Comedian Cameron Esposito on Launching Memoir 'Save Yourself' Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Cameron Esposito - Live at Town Hall on November 04, 2019  -Getty- H 2020
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

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Cameron Esposito is aware of the irony that her new memoir is titled Save Yourself.

“Is it bad timing or is it amazing timing?” Esposito says with a wink during a recent telephone call with The Hollywood Reporter, a mere hours after she announced that her multi-city book tour had been shelved due to the coronavirus pandemic — but not completely. Esposito got creative under social distancing mandates by taking the show to Zoom and inviting special guests like best-selling author Roxane Gay. Meanwhile, she's encouraging fans to buy Save Yourself [available March 24 from Hachette imprint Grand Central Publishing] from the same indie booksellers that were on board to support the tour, especially given the economic ramifications the global crisis is having on small businesses. “The economic effects of this are personal for everybody in the U.S. right now,” Esposito says.

Esposito, who made waves in 2018 with her stand-up show Rape Jokes and was the co-creator, co-producer and star of Seeso’s Take My Wife, ventured out into new territory with Save Yourself as the memoir marks the comedian’s first-ever book. Within its pages, Esposito, with an abundance of humor, revisits her childhood, goes deep into how her religious upbringing shaped her and recounts her journey to discovering and accepting her sexual orientation. She also opens up a bit about the aforementioned Wife and their recent divorce. In a conversation with THR, Esposito opens up about the effects the coronavirus pandemic could have on stand-up, what she learned about herself during the writing process and why she prefers to see LGBTQ actors in LGBTQ roles.

What timing! How are you managing right now and what's your plan?

I have never had to cancel anything like this before. Sometimes if a pipe bursts in the venue, you pick a new date and you move the thing to then. What is unusual for all of us right now is that we don’t know when things can start again. It doesn’t make sense to replan anything. What it makes sense to do is to direct folks to the indie booksellers that were going to support the tour and to tell them that they can get it at Audible if they don’t want anything brought into their house. This is just a very strange time. Also, stand-up comedy and this book tour, it is part of the gig economy. Most comics and musicians that you know of, we still make the majority of our income off live appearances. So, this is going to be a very strange time for folks like me financially.

What effect do you think the coronavirus pandemic will have on stand-up?

I don’t know how to predict it, because I have never seen anything like it. What I will say is, I think this is to the scale that businesses potentially will need relief. This is true for all industries, so I am not talking about it like we are affected and other people aren’t, but every venue has a staff that runs it. The performers that come in at night, that is how those people all make money. The economic effects of this are personal for everybody in the U.S. right now and also it will affect new businesses that we are not thinking of, like your local theater. So, after businesses are all opened go see as many shows as you possibly can. Or, if you feel comfortable ordering a book right now, this is the time to do that because your indie book store needs your support.

Well, with all this time social distancing, there is no better time to crack open a new book.

It certainly is an unusual time to launch a project. Although, a couple of years ago I had a television show [Take My Wife] that I had made the second season of and then my network got canceled. Obviously, I am not trying to compare a global pandemic to that, but as human beings we make plans. We try to imagine what things are going to look like when they are out in the world and we just can’t control things. Shit happens and it’s bonkers and you have to try to continue to eat some rice and beans. Now, this is turning into an end of times interview [laughs].

It really is. Let’s talk about the memoir! What made you decided to write it?

I have an unusual path to this book. I was writing a column for The AV Club and, years ago, I also had a web series that I was doing for early days Buzzfeed that was called Ask A Lesbian. From those two things together, an editor from my publisher reached out and asked if I had any interest in writing a book. I don’t know if you know this, but some people want to be authors and that is their whole plan and when they get a book deal they have a plan for it. For me, it really was that I got an opportunity and then I thought a lot more about my story. I am comic and I have been using my perspective for years, but  for whatever reason I had minimized my story.

As someone who has written jokes for years, what was your writing process like for the book and what was the biggest challenge?

My first medium is live performance, so I am most comfortable speaking. I had to speak the book to myself in my head. It is written how I speak and that is because I was doing a mini performance as I was writing it. What makes a book really complicated for somebody transitioning from a live medium is that I have no idea how this went. I am used to feedback and that’s something that I really thrive on. So, the process of writing this book was trusting myself a little bit more and also taking myself a little more seriously.

What books did you read in preparation?

For me, the process of writing this was actually getting to know myself as a younger person, not necessarily looking to the canon. I’ve read voraciously my whole life, but this was a little more about unpacking the weird photos of yourself when you are 10. That was more the practice.

Did you discover anything new about yourself or your journey?

Yes, massively. I learned that I was a lovable child. When I was a kid, I felt so much shame around my gender non-conformity, around my body, I had a weird haircut and I was interested in things that nobody else was into, like Robin Hood. I never was as humiliated by other people as I was hard on myself. I was so hard on myself as a kid and I still am now. Having to go back and not just look at photos or remember events from a distance, but try to remember how I felt at that moment, I just felt like I became acquainted with this kid that was me. That was a really incredible practice that I don’t think most people do. We move on and we grow up, but we don’t usually go back and befriend ourselves.

Reflection is important and we don’t do it nearly enough.

I think when we talk about reflection it often means, I look back on the mistakes I made and I grew from them. It seems to sometimes have a negative bent that reflection is about growth and not necessarily about like, hey, I was actually pretty awesome, it’s just that people didn’t know what to make of me. I have put some of my goofiest and most absurd photos of myself as a child on my fridge and I look at them every day and it really gives me some different context for who I am now.

You mention Boys Don’t Cry and the problem with cis people playing trans people in your book. What are your overall thoughts on non-LGBTQ actors playing LGBTQ characters?

It is my personal opinion that we could use the jobs. I’ve said before that I would prefer for LGBTQ roles to be played by LGBTQ actors and sometimes people will say, "But I am an LGBTQ actor and I would like to able to play any role." But the thing is that in order to reduce stigma and actual violence, it is important to know what a community really looks like and what a community really behaves like. Sure, an actor can potentially inhabit a bunch of experiences, but when I see somebody who is a queer person playing a queer character I can really see this added dimension that they are bringing to it which is lived experience. Cis actors playing trans characters is almost in its own separate category because that has a history of massively increasing violence and making false equivalencies. There is no more excuse for that ever. In just the generalized sense of queer characters being played by queer actors, I think it makes the project better. I think that a queer actor is less likely to say a line of dialogue that makes no sense. It might be a line of defense for the director or writer if they are writing outside of their own lived experience. We just bring something to the role. So often when we talk about topics like this we veer into people being like, we have to go with the person who is the best actor and it doesn’t matter what their demographics are. I just would say that the best actor is probably the person who can bring the most direct life experience on communities that are as marginalized as the LGBTQ+ community.

You write about The L Word’s influence on you and your show Take My Wife. How do you think LGBTQ representation on TV has improved?

It is amazing to talk about it having improved since The L Word, because it kind of started with The L Word. Obviously there were queer characters on TV, but I mean in terms an entire queer world, Queer as Folk and The L Word were different in their scope. How have things changed since those shows? Well, if you’re the first, you have to do all of the storytelling and I think that is difficult for any show, to speak on behalf of everybody. One thing that has been amazing is watching folks be able to tell more specific stories. Like for instance, looking at Showtime’s Work in Progress, which is a much more specific viewpoint than this is the way that we live. It’s literally the opening theme song to The L Word that is like we are trying to encapsulate all of it. It is a massive task and they did the right thing trying to do that because they were the first show. Now, we get to have shows like Work In Progress that are speaking more specifically to more finite experience. Also, Pose is an amazing show that delves very deeply into a specific community. That is what we get to have now and I really look forward to continuing iterations of those shows. What was amazing about my show [Take My Wife] is that at the time it was the only show co-created, co-written, co-starring an actual queer couple and we will have more of that and we hadn’t had that before.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about your recent op-ed for Vanity Fair about Hachette Book Group deciding to publish, then not publish, Woody Allen’s book. When all that was happening so close to your own book’s release date, did you ever consider pulling the book?

It all happened very quickly, which is a testament to Tarana Burke for starting the #MeToo Movement, Dylan Farrow for making an open statement, Ronan Farrow for severing ties, but then also specifically the Grand Central Hachette employees that walked out. The reason I wanted to write that op-ed is because we are in a very difficult time of trying to figure out who should have the consequences for bad actions. Should it be my editor who was one of the people who walked out, who has worked tirelessly on my book and who was not aware or a part of this deal with Woody Allen? Is it then appropriate that I pull my book and harm the employees at this imprint who were on my side and whose side I was on. The point I really hoped to make with that op-ed is what I hope we will continue to do is figure out a way where the consequences fall in the right place. In this particular case, I think that they did. I think that the book being pulled was the right action and the right set of consequences. I hope more decisions like that will continue to be made.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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