When she was 16 and growing up in Western Springs, Cameron Esposito spent many a night at the big amphitheater in nearby Tinley Park, catching the Dave Matthews Band, the Lilith Fair and a B-96 Summer Bash that starred headliner Sisqo (of “The Thong Song” fame), Hanson and the future superstar then singing with Destiny’s Child.
“Beyonce was probably also 16,” Esposito recalls.
ODDBALL COMEDY & CURIOSITY FESTIVAL When: 5 p.m. Sept. 2 Where: Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, 19100 S. Ridgeland, Tinley Park Tickets: $52 – $100 Info: www.livenation.com
A choice pavilion seat was the closest she thought she’d ever get to that stage. “Why would anyone think they would ever perform at the World Music Theatre?,” she says, still using the venue’s original 1990s name.
A ludicrous notion becomes reality on Friday when Esposito does stand-up at what is now called the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre before what likely will be the biggest live audience of her career. She’s a support act on the Chicago- and Detroit-area stops of the fourth Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival, a large-scale leviathan of laughs headlined by Rolling Meadows High grad Sebastian Maniscalco, St. Ignatius alum John Mulaney and Florida native Brian Regan.
While she has performed outdoors to large swarms before at such musical festivals as Bonnaroo and Sasquatch, Oddball promises something new: a live feed on a massive video screen. “I’m excited to stand in front of a bigger me and perform,” Esposito said. “That sounds great. Very ‘Citizen Kane.’ ”
Ginormous seems fitting this year for the woman Jay Leno called “the future” of comedy when both appeared on Craig Ferguson’s show in 2013. Esposito turned up in the spring movie “Mother’s Day” and has a deal for a book coming out in January. She and wife Rhea Butcher play themselves in a sitcom that premiered in August on Seeso, the subscription comedy streaming service that’s also hosting her first stand-up special, “Marriage Material.” And she’s working on another series for FX with producer Stephen Falk (“You’re the Worst”).
Though she lives in Los Angeles now, Esposito spent several formative years in Chicago working out her skills alongside some other local stand-ups who went on to become national names, including T.J. Miller, Hannibal Buress and Kumail Najiani.
“People like to go out in that city,” Esposito said. “It’s a party city, it’s a city with bar culture, it’s a city where people love to go out and drink. It’s also a city where people love to blow off steam after a long day. All those things make it a really great place to do live performance.”
Unlike in New York or L.A., she said, where some people in the seats are jaded and feel like they’ve seen it all, and some comedians are always tuned in to being discovered by some heavy hitter in the crowd, audiences in Chicago can be assured that “comics are just doing it for the craft, and they’re doing it to perform live. … And so the live performance aspect of Chicago is really unmatched anywhere else.”
The far smaller scale of Chicago’s movie and TV businesses figures into it too. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Couldn’t we get more industry here so [talented] people could just stay here and work here forever?’ And I really think that would ruin it,” Esposito said. “It has to just stay how it is. It has to stay live-performance-focused, because it’s a great place to do your reps. It’s a training ground. That’s why people go out of there so strong. It’s like a gym.”
Which makes it especially ironic that Esposito is angling to shoot her FX series in Chicago — expanding the local TV scene that she insists stay small.
“I promise I won’t spoil the thing I was talking about earlier! If I bring a TV show back home it’ll just be at specific places at specific times,” she said. “I won’t overexpose this beautiful scene that should stay exactly as it is.”
And her loyalty extends as well to Western Springs, where she returns often to see her parents — among other draws.
“You can’t beat a smiley-face cookie from Kirschbaum’s, right?,” Esposito said. “Actually, the last time I was home, the bakery was closed because they take a summer break. So, they owe me one! Kirschbaum’s, you’d better send me some smiley faces to the World Music Theatre! Or whatever it’s called!”