Michelle Buteau Waited 19 Years For 'Welcome to Buteaupia'

The comedian spoke to VICE about her new Netflix special, starting comedy after 9/11, and her previous ambitions to be a journalist.
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, United States
September 29, 2020, 3:00pm
Michelle Buteau Performing Standup Comedy in 'Buteaupia' Netflix special
Screenshot via Netflix

Michelle Buteau sets the tone for her first Netflix special before she's said a word. She isn’t introduced by a DJ or an opening comedian, but rather, by the voice of Cardi B.

But despite having been in comedy for nearly two decades, playing a role in Always Be My Maybe, and hosting social-media reality show The Circle, Buteau is aware that she might still be a new face for some.

"For people to be like, 'Aren't you mad that you've taken so long for people to know who you are?' No bitch,” Buteau told VICE. “There's always gonna be an audience that doesn't know me. I'm down with that, and thank God I age well."

Nineteen years into her comedy career—she started doing standup in 2001—Buteau gets her first special, Welcome to Buteaupia. Over the course of the special, she talks about her white Dutch husband, having twins via surrogate, new parenthood, and more. The special ends on an oddly positive and earnest note for a comedy performance, but one that seems fitting given the current state of the world.

The comedian spoke to VICE over Zoom about her latest special, her start in standup, and her early ambitions of being an entertainment reporter.

How did Cardi B end up doing the intro to your special?
It was a favor, an ask. It's so nice when strong powerful females help each other out. She truly did me a solid and she's just wonderful. She's so dope.

I had never heard of swaffelen before this special. Did you know that a Dutch student was arrested for doing that to the Taj Mahal?
Nooooo! As he should be. Put your dick away. Nobody wanna see your dick. Okay? Nobody wants to see your dick.

In your book, you mention something that I think connects to this special, you said you've spent a lot of time waiting for your prime. How do you think about that, in terms of being in comedy for 19 years and releasing a special now?
Yeah, this is a prime of sorts, career-wise. It's really funny because I always feel like that comedian that was handing out flyers in the corner of West Third and Sullivan in 2002, trying to get people to come to a free comedy show. You're just so happy that people are sitting down and listening to you.

When it comes to your body and body image, that's something that's thrown on particularly females. You have to look this way. You have to act this way. I tell my mom all the time I'm so tired from the time I was like, seven, people telling me I need to be bikini-body ready. It's just like, what if you actually told me I could be president since second grade? What kind of world would we be living in now?

I really wanted to be an entertainment reporter but I had a college professor tell me I was simply too fat to be on camera. I wasn't taken aback, but I was like, Oh, he's right, I guess. There's no one that looks like me. But with comedy it's like, all freaks are welcome, man. You look and do and be whatever you wanna be. And that's where I want to be. Those are the cool kids. Did I answer your question? Sometimes a bitch be going off on a tangent. And it's a wild tangent and sometimes I bring it back and it comes full circle now. That's another show I host, let's not worry about it.

Why did you feel like ending the special on such a sincere and earnest note?
I can be funny. I am funny. We done laughed. Titty shake, did some improv, talked to people. The world is a crazy place right now. And if we are not constantly reminded that no matter what affiliation we have, that we should be kind to each other—no one at the top is telling us. So we have to look out for each other. And if anyone is actually gonna get through this whole hour of my big tittied nonsense, thank you. Thank you for supporting a female, listening to my voice, because I know some people don't like how females sound. And I'm just like, you just go fuck yourself. And double-tap my picture. [laughs] But if you've made it all the way to the end of the special, this is my big-titty hug to you.

There are so many people that feel lonely, that feel like they're not worthy. That feel like they need to lash out. I'm like, Man, we're all in this together, no matter what the fuck it is, so let's just be kind to each other. You never know what someone's going through. I mean, look at Chadwick, right? Look at everybody trying to talk shit about him for losing weight, for being skinny or whatever. We're all going through something, whether we know it or not.

I saw on Instagram, your son was watching your special. At the age the twins are, are they laughing or responding to comedy at all?
They see these crazy faces I do every day anyways. And so, they're not necessarily understanding what I'm saying, because they're not even two. How are they gonna know what I'm talking about, unless it's "Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"?  But they are just learning how to say "mama," and it's really so fun and wild to see them recognize me on TV. I'm like, This is fucking cool, man. I want to show them that they can do whatever the fuck they wanna do, as long as they work hard at it and they're good people.

There was an interview in 2013 where they asked what you hoped to have in five years, and you said you hoped to have your own show and a couple of interracial kids-
I said that? Well, the bitch is consistent.

You started performing comedy shortly after 9/11. What made you want to start, and what was it like starting around that time?
For a year or two, coworkers and friends were like, 'You're so funny, you should do comedy,' because I love to tell stories. I would write emails about my day and send them to friends, and they would forward them to other people. I would go to comedy shows and I never saw myself. I'm like, These people are unhappy. I like to be happy. I like my parents. I don't want to be broke. What is this world? I even took a class, like, 'What is joke writing?' I was like, No, I don't think this is for me. And so I tabled it.

But then when 9/11 happened, I was like, Well, fuck it, man, we're all gonna die anyways. I was working at Rockefeller Center, and that's a historic building. I remember my news director was like, 'We can offer you guys therapy.' And I was like, No, I'm good, I'm gonna try standup. But I was so new at that time, I wasn't really in the headliner community, so I don't really know or remember what those comedians were doing. I know the newbies like us were either trying to take a stab at 9/11 jokes and failing or, like me, I was just working 12 to 16-hour shifts at WNBC editing the worst possible thing that happened. So the last thing I wanted to do was talk about 9/11. I would just do some self-deprecating, sassy 'hey girl hey can you believe I sat on a dick’ joke, and it got me through. I don't know that I was very good but I know I had fun and I know that people seem to have fun, too. It'd be interesting to see that tape.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

'Welcome to Buteaupia' is streaming right now on Netflix.