Michelle Buteau Takes the Lead in ‘Babes’ and on Netflix

Michelle Buteau Takes the Lead in ‘Babes’ and on Netflix

Buteau’s stand-up origin story is either depressing or uniquely hopeful: She first got onstage on Sept. 14, 2001, after editing footage about the attacks three days before, and realizing she needed a different path.

Her family was not initially supportive. Talking about penises onstage “after he paid for college in cash?” she said of her father, an international auditor. Her mother, a customs broker, “was really sad.” And she didn’t want to ask them for money. So she continued to work her midnight production shift, going from comedy clubs to the newsroom, for six years, building up her network of besties along the way.

“I met Michelle at a grimy club in San Francisco that doesn’t exist anymore,” Wong, the comedian and Emmy-winning actress, said. “I was truly blown away by how funny and original she was. And I knew that if she had traveled all the way to San Francisco to perform at a place where the carpet was riddled with dry semen, she was going to make it.”

Besides their comic chemistry, Wong cast Buteau in her rom-com because “she’s just a very nurturing person offstage,” Wong said. “I just wanted an excuse to spend a lot of time with her.”

Over a delightful pasta lunch on the Upper West Side, Buteau riffed on making things happen and loving New York. She once lived nearby, in a building that was like “a Jewish retirement center,” she said. “No one thought I lived there; they thought I was, like, a nanny. And then — I don’t know how this rumor got started — I was Harry Belafonte’s niece. I wasn’t fighting it. I was like, ‘Yes, Esther, that’s who I am.’”

Her material can be raunchy, but there’s also a layer of graciousness to it: If she had her own perfume, she wrote in her book, it would be called “Just Sassy Enough.” But she makes a point to showcase lust and relationships, like how her one-night stand with a tourist, Gijs van der Most, turned into marriage. He’s a photographer and furniture store owner, and she has mined a lot from their cultural differences, although now she’s careful. “I don’t want him to always feel like he’s content,” she said.

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