Rhea Butcher means business. Rocking a dark-wash denim jacket and slicked-back hair straight out of Grease, the 34-year-old comedian doesn’t shy from even the most difficult topics — not even her name.
“I love having this last name,” she says during the Put Your Hands Together comedy showcase in Los Angeles. “It’s super great. How often do you get a last name that is what you are?”
An Akron native, Butcher grew up an only child in a somewhat “hillbilly” family always knowing she was gay. Her parents divorced a month after she was born.
But while she watched Ellen DeGeneres and Brett Butler growing up, she didn’t think stand-up could be a career. “I didn’t know that was a thing you could really do,” says Butcher, while in town to throw out the first pitch for a September Cleveland Indians game. “No one was like, Well, I’m going off to the stand-up factory today.”
Still, after graduating with a degree in printmaking from the University of Akron, she moved to Chicago and started taking improv classes at the Second City. When a friend told her about queer feminist comedian Cameron Esposito’s open mic night, Butcher found the audience she was longing for.
“When you’re not a straight white male comic, a lot of places are tough,” says Butcher. “It was a really beautiful space [Esposito] created for queer comics, female comics, comics of color and any ‘other’ type of person in the comic world.”
Butcher has since developed a no-holds-barred brand of comedy that calls attention to her own quirks: She’s a vegetarian who doesn’t exactly love vegetables and is often mistaken for a teenage boy.
“I just want to talk about things from my perspective,” says Butcher, who identifies as a cisgender queer woman. “So often, the only time LGBTQ issues or perspectives are spoken about is by a non-LGBTQ person.”
Butcher has had plenty of opportunities in recent months.
She and Esposito co-host She Said, a witty web series on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Network. She made her late-night debut on Conan in June, nabbed a recurring role in TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and launched Take My Wife, a scripted show on NBC’s streaming network Seeso in August. In addition, her debut comedy album, Butcher, premiered at No. 1 on iTunes after its Aug. 19 release.
In the six-episode Take My Wife, Butcher stars with Esposito, who she married in December.
“Our joking styles fit so well together,” says Butcher. “She’s driving forward, talking pretty quickly, and I’m sort of laid-back and the dry one.”
The show captures the challenges of an up-and-coming comic in a relationship with a fellow female comedian.
“We just wanted to make a show where lesbians were people that didn’t die,” says Butcher. “We wanted to make a show that felt real.”
Rhea Butcher offers three survival tips for women out to rule the world.
On Female Friendships
“We have been taught as a people that being friends with women is hard. Often we go into the relationship predicting that. I think we should drop that and just say, ‘Women are awesome. I’m a woman. I like hanging out with myself, so I love hanging out with women.’ ”
On Getting Ahead at Work “No. 1: Be nice. No. 2: Don’t let people walk all over you because you’re nice. No. 3: You have to ask for what you want. It might take you a little while, but if you don’t ask for what you want, you probably won’t get it.”
On Avoiding Conversations While Wearing Headphones
“You don’t owe anybody anything — not your time, not your energy. If you’ve got headphones on, keep those headphones on.”