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Comedian Cameron Esposito tackles sexual assault in new special “Rape Jokes”

As the #MeToo movement inspires bigger conversations around sexual assault, veteran comedian Cameron Esposito does not want the voices of survivors to be left out. In her new special, "Rape Jokes," Esposito talks about sexual violence and her own experience as a survivor. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports. Warning: this piece includes graphic jokes and language about sexual assault.

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  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    "And I don't totally remember what happened that night. I have a lot of flashes of what happened. I know that I didn't say yes."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    This is Cameron Esposito. She's been a stand-up comic for more than a decade. It's a profession where almost nothing is off limits.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    "I'm just saying, as an outsider, I am unsure whether straight people talk to each other."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    But recently, she decided to do something unique: in her new set, she shares her own story of sexual assault. She does so in a new comedy special. It's called "Rape Jokes."

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    "We've had rape jokes forever but it's just like, those jokes have usually been, like, 'RAPE.' [laughter] That's the full joke."

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    That's always been a concept that was shorthand for a certain type of joke. So it always meant a joke that is told by somebody who's not a survivor that's generally like dismissive of the concept of rape, it usually was brought up as sort of a taboo, punchy word that would just get a laugh based on the comic being brave enough to speak it.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Esposito wants to make sure the national conversation around sexual assault includes the voices of survivors.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    There were certain folks, high profile folks who were being called out as abusers, who were then losing opportunities, and that it seemed like the cycle was moving on to rehabbing those people's images. And that it was making a circle without ever talking about what it's like to be a survivor.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Esposito says she was never taught that she could make her own decisions about sex.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    "I didn't get sex ed. I had like no sex ed. I was raised super duper catholic in the suburbs of chicago. 'How Catholic?' I was raised so Catholic we played like uh, catholic games. 'What kinds of games?' What kinds of games? Mass."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    She also couldn't come out as a lesbian until after college.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    It just set the perfect conditions for assault to happen because I didn't know that I had a voice and so someone else stepped in and made the decisions for me.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    "That's, I think, how disconnected so many people are from our own agency. I didn't know that I could not be into this. This was a funny story I told until literally a dude said to me, that's a not funny story."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Now, she lives in Los Angeles and hosts a weekly stand-up show with her wife, fellow comic Rhea Butcher.

    This isn't Esposito's first endeavor using comedy to talk about sexual assault. She and Butcher created the sitcom "Take my Wife." In one episode that confronts this issue, a male comic character addresses rape — in a way that is jarring.

  • TAKE MY WIFE CHARACTER:

    "If this year's taught us anything, it's that society will not believe a woman's been raped unless at least 48 other women claim they were raped by the same guy. That's why I only raped 47 women."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Do you think there are limits to what a comedian can talk about? And how does a comedian's identity factor into that?

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    I don't think any topics are off limits. But I think if the way to deal with taboo subjects or subjects that can be painful is to lead with personal experience if you have it. If you don't have personal experience you need to be aware of that, and you need to be aware that you are perhaps speaking to an audience that has more experience with something than you do and acknowledge that.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Esposito performed the set live for months in venues around the country, and says audience members have told her about their own stories of assault after the show.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    How do you navigate these conversations?

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    Yeah I mean I'm not I'm not a rape crisis counselor and I'm not a sex educator so the only model I have is just to lead with empathy. So I say, I am sorry that happened to you, which I actually think a lot of us could use a lot more often.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Esposito says she's been hearing positive feedback from a range of people, including men.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    I think we're being sold this idea right now that men are really pissed about the me too movement like men just wish go away. Men don't even know if they can hire women anymore! Like that's what's rising to the top in the news cycle, is men who are angry or men who are confused, but I think there are a lot of men that are looking for guidance and that are concerned and that want to work for change.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    She hopes it signals a new chapter in the national conversation.

  • CAMERON ESPOSITO:

    I'm not like reinventing comedy but I might be creating a new talking point.

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