I did a show Friday at a local club. There was a newer comic on the bill as well — a newer comic but a grown man. Like probably 40. His set was pretty unintelligible — a lot of general yelling about thick butts and how sexy he finds them. And not in a clever way. I mean, who doesn’t like thick butts? But just saying that you like thick butts isn’t a joke. I guess what I mean is, he lacked punch lines. That’s fine. Pretty much every comic starts without punch lines. We’re all trying to find punch lines. We’re all always trying to find punch lines. That’s like half the job. The other half is making sure your jean jacket is clean.
What was amazing, though, was how unfazed this man was. None of his jokes got much response, but every time he’d set up a new joke, he’d ask for a round of applause to get the crowd on board:
“Round of applause if you watch reality TV.” Half a punch line. Teeny response.
“Round of applause if you like Facebook.” Half a punch line. Teeny response.
I found it inspiring. His jokes were bombing, but he was acting like it was all going over really well, so he wasn’t bombing. I always find that really cool to watch. Watching a comic move through material without acknowledging that the room is tough can be fun. This room wasn’t particularly tough, but still I was on his side.
I went up at the end of the night — technically, I was the headliner. I had a longer set than the other comics, but I say technically because it was just 15 minutes. A great, long set in L.A., but not a typical headlining set. Eight other comics went up before me, so the room wasn’t particularly fresh. And there was an audience of about 10, so they were doing some hard work staying engaged. My set was going well when, about halfway through, I mentioned my distaste for “lesbian” porn. I’m talking about the stuff that is on the Internet where two women are clearly just dancing around to please the off-camera man — either the director in the room or the guy at home watching. It really grosses me out, and I especially bring it up onstage because it’s a pretty accessible way to talk about my sexuality. And to set some boundaries.
For years, male comics, male audience members, and married heterosexual couples in the audience would proposition me after shows. I would be just talking about my life — having a girlfriend, going to a movie with that girlfriend, whatever — and for some reason, that would get folks going. They’d want to talk to me about my sex life, or worse, their sex life. And the thing is, I’m not into men. Because I’m a lesbian. So I’m not into men. Or really, married women. Or straight women. Or like, you know, anyone, since I was just onstage talking about my girlfriend.
Of course, women are oversexualized. We know that. We sell beer with that. But two women — well, that’s the stuff of sweeps week. Porn is a huge part of that. I’m fine with folks watching whatever consensual stuff works for them, but I’m not super stoked on men (because this part is always men) absorbing my actual life into their Web history. I mean, an 80-year-old man once asked me after a show if he could will me his collection of soft-core pornography. I think I had been talking about The Terminator that particular night.
But 80-year-olds aside, I’m not going to hide my sexuality. Because if I stop talking about my life and my sexuality with some degree of candor — not even a huge degree, but some! — then comedy is just left with a sea of dude comics miming wieners onstage forever. I don’t hear myself represented onstage, and that’s OK. I’ll represent myself. I’m happy to.
Anyway, back to that night. I was onstage, and I said I don’t personally dig watching two gals together in a sexy way on the Internet. Instead, I said, I like watching two, large, muscular, clean-shaven black men. I said this partly because it is true. I’m a lesbian, but I still can see that men are attractive. I just don’t want to be with them. Does that make sense? I mean, I have eyes, and at some level, human beings are human beings — if you are going to tell me that you can’t determine good-looking folks of any sex, I am going to call you a liar. We’re all on a spectrum. We all have things we are specifically attracted to. Brad Pitt is beautiful. And so are two hot, muscly black dudes. To me. I’m into it. I just am. And because pornography is geared toward men, those two dudes together can sometimes seem like they are actually having a good time, which is nice. There’s no woman to worry for, or two women to worry for. I’m not saying those dudes are all stable and making great choices, but it just seems like maybe at least they aren’t in giant, imminent danger.
After I mentioned my interest in watching two dudes together, that newer comic, BabyBombsALot I’ll call him, yelled out “Oh, no! Nu-uh! No way!”
I stopped because it’s been a while since I’ve been heckled by another comic.
I asked him, “Why did you just have that reaction? Because I’m talking about two dudes?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“But I’m talking about what I like. What I’m into. What makes you think you get to have an opinion?” I responded.
I can’t remember what he said. Some nonsense. Then somehow — of course — we got to talking about two women together, which shockingly, he was completely fine with. In fact, he mentioned that he’d “like to get in on that, just mix it up like some gumbo.”
This is what I said to him then:
"I don’t know in what world you think yelling out about a threesome at a show — to another comic — is going to get you a threesome, but this will not happen. In fact, I wish I could take the concept of two women together away from you. Because it’s not for you. I wish I could go on your laptop and block your access to Orange Is the New Black."
That got a huge laugh, and I tore into him for a while. Nothing too cruel, but he couldn’t seem to stop. During each back-and-forth, the audience was on my side. He never apologized or backed off or understood what I was saying. I suppose I should have expected that, actually. I mean, the dude did not look back during his set. Maybe that wasn’t strategy. Maybe it was privilege. He just felt like the audience was on board with his jokes no matter what, or, if they weren’t, that was their problem. And while he was yelling, there was a definite feeling that in his mind, he was speaking on behalf of the entire audience. I could just feel it — he had bombed, I was killing, but still, to him, the audience was his. Yeah, they were into thick butts. No, they weren’t into two dudes. He knew it. He had to tell me.
That bummed me out. A normal, schlubby straight dude — not super gross, but not fit, well-dressed, or put together in any way — thinking his opinion needs to be shared, even after he’s already had his time onstage. I sat through his straight, schlubby set. I tried to support his interest in thick butts. But he could not sit through mine. He couldn’t listen to me say that I like to watch two men together. He couldn’t hear it. He couldn’t allow that anyone in the audience might agree with me, but he felt totally comfortable inviting himself into my sex life. The whole moment was just a great embodiment of the gay experience: a straight dude shouting about how two dudes together is gross and propositioning a lesbian at the same time.
I am engaged. I wear flannel. When I dated men, I dated football players and track stars. I tried the best dudes. Fit, well-put-together guys; guys who wouldn’t have yelled out at a show. They didn’t work for me, and they would have been unhappy with me. Because I was never going to be into them.
So to that guy I say this: You don’t have a future in comedy. Not because you don’t have punch lines yet. Maybe a little bit because you think it’s fine to heckle another comic, but mostly not because of that. It’s because, as a comic, you have to be able to speak for yourself, to eloquently and honestly convey your opinions, viewpoint — your whole self, really, to the audience during your time onstage. That’s what I’m trying to do. What the fuck are you doing?
CAMERON ESPOSITO is a Chicago-bred, Los Angeles–based comic and the host of the Put Your Hands Together podcast. Follow Cameron on twitter at @cameronesposito. This was originally posted on CameronEsposito.com and is reprinted with permission.