There’s an element to Cameron Esposito’s stand-up that brings to mind the famous Amy Poehler anecdote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants. You know, the one where Jimmy Fallon tells Poehler to stop telling a gross joke, and her response is to go “black in the eyes” and tell him, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Esposito (who, full disclosure, is a past contributor to The A.V. Club) has a similar ironclad confidence in what she’s doing. She’s here to tell jokes about being gay, about having a period, about whatever she wants, and she doesn’t fucking care if you like it (you’ll probably like it). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she developed a certain internet notoriety for telling a pretty great period joke.
That joke, which makes an appearance in her new Seeso special, Cameron Esposito: Marriage Material, exemplifies what might be the Esposito style: repeating a phrase, or a series of phrases, often at increasing volumes, eyes glaring, until the audience is fully aware of just how absurd the concept is. But as funny as it is, Esposito is smart enough to counterbalance it with a heavy dose of one liners, which often go in unexpected directions. Take the introduction of the period joke, which starts with her acknowledging that period jokes are supposed to be hacky, but she’s not going to let that stop her. “I love to say the word ‘period’ onstage. I love it,” she explains. “I love to listen right after, as all the air goes out of the room.” This, on its own, draws a laugh. But it’s not actually the punchline, which is far funnier, and which has nothing to do with periods, and everything to do with how people feel when they hear about them.
Of course, it’s not all periods! (Feel free to use that as a blurb, Seeso.) Some of the strongest material comes from Esposito mining her awkward childhood as a young gay woman who didn’t quite know what that meant. There’s a heavy degree of sadness in her stories about her painfully unrequited and bewildering love for her best friend. Gay boys may get teased more often, but at least everyone knows what they’re being teased for. For her, it was far more confusing, because it wasn’t quite clear what was going on. “Well, I guess she likes overalls,” is the best the adults in her life can make of the young Cameron. And it’s not just that she’s in love with her best friend. She’s also attending a Catholic high school, and, tragedy of tragedies, they were both on the swim team. It’s clear that this was an excruciating experience, but with the addition of time, she’s honed it into a series of jokes that make it both universal (every teen likes somebody who doesn’t like them back) and specific, like the added comedy that her specialty was the breaststroke.
Marriage Material was recorded two days before Esposito’s wedding to fellow comedian Rhea Butcher, and there’s plenty of material about getting married, and her relationship with her then-fiancée, much of which is sweet and romantic without being sappy. A bit about the various safety precautions Esposito feels she needs to avoid being murdered in her sleep (there’s a knife involved) shines once she ties it into her broader point: that love is a wonderful thing, wherein a person with sleep phobias can marry a sleepwalker and successfully avoid killing her.
Where Marriage Material flags is a section that Esposito uses to talk about gun control. The material is far preachier than it is funny, possibly because that’s a tough subject to cover. It’s unclear if it’s usually part her routine, or if the special was filmed close enough to some terrible event that she felt she needed to address it. (Esposito performed Marriage Material on December 10, 2015, eight days after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California.) This isn’t to say that social or political issues shouldn’t be in stand-up comedy—obviously, there’s a long and storied tradition of stand-ups addressing topical concerns. It’s more that most of the special comes across as far more polished than the gun-control material, which makes that part stand out.
And Esposito is very polished. She’s been on the rise for a few years now, and the whole special showcases someone who is supremely confident in what she’s doing. Her timing is on point, her phrasing is there. She just seems to have certain topics for which she feels a greater sense of comfort—like awkward crushes and accidentally stabbing her wife.