Comedian Cameron Esposito released a brand new stand-up special “Rape Jokes” on her website earlier this month to tackle issues of sexual violence, consent, and sex education (or the lack of it) in America.
Fans can stream the one-hour set for free or download it after donating to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. Esposito has raised more than $30,000 since its premier and tweeted that her goal is to raise $100,000 for rape crisis intervention by “using art + laughs.”
The Cook County native joined Morning Shift host Jenn White to talk about the self-released special she said is challenging societal norms on sexual assault from a survivor’s perspective. Here are highlights from the interview.
Creating art as a survivor
Jenn White: As you were watching this moment take shape, which you described in this cycle, where did that hit you as a survivor? How were you feeling about it?
Cameron Esposito: Living [during the Trump] administration is difficult because of what we heard the person who is president say before they were elected. Also, I'm a comic. I want to make people happy and take the sting and pain and make some art with it. I want to talk to survivors as opposed to presenting this as a topic that can be joked about as if there are no survivors in the room. It motivates me. I just wanted to get to work. I didn't see what I felt represented elsewhere, so after waiting for a little bit, I decided to jump in and see if I could present an option. I'm not the sexual assault comic, but I am a viewpoint.
A ‘deliberately incendiary’ title
White: When I saw the title, "Rape Jokes," I immediately thought of this conversation I hear from comedians talking about the use of rape as a punchline.
Esposito: It's deliberately incendiary. I will say, I was nervous about it. I literally woke up in the middle of the night and was like, "Rape jokes. Okay, now write it." But first of all, I want to be the number one Google result if you look up rape jokes. I don't want it to be that conversation that you're talking about, Jenn, that has been so rehashed. It's as if comics have a monolithic view on the subject, and all comics are straight men and not survivors: that's what that conversation posits.
It also posits women as audience members and trying to take the humor out of everything. That's not my experience. I'm a gay person, I'm a woman, I have a lot of peers who do this same job who are women of color, trans, and binary folks. We don't all have the same worldview. As a comic, I want all topics to be covered, but could you write good jokes? Especially if you're going to talk about a topic that has not affected you, but has definitely affected people on the lineup with you and in the audience? Earn that laugh.
If sexual assault is not a part of your story
White: I'm hearing you say is that it requires each of us in those places where, for instance, sexual assault is not our lived experience, that we be receptive to just listening and not necessarily having our voice be a part of that conversation?
Esposito: I love that. I hear a lot of folks say sexual assault is part of their story. And this happens when I've just gotten off stage and my brain is a little off whack because I've just performed, so I had to come up with a script. It's a script everyone should use because it's real. You lead with empathy.
And don't compare it to someone else's experience. For me, that would make a huge difference, and I'm seeing on people's faces that maybe it's not something they've heard before. You don't need to put yourself in the conversation. Just say, "I believe you and I'm sorry."
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Gabrielle A. Wright.