An Army of One
Comedian Michelle Buteau keeps building her empire of funny. Next up: her exuberant new special, Welcome to Buteaupia.
Gijs van der Most
If it feels like you’ve been seeing Michelle Buteau everywhere recently, you’re not wrong. Not only does the comedian and actress have a brand-new Netflix special, Welcome to Buteaupia, she also appears in a slew of upcoming films, including Marry Me, with Jennifer Lopez; The Stand-In, with Drew Barrymore; and Happiest Season, alongside Kristen Stewart. That’s in addition to hosting Netflix’s wickedly addictive reality competition series The Circle, delivering memorable turns in Tales of the City and the romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe, recording her podcast Late Night Whenever, and writing the upcoming essay collection Survival of the Thickest.Her secret? “It takes work,” Buteau says. “Everyone that is successful has worked their ass off. Oh my God, these basic people out here just expecting shit to happen because they have a sex tape and a crop top! Get the fuck out of here with your crop top. That goes for men and women. I hate when people ask me how to do something. ‘How do I make money? How do I become popular?’ That is lazy. If you’re going to do something brave, then you have to be brave. Put yourself out there and just do it.”Buteau’s been channeling her bravery for years, winning over ever-larger audiences with her unflinchingly honest, gleefully confrontational style. She’s not afraid to spin art or laughs from her personal life, whether it be from her Catholic upbringing as the daughter of Caribbean parents in New Jersey, or from her recent experiences with infertility (she’s now the proud mom to twins Hazel and Otis, born via surrogacy). “My family’s so Catholic and conservative that me talking about sex or an abortion or anything onstage feels wild,” Buteau says. “But I’m like, This is just who I am. I have to speak my truth.”
Krista Smith spoke to Michelle Buteau for her podcast Present Company.Krista Smith: Welcome to Buteaupia is excellent, and it was so exciting to see a live audience.
If you have to think twice about it, then you probably shouldn’t
You push the boundaries as a mom and a woman and a wife. You talk about the surrogacy, what’s going on with your husband. How do you manage what to say and what not to say?
MB: I have a line for myself. I’m not an asshole, so I don’t want people to feel like they’re in my life just so I can write jokes about them. I think some subjects are universal: You go through that? I go through that too. Especially being in an interracial relationship, I’ve got to talk about that. But I’m not going to get into details. I still want to be respectful, and I think a lot of comics struggle with that — what’s personal, what’s funny. If you have to think twice about it, then you probably shouldn’t say it.
Did you have a breakthrough moment where you were like, Oh, I can do this!?
MB: I don’t think I had an “I can do this” [moment]. I just thought, This is so fun, all I know is that I want to do this again. For six years, I worked overnight shifts at NBC at Rockefeller Center editing the news, and before I’d go in on my midnight shift, I would do two or three shows in the West Village for free.
At the end of the day, we’re all just these beautiful souls walking
trying to be happy and
feel heard and understood.
When you’re onstage, when are you at your most vulnerable?
MB: When I’m really opening up about women’s issues, my health issues, my surrogacy . . . race relations — stuff that I know won’t get a laugh. I’m like, O.K., this is for the both of us. This is for me, and it’s just as much for you.
Watch Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia
on Netflix now.
Listen to Michelle Buteau
on Present Company now.