It’s one of those ludicrous vagaries of life that while dropping wisdom as Ali Wong’s childhood friend-turned-assistant in Always Be My Maybe, Michelle Buteau also happened to be hugely, resplendently pregnant. Her fecundity didn’t translate to reality: In actual fact, her womanly parts were giving her the middle finger.
“It was a crazy wild experience because I knew that I will never be able to carry. This is such a wild gift and joke from the universe. I’m just gonna take it in. Yes, hold that door for me,” says Buteau, who reveled in wearing that prosthetic belly.
Only Buteau decided that fuck it, she’d share her misery with the world because she was tired of the failure to conceive being some deep, dark, cry yourself to sleep but do so quietly so no one hears secret. When in fact, according to the CDC, at least 10 percent of women in this country have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. And those are the ones we know about.
“This is a real fucking issue. And if our government cares about us so much, then why do we feel punished, when we can’t have a baby the way that they see fit? This is completely fucking insane. There’s no shame in struggling or going through a different path,” says the stand-up comedian, actress, and podcast host from the great state of New Jersey.
If you don’t know Buteau, rent the nimble, clever Maybe, a gem of a film featuring Keanu Reeves as himself and culminating in a John Wick-worthy fight scene. But we digress. It’s also where Buteau manages to saunter away with every scene she’s in. Now, the standup has her own special airing on Netflix, June 29’s Welcome To Buteaupia, about thin ankles, raising twins, and why she’s a Beyonce for government workers.
Buteau talks to Fatherly about comedy, cancel culture, and Keanu.
Isn’t it nice to put on a dress and shoes and lipstick? Wait, are you wearing shoes?
What do you mean? I got the COVID feet. Oh my god, girl. I showed my mom my feet at the beginning of the pandemic and she goes, ‘What happened?’ This is just how my feet look because I don’t have time for myself. And so two days later, she sent me a foot scrubber. And I was like, ‘Rude but also wonderful. Thank you, Mama.’
So tell me about your special. It’s all about kittens and puppies and unicorns. Sweet!
I’m so excited about the special. I’m also excited to be excited about something — which is just so wild. And I think it sums it up perfectly, because it’s like, my life has been so crazy in the last year and a half, two years. Just being married to a European. I’m struggling with not getting pregnant. I’m struggling to have a kid only to finally have twins and being blessed with twins (born via surrogate). Then, you know, changing 16 to 18 diapers a day and then going on set with JLo the next day. It’s like, you know, she’s got stories and there are no dinner parties to tell those stories too.
JLo, I’ve met. She’s perfect. But surely she has a hangnail or something?
No, no, the thing is, she’s a perfectionist. But she’s not even a perfectionist in an annoying way. She’s a perfectionist in a coach kind of way where she says like, we can all do better together. Let’s do it again. Let’s make the shot efficient so we can all get home for dinner with our kids. And I’m good with that.
How do you do a full-time job while having twins at home?
Girl, I don’t know. I still ask myself that I truly. I have help for sure. And then planning. I think it’s all about for me at least enjoying the moment — being efficient with my time and the fact that I was like, even able to write a book while having twins while being on movie sets. It was insane. Now that I have less time to work with, I’m just more efficient with my time. I got this 45 minutes today, I’m going to do something with it.
Why were you so open about your struggle to conceive? I think it’s incredible. Because so many of my friends have been through it. And I think the more open people are, the less stigmatized it is.
I think that’s exactly why I was open. I didn’t plan on talking about it or being that person. But I noticed that with my friends, and my family when I told them about the pain I was going through, nobody could understand me, they couldn’t even say something as simple as I’m sorry. It was always them trying to fix it with a diet or a recipe or a book or a solution.
This is not what I want to hear. And so it really just felt therapeutic to talk about it. And as I started talking about it, people started coming out of the woodwork and you’re like, ‘Yeah, motherfucking me too.’ And I feel less alone. It wasn’t even just women dealing with fertility issues. It was also single people trying to have a baby on their own or same-sex couples trying to figure out how to expand their family.
In your standup, it feels like nothing is off-limits.
You’re always just sort of talking into a dark room and you never feel like anyone’s going to see it. And the good part about doing comedy for so long is that I feel like I’m emotionally mature to defend anything I say at this point. People just want to call you out. People want to be triggered by our words, but don’t want to listen to the whole message.
Yeah, the whole cancel culture thing.
They glom on to one thing you say and then you’re done. My special comes out on September 29. My mom was like, ‘What are you going to do September 30?’ I’m like, ‘I’ll probably be on the internet blocking people who are saying really horrible things.’ Y’all, can we just be kind to each other, whether it’s in person, whether it’s with our eyes over a mask, or in line at Costco, whether it’s in the comment section, can we just think twice about what we do? Damn it. I’m so tired of people being mean. It ages a bitch. Does your 9-year-old have a phone yet?
Oh, hell no, no, no, no. And he is on my case about it. Get a job and then earn money and buy yourself an Apple watch. On an entirely different note, you’re so outspoken about reproductive rights. Right on.
Absolutely. I mean, I, my dad worked in health insurance for over 40 years. I told him at one point, it feels like me being born female feels like a pre-existing condition. Why is everything so tough? Why does everybody want to tell me what to do with my body? I don’t know how we’re making these rules or these laws. And I don’t know why they’re always done by old white men.
I mean, I didn’t even realize how misogynistic healthcare was until I realized that I need to go down the IVF route. Why do I feel like there’s something wrong with me now. And what if I didn’t have a good partner if I didn’t have compassionate parents if I didn’t have a community, or even a stage or a platform to even say this shit out loud? I don’t know what would happen to me or how I would have ended up — I definitely would have been depressed.
Before I let you go, you’re in one of the best adult rom-coms to come out in years, Always Be My Maybe.
Oh, man, that was so fun. And I always say diversity matters. I love Ali, I’ve known her forever. Randall (Park) is a damn dream. It was so dope because everybody just wanted to do their best. Nobody was phoning it in.
Too bad you didn’t have scenes with Keanu though.
I saw him on the carpet though. At the premiere. And he’s so nice.