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Michelle Buteau On Her Long Career And New Netflix Special


MICHELLE BUTEAU: It has been such a beautiful time for me. You know what I mean? I feel like I can't complain, but I love to.



And it has been beautiful lately for Michelle Buteau, except, sometimes, you have to wait a long time to get where you are going. She's been doing standup for nearly 20 years and now finally has got her very own Netflix special. It's called "Welcome to Buteaupia," but this is hardly Buteau's big break. Michelle Buteau joins me now. And just a heads up to listeners, there may be some salty language ahead. Michelle Buteau, welcome to the program.

BUTEAU: Hi. What a great intro. I feel like, and the Emmy goes to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the Emmy goes to - I mean, I think that's coming, apparently. I mean, right off the bat, you joke in the special that life has been pretty good to you of late. You just wrapped a movie with J.Lo. You welcomed the birth of your twin babies last year. Leaving aside the garbage fire that we're dealing with right now, things seem to be going your way.

BUTEAU: You know, it's a very weird place to be in. I feel hateful and grateful at the same time, which is pretty exhausting. I'm lucky. And I'm so thankful. But it also feels like there's so much work to do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask about the movie you did with J.Lo. When's it coming out? What's it about?

BUTEAU: OK. This is what I can tell you, girl, OK?


BUTEAU: It's supposed to come out Valentine's Day weekend, which - I love me a Valentine's Day weekend because I also like to celebrate Black love and Black History Month. Yes. And J.Lo plays a Latino pop star who is...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Truly off-brand, off-character - clearly, like a huge stretch for her. But go on.

BUTEAU: I know. And her love interest is a Latino pop star named Maluma, who is probably...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ooh. There has been a lot of us who have been anticipating this for quite some time because he is a bit of a snack (laughter).

BUTEAU: Oh, he's the whole damn meal, honey.


BUTEAU: And it's so nice to, again, celebrate diversity. You know, they're speaking Spanish. They're speaking Spanglish. She's a boss on and off screen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And who are you?

BUTEAU: Well, I play the assistant that is sort of, like, chosen family, you know - got too many opinions for no damn reason. It's just, like, girl, you also have a job. So be quiet. So it was really fun just, like, to sort of play myself, the annoying, know-it-all friend.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why do you think it took you so long in the business to get the recognition that you're getting now? Because I imagine you were always funny.

BUTEAU: You know, when I started comedy, I fell in love with it. And then I started making money. And I'm like, oh, OK. I can actually do this and support myself. So I felt like I made it, you know? I started making money and paying my taxes, doing something that I love.


BUTEAU: But that's just - I'm just telling you, like, my personal journey, you know, to sort of...


BUTEAU: All the rejection, all the bad shows, all the travel, all the missed flights, all the cancelled rental cars because your credit card doesn't go through - whatever the thing is, right? But I do believe that I get a chance to be seen now because the streaming platforms because the world is changing because of the BLM movement, because of #MeToo, because of body positivity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a theory that I have. I think that there is a freedom with women in comedy right now. More than ever, I think women are getting to be their complete selves - sexy, raunchy, funny, crude, smart, you know, different sexual orientations, you know, different looks. I mean, all those things.

BUTEAU: Yeah. You know, for me, when I started, it was sort of, like, you have these five outlets. And these are the only five outlets you can go to, right? And I don't do characters. So I'm like, "SNL" isn't my thing. And I didn't fit the mold for Comedy Central. And so I really couldn't find a place for myself until streaming. And I'm just like, oh, this is dope. There's so many more outlets that we have to fill with content. And thank you for taking a chance on it (expletive) really.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You do not shy away from talking about sex in this special. You get very descriptive at points. It made me blush. But what was really funny for me is we see your mom in the crowd. Did she know that you're going to be talking about this stuff?

BUTEAU: You know, I grew up Catholic. My mom is very conservative. She's very Catholic. But she's also very open-minded, right? And so as long as I'm not hurting myself or hurting other people and I get to support myself, I'm just like, OK. I'm going to do what I'm going to do. And, of course, she's like, that's so vulgar. How could you? I'm like, because I'm a woman, because I own my sexuality, because, you know, you walk, so I could fly. Like, get over it. We have to let these - not just girls - but also boys know that it's OK to love your body and not feel like you have to be something or someone else. So I'm all about celebrating your body and other people's bodies, like my husband's.


BUTEAU: And that was really up to Page Hurwitz, who produced it and directed it. She was, like, this is just so wild that your mom is out here. And I've met her, and I know how conservative she is. She's like, can we use her? Because there's a camera on her. And I'm like, absolutely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, I think all daughters could relate maybe, especially daughters with Catholic mothers like mine. One other thing in this show that was absolutely hilarious, among pretty much everything, is your dream to be in "The Crown."


BUTEAU: I really want Meghan Markle to let herself go.


BUTEAU: Do it, girl. You did it. You did the whole thing. Like, wear your hair curly. Wear a lousy T-shirt. Wear a heeled sneaker. Get wild, Meghan.


BUTEAU: Get wild and comfortable. But I secretly and selfishly want Meghan Markle to let herself go, so I can play her in "The Crown."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you had any contact with her? I mean, because I think that's, like, definitely something that should happen.

BUTEAU: I know, right? No, that hasn't happened. You know, it's really interesting. It's like, fruition is a funny thing. You know, I realize they joke about stuff, and then it happens. Like, for a good couple of years, I would always tell my manager, who was amazing, you know what? I'm comfortable with frontal nudity. We got to normalize these titties. You know, I'm not trying to be a perv. But I'm just like, we need to see bodies of all shapes and sizes and colors, so we know that we are all worthy of love. And then cut to two years later where I'm booking proper acting roles where it requires me to be topless. I'm like, hello - Simon says.

And so maybe I secretly really need to meet Meghan. And we need to do something together. But she speaks to me. I mean, she is out here doing it for love, going up against the wall. And then also to even grow up a biracial child and always have to explain yourself, always be picked apart and questioned for what features are this and where do you belong and all that stuff. So I feel like without even knowing her, I kind of get her journey.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, this is the thing. Because you and your special on this lovely, positive note - and it's something that we can all heed right now, which is to be kind. Is that what's getting you through this year?

BUTEAU: I really don't know what's getting me through this year, to be honest, except for my kids and my husband and our health and our love for each other and my parents' health. Like, I'm just trying to be so thankful because being kind to each other really takes on so many forms, especially now since we're all home during quarantine. And when I go to the Internet, you know, whether it's social media, whether it's a news outlet, it doesn't matter what it is. It's us against them and them against us. And it just doesn't feel real. It's like, would you even say these ugly things to someone to their face? I'm a big fan of road rage. I do not mind fighting with a stranger. It's like, we got to get it out. In fact, that's, like, one of the things I miss the most besides pedicures, you, know? I'm just like...


BUTEAU: ...Road rage. But the things that people are saying to each other - it's just like, no. I mean, we are all someone's child. It's just like, can we just be nice? We got to be kind, man. We just got to be kind to each other.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michelle Buteau's new Netflix comedy special is "Welcome To Buteaupia." Thank you very much.

BUTEAU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.