Cameron Esposito’s Just for Laughs show is a hot mess

A review of Separately, wherein the once smooth and slick comic comes undone.

A thing you just have to get used to as a Just for Laughs audience member is that, a lot of the time, you’re watching a work in progress. Instead of a tight, well-timed, balanced show where the comic is in complete control of the audience — and themselves — you’ll often see something that has all the constituent parts of something really good, except you’re seeing them scattered around the room before they get put together. 

This is okay. More than okay. It’s fascinating to watch a comic creating something in real time, watching them walking over to the stool, mid-set, and giving themselves a note, striking out a joke that didn’t land or pausing to drink some water while they remember what comes next. 

This is Montreal, after all; we’re kind of messy and still-coming-together in these parts. As such, watching a comic creating and refining something rather than straight-up delivering it feels oddly right.

The substrate of Cameron Esposito’s Separately is her separation and divorce from her wife Rhea Butcher, with whom she co-starred in Take My Wife and co-hosted Put Your Hands Together. This is not the first time a comic has done jokes about divorce and it won’t be the last. Still, there is something exhilarating about what Esposito does throughout Separately

She comes undone. 

Cameron Esposito, in Separately, is unlike every other iteration of Cameron Esposito I’ve ever seen because it’s a show about who and what she’s becoming — and not by choice. It feels like you’re watching something slither out of the sea, grow legs and walk upright in the span of 45 minutes or so. 

Esposito is a tremendous comic talent, a sharp and insightful voice with a kind of quiet gravitas that betrays both confidence and acumen. To me, she has always come across as very tight and controlled — a professional who is really fucking good at her job. 

In being so, though, there was a distance she had — and held — from the audience. Her shows were funny but also very put-together: smooth, slick and sleek, there was never a hair or a joke out of place. 

A repeated refrain throughout Separately lets us behind the curtain. She discusses her affinity for being in control of things and that her sense of normalcy is largely built around that control. There’s an extended bit about how she never takes her jacket off, even when doing so is the logical thing to do. Even when it is the obvious thing to do. The message, here, is that Cameron Esposito knew exactly who the fuck she was as long as x equaled x and y equaled y and straying too far outside of that reality was anathema. Except now she has no choice, because x equals “where am I?” and y equals “what am I supposed to do?” 

This version of Cameron Esposito is a hot mess. And it’s okay. And watching her being a hot mess in the middle of a period of personal trauma — and also being okay with it — is both inspiring and edifying. 

Is Separately a great comedy show? I’m not sure. But you should really go see it. ■

Cameron Esposito’s Separately continues as part of Off-JFL/Zoofest at Katacombes (1635 St-Laurent), July 2224, 7 p.m., $25.94