When Chicago comedian Cameron Esposito titled her memoir Save Yourself, she didn’t imagine it would be published in the middle of global pandemic.
“If there is any title that you could have for a book right now, Save Yourself is the most ridiculous one,” she joked.
But the book does examine survival, albeit not from a virus. Instead, Esposito touches on themes of confidence and self-acceptance as she charts her journey as a comic. She caught up with Reset to share more.
On growing up in the Chicago suburbs
Cameron Esposito: Western Springs is an incredibly idyllic place. Actually, the movie Contagion, which like sweeping the rentals right now because it’s about a global pandemic, when they were looking for a sort of a model, you know, Main Street USA, it is shot in downtown Western Springs. So the bakery that I grew up going to, Kirschbaum’s, is on fire in the movie.
But, you know, it’s a beautiful and idyllic place and also a place where almost everybody is white. Everybody I knew was straight. Everybody I knew was Catholic also. So in terms of eventually realizing that I was queer and moving in the world in more diverse spaces, I think that that upbringing didn’t necessarily provide me a greater landscape for accepting myself.
On finding a way to feel safe
Esposito: So much of my life is built around keeping myself safe because I don’t feel a fundamental safety. You know, there was a moment in my life when I was really rejected by faith, friends and family — that happened to me. … I still to this day can be harassed on the street or not sure of whether or not somebody I’m having a kind conversation with thinks I should go to hell, you know, or would vote against my interests. And so when I think about why I chose standup comedy, it’s like I will try to tell the largest number of people who I am, hopefully playing the odds that enough of them will want to help me stay safe.
On expressing herself through comedy
Esposito: For me, for anybody who gets into this field, I think that the reason that we choose it. … It doesn’t feel vulnerable. It feels powerful. It feels like I can communicate with a large group of people. You know, sometimes I’ve performed for three people, 30 people. I’ve performed for 40,000 people, and the feeling of ‘I get to speak’ and I’m sort of the most powerful person in this moment, … that is the opposite of sitting down with your friend and saying to that person, ‘I’m super sad and I don’t know what to do about it.’ Standup requires this confidence in a solution. The comic is talking about their feelings, but we’re talking about our feelings in a way where we’re like, don’t take this too seriously.
On releasing a memoir during the pandemic
Esposito: I had to cancel a book tour, which was the right thing to do, and I feel so glad that I made that decision. But it was also challenging. I had to move all of those events to Zoom and, you know, it turns out as a standup comic, I’m also not necessarily a tech expert. But I have learned some things, which has been very helpful. I now have a TikTok.
My girlfriend who I live with … was super sick with what seems to be coronavirus, and … all of this stuff has been happening at the same time. I know that’s true for so many people that are … trying to figure out how to do the same job they’ve been doing in a brand new way and also being touched by the outbreak of this virus.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.