Lucy Loves Lucy In 'Take My Wife'

Oct 13, 2016
Originally published on October 13, 2016 6:58 pm

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher had an idea for a show about two lesbian comics who get married and perform together. In other words, their real life.

"I Love Lucy, except we're both ... Lucy Loves Lucy," they joke to NPR's Ari Shapiro. "Also we're both Desi at the same time. It's a little bit of both." The pitch worked. Their show is called Take My Wife, and it's out now on the NBC-owned streaming channel Seeso.

Esposito and Butcher got married last year, and Butcher says making the show has been "an amazing experience, but it has been a living nightmare." Especially because most of what's in the show has actually happened — "It was very confusing," Esposito chimes in, "because we have a bed that we sleep in together, there's also a bed on set. By the end of production I was having dreams that our director and our DP, our director of photography, were in our bedroom with us, filming us at night."


Interview Highlights

On making a show about queer characters that isn't tragic

Esposito: What a gift it is to be able to be, sort of the first generation of people in the LGBT community that can have a happy ending. Like, we can just get married. And we can just have jobs, and it can be normative.

Butcher: We wanted to make a show that was about what comes after [coming out], and how important it is to have a couch for your girlfriend's parents.

On doing comedy together

Esposito: So often, relationships are a topic that people mine in stand-up. It's a lot of straight male standups on stage talking about women that are off stage. And now, female comics are much more prevalent, so we are hearing the opposite perspective. But what I love about working with Rhea is that you don't have to believe me about what our relationship is like — here's somebody else telling the same story from a different perspective about what our relationship is like.

On the tension in the show between Cameron as an established comic and Rhea, who's just starting out

Butcher: It had begun to change when we were writing this, because when we first moved to Los Angeles, I essentially was an open-mic-er, you know, that was my level. But I've since recorded and released a stand-up album ... and it came out at number one on iTunes, and so many things have happened and gone really well, and I feel very good about where I'm at. And it really was cathartic to put that in the show.

Esposito: One thing that I know is that Rhea will catch up to me, because if you want to do this as a lifelong career and you're lucky enough to have a long life, you're going to be going through an enormous amount of ups and downs. And I have believed since I met Rhea that she has this inherent talent and this viewpoint and so much to say, and it's really wonderful to see Rhea believing that and getting that feedback from the outside world as well. And at the same time, I'm going to fight to be better than her for the rest of my life, because that's what being a comic is.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher had an idea for a show about two lesbian comics who get married and perform together - in other words, their real life. Here's how they pitched it.

CAMERON ESPOSITO: "I Love Lucy," except we're both...

RHEA BUTCHER: Lucy loves Lucy.

ESPOSITO: Lucy loves Lucy. Also we're both Desi at the same time.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right.

ESPOSITO: It's a little bit of both.

SHAPIRO: The pitch worked. Their show is called "Take My Wife." The six-episode series is out now on the NBC-owned streaming channel Seeso. That's S-E-E-S-O. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher got married last year. I asked them if making "Take My Wife" together has been the biggest test of their marriage so far.

BUTCHER: Do you want to answer simultaneously?

ESPOSITO: Yeah, you ready?

SHAPIRO: Three, two, one, go.

ESPOSITO: Yes.

BUTCHER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Who wants to expand on that first?

BUTCHER: I mean - this is Rhea. This show has been such an amazing experience, but it has been a living nightmare.

ESPOSITO: Well, it was very confusing because - right, so this is Cameron speaking. It was very confusing. So you know, we have a bed that we sleep in together. There's also a bed on set. By the end of production, I was having dreams that our director and our director of photography were in our bedroom with us, filming us at night.

BUTCHER: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: Because it just starts to feel like there's no boundaries.

SHAPIRO: Especially because most of what's in the show has actually happened. The two met in Chicago and moved to LA together. Esposito is a more established comic. In the show, Butcher initially has a day job, but wants to do comedy full time. In this scene, Cameron is heading out on tour as an opener. She's trying to rally Rhea, who is folding laundry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKE MY WIFE")

BUTCHER: (As Rhea) Nobody knows who I am. I can't get spots anywhere. I'm just your girlfriend. Nothing I do matters, and this jerk won't fold.

ESPOSITO: (As Cameron) Hey, everything you do matters.

BUTCHER: (As Rhea) You're Rudy. You're on the sidelines. You're a little guy, but you know you can play. Your dad works at a factory. Your brother - I don't remember what the brother is. But anyway, you're going to go every day, and you're going to play.

SHAPIRO: Cameron Esposito said that she relished the chance to make a show with queer characters that isn't tragic and isn't about fighting homophobia.

ESPOSITO: What a gift it is to be able to be sort of the first generation of people in the LGBT community that can have a happy ending. Like, we can just get married, and we can just have jobs. And it can be normative.

SHAPIRO: There's one scene where Cameron's parents are coming to visit, and the stereotypical plot line would be, are we going to tell them that we're not just roommates? And instead the plot line is Rhea has to buy a couch because you don't have any furniture.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKE MY WIFE")

BUTCHER: (As Rhea) Maybe I'll build a couch.

ESPOSITO: (As Cameron) Oh, my God, please don't build them a couch. We need a stable, nice, long-term couch, like, a dentist-office-quality couch.

BUTCHER: (As Rhea) But we need a couch now. Your parents are going to think I don't value their butts.

SHAPIRO: It's, like, not even a question. Do they know we're gay?

BUTCHER: Right. I mean - this is Rhea talking again. You know, those are things that did come up in our lives, but that's not what comes up in our lives now. You know, we wanted to make a show that is about what comes after that and how important it is to have a couch for your girlfriend's parents (laughter).

SHAPIRO: "Take My Wife" is mostly a sitcom with a bit of stand-up. In real life and on the show, the two women co-host a comedy showcase and do their own comedy sets.

ESPOSITO: When we're on stage separately, we have very - well, what would you say your separate comedic persona is, Rhea?

BUTCHER: I guess pretty dry and straightforward.

ESPOSITO: Yeah, you're...

BUTCHER: Gay forward. I'm not sure.

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: No, you're cool. I think...

SHAPIRO: You're kind of a straight-faced comedian I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUTCHER: Hey, guys. My name is Rhea Butcher. It's not a fake name. It's funny because it's true. I'm a hundred percent butcher than all of you.

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: I think I'm a little bit more - and this is Cameron again. I'm very, like, positive, and I'm very performative. But together I think we do something a little bit different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESPOSITO: I think what I realized is that nobody allows you to do this stuff. You allow yourself to do the things you want to do. Like, when I met you, I allowed myself to do you.

(LAUGHTER)

BUTCHER: Yes, but it was consensual and after you asked me out three times.

ESPOSITO: What?

BUTCHER: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: You asked me out.

BUTCHER: No, no, no. You asked me out. I guess we'll never know.

ESPOSITO: That is what I love about working with Rhea because so often - you know, the reason that the show is even titled what it is, that joke - like, take my wife please - so often relationships are a topic that people mine in stand-up. It's a lot of straight male standups on stage talking about women that are off stage. And now female comics are much more prevalent, so we are hearing the opposite perspective.

But what I love about working with Rhea is that you don't have to believe me about what our relationship is like. You know, here's somebody else telling the same story from a different perspective.

SHAPIRO: There are several scenes where you're getting pushback stereotyped discrimination about being female comics or lady comics.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKE MY WIFE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Oh, yeah, hey, diversity - good idea, smart.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) OK. What are you like Sarah Silverman? Are you like Amy Schumer, somewhere in between?

SHAPIRO: How much of that is stuff that you've encountered in real life?

ESPOSITO: I think we might have different experiences with this. I would love to hear what your experience is, Rhea.

BUTCHER: Well, I haven't had that experience as much, and it could be simply because I haven't been doing stand-up as long as Cameron. And I also started doing comedy because Cameron hosted an open mic that was an extension of a class that she was teaching for women to learn how to do stand-up - not just women, but queer people, people of color - like, basically anyone that is, like, hey, can this person be funny, was at this open mic. And it created a very welcoming sort of clubhouse environment.

SHAPIRO: Cameron, did you create that because of a sense that people were asking, can these kinds of people be funny?

ESPOSITO: Yeah, so Rhea and I started 10 years apart, and that's actually a really significant 10 years in the comedy world. Do you remember this Christopher Hitchens article that was, are women funny?

SHAPIRO: This was a 2007 Vanity Fair article called "Why Women Aren't Funny."

BUTCHER: Yowzer.

ESPOSITO: And then it felt like every newspaper, every blog, every - had to have a take on this. And I started commenting, you know, answering some of the questions in these interviews. And then what I decided to do was to see if I could train women to have their first stand-up set.

SHAPIRO: And bonus - you got a wife.

ESPOSITO: I got a wife out of it.

SHAPIRO: You got a wife out of it.

ESPOSITO: Yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) One of the big themes of the show is this tension of Rhea being later to the comedy game than Cameron and not being as famous and the fear that you're only Cameron's girlfriend.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TAKE MY WIFE")

BUTCHER: (As Rhea) Hey, you got to stop saying I'm trying to be a comic on podcasts. I am a comic. This is why we don't talk about our relationship.

SHAPIRO: I wonder if filming the show has changed that for you or if working through it on camera has changed it for you.

BUTCHER: It absolutely has. It had begun to change when we were writing this because when we first moved to Los Angeles, I essentially was an open-micer. You know, that was my level. But I have since recorded and released a stand-up album on Kill Rock Stars, and it came out at number one on iTunes. And, like, so many things have happened and gone really well, and I feel very good about where I'm at. And it really was cathartic to put that in the show.

ESPOSITO: I just wanted to add one thing to that, which is, one thing that I know is that Rhea will catch up with me because if you want to do this as a lifelong career and you happen to be lucky enough to live a long life, you're going to be going through an enormous amount of ups and downs.

And I have believed since I met Rhea that she has this inherent talent and this viewpoint and so much to say, and it's really wonderful to see Rhea believing that and getting that feedback from the outside world as well. And at the same time, like, I am going to fight to be better than her for the rest of my life because that's what...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

BUTCHER: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: ...Being a comic is. You're never going to be a better comic than me.

BUTCHER: You're never going to be a better comic than me.

SHAPIRO: I see this devolving into a wrestling match, but maybe that's...

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: Just arm wrestling only.

SHAPIRO: Just arm wrestling. Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, the creators and stars of "Take My Wife," it's been great talking to you. Thank you.

BUTCHER: Well, thanks so much. This has been so much fun.

ESPOSITO: Yeah - total pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.