“It’s so weird, I get a lot of compliments from people who are like, ’I’m just not used to seeing you do stand-up. I like you acting better,’” comedian Michelle Buteau told Refinery29 over Zoom, a few days ahead of the premiere of her Netflix stand-up special, Welcome to Buteaupia. “I’m like, ‘Well, bitch, that feels so wild because she’s been out here, titties out on a Thursday night, doing three shows, forever. Like before you got your period.’”
Buteau is correct in this specific instance, since she famously started stand-up as a post-grad 20-something, three days after 9/11. This writer wouldn’t get her period until 2003.
After two full decades in comedy, the past few years have solidified Buteau’s standing as Netflix’s unquestionable MVP. Just this year, Buteau hosted 2020’s first breakout reality show (The Circle) and created the inciting incident of teen rom-com Work It. In 2019, Buteau stole scenes in Russian Doll, Someone Great, and Always Be My Maybe (where she added a much-needed performance to the Rom-Com Best Friend canon), and even enjoyed a recurring role in miniseries Tales of the City. Back in 2018, Buteau starred in one of The Comedy Lineup’s quarter-hour specials.
Welcome to Buteaupia is a shimmering reminder that Michelle Buteau is a comic first — although she will happily take a rom-com… once we get America back in order.
“It’s so nice that Netflix approved the name ‘Buteaupia.’ Because, I’m like, ‘It’s nothing but dis. This is the world of dis bitch,’” Buteau said, lounging in her bedroom. “Hello, I’m going from changing diapers to trying to fly a kite with my husband to being on set with J.Lo. My life is weird!”
Buteaupia does hit all of those topics, opening with the story of Buteau working with Jennifer Lopez on 2021 rom-com Marry Me and eventually touching on everything from the comic's journey to welcoming twins via surrogacy with her Dutch husband to recognizing herself as “an achievable Beyoncé for government workers.” At one point Buteau urges a white woman prone to excessive, jazz-like snapping to “tell her aunties” how to vote.
“There’s a way that we talk to each other when no one’s around. And I feel like we need to bring that to a bigger platform, because the rest of the world is interested in us,” Buteau, who was born in New Jersey to Carribean parents, said. For her, “us” includes everyone in the Black Lives Matter movement, everyone fighting for organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, and all of the privileged people who are finally acknowledging that privilege in public. “If I can bring my dinner party vibe, my boozy brunch, my hair shop kiki, ‘Guess what this motherfucker did?’ [vibe] and still educate people, but also entertain them?,” she asked. “We just gotta do more of that shit … You want to feel like you’re having a good time while you’re learning something. That’s where it’s at. That’s how we’re going to change the world.”
Still, Buteau swore Buteaupia isn’t “a Big Titty TED Talk,” adding, “I wish it was. But, this is sort of like, ‘Alright, I’ve had these conversations with my mom, with my cousins, to educate women.’” After all, a big part of the special centers around Buteau and her husband’s newfound parenthood after a painful IVF experience.
“It is an interesting vibe to connect with gay families and cancer survivors and other people experiencing infertility. it’s just a very different vibe when not did only you work for [a pregnancy], but you’ve been through some trauma,” Buteau explained. “I feel really blessed that I get to talk about it on stage and also try to make it funny in my own way. Because that’s how we really get through shit.”
“Getting through shit” is ultimately Buteaupia's message. It debuts just over six months after shelter in place rules began around the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The special was shot in early March, right before New York City shut down.
“I really wanted it to look like a night out in New York City. Now it looks like the last night out in New York City,” Buteau — whose book, Plus Size Survival of the Thickest premieres in December 2020 — said gravely. “At one point i was like, ‘Do we need to do this right now? Do we need to release a special and a book in the year of fucking death?’ And my husband and friends reminded me: ‘Yes, bitch! Because we need happy content just for a little while.’
But, Buteau — who feels like she was on the “cusp” of securing her own rom-com before the pandemic — is still thinking about what happens once we all stop laughing for an hour with her special. “The bigger picture is that we are healthy: My family, you! And that we vote this monster out of office. That we take back the senate,” she said.
“That we protect our children, the future, and trans people. That we figure out how to be fucking good to each other and educate ourselves. Because this is our country too — back the fuck up. When that happens — Sure! I would love to do a rom-com! Because we gotta normalize these titties, honey. Full frontal nudity, bitch!”