figuring out how to make a baby in the future. Because making television is really complicated and when you are lesbians having a baby, it’s going to be complicated. So this a great dry run.
You focus a lot on the “making it” in your show. What were some of your grittier jobs when you were starting out?
RHEA: I had an office job that was 8-to-5 and so I would work that job and then I would do stand-up from like 6PM to 2AM. That job was graphic design for an alcohol beverage marketing company. So I was doing God’s work, changing the world one flavored vodka at a time. Most of my early shows, I wasn’t getting paid for; all those cotton candy vodka ads I worked on really got me through.
CAMERON: I was a nanny and a circus swing dancer and I worked in promotions where you hand out granola bars when you are dressed as a granola bar. I have done every job. Handing out granola bars while dressed as a granola bar isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.
Why should people tune into Take My Wife?
CAMERON: It is the most realistic depiction of lesbians on TV.
RHEA: It’s a very intimate look at what it’s like to be a stand-up comic who is not headlining Madison Square Garden. And it shows what comedy is like when it’s kind of just your job. And what it’s like to be on a stand-up show and what goes into that job. And what it’s like to be in a modern relationship.