Rhea Butcher, Actor-Comedian
I had moved to Chicago and was taking improv classes at Second City — just for fun. I’d always enjoyed comedy, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I started to get into the local comedy scene, and very soon after I heard about Cameron, because she was the most popular stand-up at the time. She hosted an open mic down the street from my house. It was at a really great neighborhood bar, and I’d go with some friends and sit in the audience. One time she came up to me and said, “So when are you going to go up?” And that was the first time somebody had told me, “Hey, you should do this.”
The first time I remember saying “I love you” was in Peoria, Illinois. It was one of those times when you’re like: “I feel amazing. I love you.” You’re in Peoria, and you’re feeling amazing. And that’s a big thing, because it’s Peoria. It’s not like it’s Paris.
We’ve had a couple of proposals: There’s the one where Cameron asked me to move to Los Angeles with her, after we’d been dating for, like, two months. And I did. Then there’s the one when I took Cameron for a hike, in basketball shorts, in Griffith Park, and I had my great-grandmother’s broken ring, and I accidentally sat in gum. Later, we got married at The Hideout, which is a music venue, primarily, but it’s actually the first place where we performed in Chicago.
Our TV show Take My Wife was based a lot on our real life. But we’ve also just put out our first split comedy album, Back to Back. I think it’s the first queer married comedy album. It’s us doing stand-up together for 30 minutes, and then we each do a set. We also get to tour the country together. It’s pretty great in that way, to feel like you have a true partner in life.
One reason I fell in love with her is her kindness. She has this understanding way of being a leader, of reaching out and giving space to people that need it, even if they don’t know it. Kindness doesn’t always mean “Oh, I’m a pushover, and I have flowers in my hair.” Sometimes it actually means a lot of fire. It’s something I hadn’t really seen firsthand from a human being before. She didn’t let anyone tell her — and they did, over and over again — that her experience wasn’t important. She never let that be true. That’s a really hard thing to do.
Cameron Esposito, Actor-Comedian
The first thing I remember is her face. Whatever vibe Rhea gives off, it drew my attention. I could tell she really wanted to try stand-up. Then I was the first person ever to intro Rhea, and her set was really great. She got personal right away. I had not seen that before from a first-time comic.
There were very few women doing stand-up in Chicago when I started, and very few queer folks, and none of those queer folks were women. I had a lot of connection and respect for my peers, but there was no one who fully understood what I was trying to do and what my experience was. I don’t know what my path would have been without Rhea. I definitely could have done this alone, because I’d already done it alone, but it would have sucked.
It feels kind of punk rock that we can get married. I know some people think it’s traditional and reject it for that reason. I feel the opposite way — it’s wild to put my relationship into that area. Our wedding was a rager. We had dancing and served hot dogs. Rhea’s vows were really funny, which was annoying because I had to go second. But we really structured the whole thing our way. There wasn’t a part of it we didn’t think of.
Rhea is really pure. She says what she means, and knows herself, and is also always trying to know herself better. That kind of person is very rare. What I like about Rhea as a stand-up is the same thing I like about Rhea as a human, and as a spouse. No joke she tells onstage is just for the sake of joking around. She’s always trying to explain who she is. It’s from a real place. She’s really put her life together for herself. She’s a self-made man.
Photography: Luke Fontana