Wives, Queens, and Other Comedy Heroes: A Reading List

(Rex Features via AP Images)

Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”

Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.

Right now, I am clinging to my queer and trans family and the art they create, like Meg Allen’s photography series, BUTCH, the work of Queer Appalachia, and the Electric Dirt zine. Recently, I was listening to Cameron Esposito’s new podcast, QUEERY, when she opened an episode with a message of support for her trans listeners. I stood still in my kitchen and allowed myself to feel it all: my fear, my gratitude, and my sadness.

I’m dedicating this reading list to queer and trans comedians and comedians of color. Their experiences in the world of comedy and the world at large are very different from your average, over-fifty, white-dude comic. They have to contend with the false dichotomy of free speech versus political correctness. They face misogyny, racism, homophobia, and transphobia with superhuman grace and patience.

  • It’s so gratifying to see queer and mainstream media rallying around Take My Wife, a sitcom co-created by comedians and wives Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. The show aired originally on the streaming service Seeso, which announced in early August it would shut down by the end of the year. The second season of Take My Wife has been filmed already. Now, the show — along with an amazingly diverse, inclusive cast, writer’s room, and production team — needs a new home. I recommend reading “Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher on Take My Wife,’ The Show Where Lesbians Don’t Die,'” written last year by E. Alex Jung for Vulture. And you can find coverage about the determined fan response behind saving Take My Wife at Autostraddle, Entertainment Weekly, Refinery29, HuffPostIndieWire, ThinkProgress, and Vanity Fair. From Cameron Esposito’s Twitter feed:
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    From Cameron Esposito’s Twitter feed.

    Here’s an excerpt from Esposito and Butcher’s interview on KPCC about why they made the decision to share the statistics of the Take My Wife team and prioritized hiring from marginalized communities. Calling them a comedy power couple is an understatement. Esposito launched QUEERY  with Feral Audio, and and WME signed her. As for ButcherVariety named her one of ten comics to watch in 2017, and her debut stand-up album dropped earlier this year.

    ESPOSITO: I want to stress that this wasn’t a “men-out,” this was a “women-in.” The other thing that I would say about the specific hiring that we tried to do, we looked for people with experience, with vision and with goals. But who needed that next credit to join their guild, or for people who needed that next credit to move into a different pay bracket, because we really believe in training up women, training up people of color, training up queer folks, so that they can change Hollywood. You give those four women jobs and then they go on to other [jobs], and next year you have an opportunity to hire more. You get those people jobs and then they go and they work in other rooms. We’re certainly not the people who have pioneered this. I look at somebody like Ava DuVernay, I look at somebody like Jill Sololoway —

    BUTCHER: Issa Rae —

    ESPOSITO: Yes, exactly, Issa Rae. This is happening right now in the industry. It’s very exciting not just because of the shows that are going to be made right now but because of the next two to three generations of shows that are going to be made.

  • Rookie Magazine has a wonderful interview series called “Why Can’t I Be You.” You might enjoy this interview with Alexis Wilkinson, the first black woman elected editor-in-chief of the Harvard Lampoon and an award-nominated writer for Veep.
  • Or acquaint yourself with queer comedian Catherine McCormick, who’s dedicated to making safe space for women and LGBTQ newcomers to the stand-up scene.
  • Stand-up comedy broke Lindy West’s heart, as discussed in her memoir/essay collection Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman. Years before Shrill was born, West penned “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians” at Jezebel.
  • I’d be remiss not to include this interview with Patti Harrison at Splitsider, who eviscerated Donald Trump’s decision to ban transgender folks from serving in the military on The Tonight Show.
  • Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are forever linked by best-friendship and their hit podcast, 2 Dope Queens. In June 2016,  Robinson premiered her own WNYC-produced podcastSooo Many White Guys, breaking into the white-dude-interviewing-comedians podcasting genre with a smash. In October of that same year, Penguin Random House published her essay collectionYou Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain. And she has a recurring role on Jill Soloway’s adaptation of I Love Dick. You can read Alanna Bennett’s wonderful profile of Robinson at BuzzFeed:

    “I want to have an empire,” Robinson said. “I like being in front of the camera, performing — but I would like to get to a place where I’m also executive producing and bringing other people along. People of all different walks of life, highlighting their voices. I feel like the only way the energy is going to change is if we bring people along. And you have to help change it. You can’t wait for the gatekeepers to change it because they’re not, really.”

  • At Vulture, Hunter Harris interviewed Williams about starring and executive producing the 2017 Netflix original romantic comedy The Incredible Jessica James, self-care, and the importance of acknowledging the historical schism between white and black women:

    We are all trying to achieve a common cause, but we are in a country where the history is that black women have been the opposite of white women and the opposite of white men in social status. [We have been cast as the opposite of] what is traditionally considered feminine or beautiful. So what we need is the acknowledgement that we are intersectional, and what we need — or, what I need, because I can’t speak for all black feminists — is just the acknowledgement of the difference. Acknowledging that doesn’t take away from someone else’s personal experience.

Fear not: You’ll see Williams and Robinson together again, even if you can’t make it to New York to see them live. They’ll host and produce four hour-long comedy specials for HBO.