Laughter is the Best Medicine

Cameron Esposito, Comedian/Actor/Podcaster – XOXO Festival (2018)

[Applause]>>What’s up, XOXO? Let’s hear it for you. Let’s hear it for you! I would like to apologize to the camera folks. I’m going to make you work very hard. I like to move around a bunch. Hasn’t this been great so far? Let’s hear it for the Andys? Let’s hear it for the Andys! [Applause] The mountains, that’s what I’m
talking about! The Andes. No, let’s hear it for these Andys. Andy Baio just caught me laughing at my own
joke backstage and was kind about it. Literally went like, do you ever laugh at
your own joke? Oh, like because you’re seeing me do it right
now? Yes, I do. [Laughter] I’m doing it right now. This has been such a great opening. This has been such a great opening, right? Don’t you have vision now? [Applause] Don’t you want all that green space? I do. It’s very nice of you to have invited me here. I know you each individually invited me and
thank you so much for that. [Laughter] Because I am flying from here to
London tomorrow to go perform there and I was going to fly directly from L.A., but now
because I’m here, I get to fly over the Arctic which just seems more interesting. So that’s on you. [Laughter] I am… Oh! [Laughter] I am so happy that you got a chance to see that. It was really important to me that you saw
a clip of what we were able to do with “Rape Jokes” because I’m going to talk to you about
that specific project and I think that based on what I know about you, based on the fact
you’re here, that you will think it is really, really cool. Just a bit about me. I don’t know if you know anything about me. I’m a standup comic, writer, actor, creator
of television shows. I’m an interesting and successful person. [Laughs] [Applause] [Laughter]>>I, based on haircut and jacket, do very well in Portland usually. [Laughter] I was speaking to Andy prior to
coming here and he mentioned to me that, you know, it felt different to do this conference
now with the political system we have, with the folks we have in power, and I will just
say part of the pitch was like if you can talk about what it is to be an artist now. First of all, I will say as a human, this
doesn’t feel the same as it did a couple of years ago when we had a different president. To me as a person, as a queer person, this
does not feel the same. But I will say as an artist, I want to first
start by saying I have always been marginalized. I have always been marginalized. I’m a woman in a field where I literally get
asked on an almost daily basis whether or not I think I can do the job I regularly get
paid to do. As a queer person, folks ask me if they think
I can speak to a straight audience. That is not something that is ever asked of
me as an audience member when a straight man is on stage describing his life to me. Just so you know, I sometimes find straight
men relatable. [Laughter] And sometimes not, but I challenge
myself… [Laughter] …to understand what’s outside
of my own experience. I’ve always been marginalized. I also have always had an enormous amount
of privilege. I’m a white person. I am somebody who is kind of small and smiley.
and I am not necessarily going to scare you even if this is my lapel pen which is a tiny
rainbow flag. And then I’ll smile at the end. You’ll look at that and then look right up
here. I have a lot of privilege. I grew up in the suburbs for Christ’s sake. We get it. This moment for me as an artist doesn’t feel
that different. I just want to say that because I look out
at you, I see so many folks that maybe this feels like a shock. I can’t believe we have this president and
how am I supposed to do my job right now. And I want to just say, if you’re somebody
for whom this feels like a real shock, then I would actually ask you to imagine that there
are other people working around you who have always been working with opposition and who
have always been working… [Applause] …against a system as opposed
to within it. That has really been my experience. So this moment right now doesn’t feel that
different. Okay. Why have you chosen to do your job? I don’t know. I was raised really Catholic. I thought I wanted to be a priest. I was a theology major in college. Whoopsy daisy. Catholic, you’re a woman, you can’t be a priest. Well, I don’t know what I thought was going
to happen. The Pope was going to be like, “you can though!” [Laughter] I don’t know how that would have
played out. Also, then I learned some stuff about the
Catholic Church and was like, oops, no, actually, no, thank you. But what did speak to me was talking about
what I think is important, hearing what you think is important, and trying to connect
in that. Growing up as a person of faith, when I lost
my faith, I still found power and connection in its speech. I mean, literally, I’m not a priest but I
mean, eh! [Laughs] This is a different collar but it’s
a collar. I never wear a collarless shirt because that’s disgusting. [Laughter] That’s just a gender thing. It really is, it’s like nudity. But I can wear shorts. It doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of different ways that we’re
different. I went to get my master’s in social work because
I felt like talking to people and meeting them where they are was important to me. At the same time that I started, I was already
into my comedy career and thought I would get a masters on the side, and there was a
returning student in my program who was like, that’s not how this works. You don’t have to get a master’s on the side,
why don’t you just do the job you’re already doing? The way that I do art now is the way I have
always done art, which is under a singular thesis, which is that art dismantles power,
otherwise it is propaganda. [Applause]>>Wow, what a good point she’s made! I know, I thought of that. [Laughter] I don’t even think I read that,
I think I thought of that. I don’t have to tell you that in the last
couple of years, specifically in the last 18 months, there has been a movement. I live in Los Angeles now, I’m from Chicago
but live in Los Angeles, I love Los Angeles. The industry I work in has allowed me the
freedom to continue to do this job. I love my job and I love traveling and seeing
you, and love living in Los Angeles because I get to do this job. It’s like you move to Washington, D.C. if
you’re into politics. You move to L.A. if you want to wear this
jacket and have the jacket get nicer over time because of accrued income. [Laughter] I do find a community in L.A., I do find a lot of queer folks. I find I have been able to redirect, to be
like a stone in the water, and redirect money. When I had a television show “Take My Wife,”
it was very important to me to hire women, people of color, queer folks and the many
combinations thereof, and to redirect money but also experience toward folks who I thought
I could leave the door open for behind me. As I got in, I just wanted to push people
through. But the last 18 months— oh sure, you can
clap for me. [Laughter] God, how did she do all of this? You know? [Laughter] But in the last 18 months, I have
watched folks mourn the loss of artists who have revealed themselves to be predators. That has been very difficult for me, because
I have believed that we just didn’t know. I actually thought the reason people got a
pass wasn’t necessarily because of the power structure, but because we just didn’t… It’s a “they said, they said” issue, and we
just didn’t have the facts. Now that we have the facts, and specifically
in my industry, folks openly saying, “Oh, I’ve done these terrible things,” and I have
seen folks that I care about, my peers, I have seen audience members mourn the loss
of these artists that they deemed the best in our field. Art dismantles power, otherwise it’s propaganda. There is no great artist who is an abuser. Straight up. [Applause]>>It’s just true. Because the things that they are telling you
about our human failures, they’re supposed to be human failures that don’t do active
harm to another. So that person is not a great artist. They are a liar, whoever they are. When I saw folks around me focusing on the
narrative of our loss of these artists, and not once mentioning the survivors of these
terrible things. Like that’s where my mind went. I’m a survivor of sexual assault. When I think about somebody perpetrating harm
on to another, I don’t think about that person. Like they kind of leave my mind. I think about the person who has been harmed
and then has to continue to do their job every day. The person who’s been harmed, especially if
it’s sexual violence, who then has to continue to date, or marry, or have desires, or look
at their own body in the mirror because assault and sex are not the same thing, but they can
look like the same thing. They can look like the same thing from 20
feet or from 200 feet. I just couldn’t understand why we weren’t
talking about that more. So I started to go out on the road and just
work in really small rooms. I booked theaters to do a hundred seat run
of shows in eight different cities. I worked it out in front of audiences over
three months, this show, because I felt an urgency that it got out there before we heard
someone’s comeback story. And by the way, I actually did that. I just have to say, time-wise, I actually
was able to achieve that. [Applause] Because I saw we were going to
talk about our loss of artists or any particular artist and I knew we were just going to continue
that loop. It was going to be like oh, God, did you hear
what they did? Now they have to go away for a while. Should they come back? They are back. I needed, just for a second, to see if I could
get anything into that cycle. So I worked on this, I did 50 shows in three
months, which is a very rigorous schedule. Then I knew I needed to figure out how to
get it to you. This is what I did. I asked my friends, the people that I trust,
if they would donate their time. Which, by the way, creator to creator, do
not fucking do this. [Laughter] You get one ask. You get one ask for a freebie. I asked my friends, in six days at the UCB
Theater in Los Angeles, they donated their space, I had a camera crew of four camera
people, folks donated their time. We shot, edited, color-corrected, added music
to this special. There is lighting design, makeup, there was
photography so we could make principal photography, we created a website with a proprietary web
player in it. And all of that cost $2,500, which I can’t
explain to you how unbelievably low that is. Literally, we paid to rent lights. That’s all the money I put out. Because I asked my friends to please support
me in telling my story so I could redirect the funds to RAINN. Andy mentioned $60,000, we’re at like $72,000
right now. [Applause] My goal is $100,000, which by the
way, I actually think sounds small. We live in this era of fundraising where it’s
like click on this thing, and we also live in an era of YouTube and videos that play
automatically or accrue a ton of hits and a ton of views. So I want to talk to you about how proud I
am about that number. This special just lives on my website, You have to actually go to my personal website. There is no network, there’s no marketing
budget, there was no player or platform. You literally have to type in the web address
or click on it, and enough folks went there, you can watch it for free. There is no reason to donate. It plays for free if you just press the button. You can also choose to buy it for $10, and
$75,000 raised for literally no reason on someone’s personal website that nobody has
to go to is incredible and speaks to me about how we should actually feel right now. I know who is president but if you want to
talk about what our power is like, I knew all the folks to ask because I have been working
in my industry for a long time. I knew who would be receptive to this ask
because of the topic. I knew where to go and what venues I could
reach out to and say, like, can you put this together in five minutes? And I also knew the pitch that I wanted to
give. I wanted to call it “Rape Jokes,” which is
literally like, when people started seeing that title, they got very nervous. [Laughter] But that’s because I wanted to
be the number one Google result for the phrase “Rape Jokes.” [Applause]>>I wanted the number one Google result for that phrase to not be, like an article about
a comic who, like, told a crappy not well-thought-out joke and had a fight with an audience member. I wanted it to be from me, someone who believes
you. Somebody who has had their experience and
wants to share my experience, I wanted it to be from somebody who is inviting you in. It is for free. We’ve achieved that goal. It is the number one result, and I’m very
proud of that. [Applause]>>When we talk about the time we’re in right now, I just want to say… Well, I mean I’m not coming at this from,
like a nonsensical place. You all know what I mean, right? Like the constant barrage of sadness, the
feeling of uselessness we are all shouldering right now, do you know what I’m talking about? [Laughter] Do you know what I’m talking about,
XOXO? Have you ever felt that way? Specifically like on a daily basis/hourly/minute-by-minute? I have disengaged from social media since
doing this process, because I will say one thing I didn’t think about was how awful it
would be to do a press tour on the topic of your own sexual assault. Like I just didn’t think if you make that
and it goes well then people are going to talk to you about rape for eight hours a day
for a month. So, friends, self-care. [Laughter] I would recommend that. I want to just encourage you to look at this
moment. All of the stuff I just talked about never
would have been possible for me, because I am not you. I’m a technology idiot, wouldn’t have been
possible for me a year ago, wouldn’t have been possible maybe two years ago in terms
of creating this social change, because we had to see the pain first before we could
apply the balm. So in this moment, what I would encourage
you to look at is what is the plan that you can make and actualize. And it can be any plan. I wrote down some words about how I think
it best goes, but I made this up for only this so I have to look at them. The first one is engage. When I went on the road and toured this before
releasing it, that was deliberately to have folks see it as it was being worked out. I wanted folks to see the process in front
of them. I know that if you’re working on something
new, the idea can be to keep it behind closed doors until it is perfect. I want to encourage you, creator to creator,
artist to artist, to let some of your awful shit show. Because I actually think that especially now,
in this era of going back and cleaning up tweets that we didn’t mean to say, or getting
better all the time, that the urge can be to wait until something is perfect until it
is out and I really think that is the wrong inclination. If you are wondering if you have the stuff
today to start something, my answer to you is yes, like, let your garbage show. Sometimes people will even love you for it. Follow up. [Applause] Yes, I have made a very good point,
I agree. [Laughter]>>The next thing I wanted to talk about is, beyond engaging folks with your vulnerability,
also inviting folks to build on what you are doing. I am not the smartest person in this room. I don’t know who is. I am probably the second smartest. [Laughter] But I always assume there are other
people that I can learn from and inviting them into the projects I work on will make
that project better. Again, when we talk about how we operate in
the world as creators, it is like you are supposed to be the one ring that can rule
all the rings, but that ring went into a volcano. [Laughter] So if you want, and success is
like a loaded word. To achieve the goals you set for yourselves,
I find inviting partners is very important. So inviting places like the UCB Theater. I taped there for free, and it turns out they
are also engaged in the process. I recently released a pin that says “Get In
The Way” which is a phrase from “Rape Jokes” that I collaborated with an L.A.-based designer,
and she has it on her website and it sold out in like three hours, so we’ll do another
run and you can buy it then. But then her website refers back to Rape Jokes. So if you’re going to do something stupid,
like put an hour of standup on your own website, great to reach out and create partnerships. Invite people in to affect the thing that
you think is right. And the final thing is to ask. You’re going to engage people by showing them
your garbage, you’re going to invite people to improve your garbage, and then you are
going to ask people to tell other people what you are doing. I’m literally going to ask you right now. Our goal, I worked it out, if literally everyone
in this room went on and bought “Rape Jokes” at $11, we would reach our goal tonight. Just to say that. I don’t care. [Applause]>>But let’s say $11 is too high a price point for you. I’m not saying that to talk down to you. I understand the hustle. If that is too high of a price point, you
talking about the special is for free and the engagement of the people that follow you
on social media is free. So all you have to do is tweet about it and
it turns out you can also help me achieve my goal. So look at this, I’m asking you to step in
and for us to do this together. I hope those things… I don’t know what your individual fields are,
but I hope that realizing you can reach out to a community, even if you’re a marginalized
person who feels like they don’t have an inherent place in their field, which is how I feel,
there is so much room to occupy a space that’s never been taken. That is what I learned from this process,
and from every project that I work on, is how much space other folks haven’t thought
of and how many things I can do to change the industry that I’m in. So
do that. [Laughter] I feel like I had a big wrap up, but I wish you could see also how my notes look. This is what it was. I would encourage you, and I loved hearing
about the pronoun pins and folks talking about accessibility, I would encourage you also
for this weekend to think about the way you impact the work that you do. I think that we are being sold an idea from
two different sides politically right now, the same idea, which is that identity, caring
about your identity, presenting your identity, and working from your identity is a detriment
to your job. Like, for instance, the phrase “identity politics”
could like go away forever in my mind. [Applause]>>We all operate from a space of identity politics. It’s just that if your identity is more normative,
your identity is invisible. Everybody that is going to be here this weekend,
you have this great opportunity to recognize literally geographically where you are from,
what your schooling might or might not be, the way you move through the space because
of the way your body works, how you look because of your haircut, all of that is so impactful
in the work you do. One thing I have been told for my entire career
that I have always known was wrong is that I am too into my identity. I am too gay. I am too haircut. I am too feminist. And I am just here to tell you that that is
not true. Every person in here has an individual identity
that is very important for you to focus on and own. I am also speaking to folks whose identity
is very normative and seen. What I would hope for you over the rest of
your weekend, because you have access to each other, is that you realize there is going
to be some amazing speakers that flew here just for the night on their way here to London… [Laughter] And that’s going to be great, but
the best asset that you have, and I have proven it out in talking about the way I worked on
specifically that special, is each other and maybe this is something somebody else has
talked about at a different XOXO, I don’t know. I didn’t watch the entire backlog. [Laughter] But I’m going to go away. The Andys are going to go away. You might have access to us at a future conference
or you might have access to us over social media, but I’m on stage and you’re together. You are all people who care about the same
thing because you all paid to be here. What I would recommend is to listen to this
and go back and be like I don’t know she was kind of shitty or whatever you’re going to
say to each other and use that as a way to talk about the work that you do, the way your
identity shapes that work, and what you are looking for because those things that I just
talked about, that engagement and that invitation and that asking, what you can do with this
weekend is set that up for yourselves with each other. You literally are each other’s best asset
and best resource. So turn to the people next to you, as I walk
off stage… Not before! I see you turning! [Laughter] Comment on my insightful nature. [Laughter] And then ask each other what you
do and what you want to do next and I promise you that will be more valuable than literally
anything I could say. Okay. The end. [Applause]

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