Michelle Buteau wears a pink top over a dark tank, against a purple background.


Whether on the stage or the screen, the comedian proves that its her world and we're just living in it.

17 April 20246 min read

There is no stopping Michelle Buteau. After cementing herself as an unforgettable voice in stand-up, and a bona fide scene-stealer in 2019’s Always Be My Maybe and Someone Great, the comedian continues to bring us into her world. In her 2020 special, Michelle Buteau: Welcome to Buteaupia, the performer unpacks motherhood, surrogacy, cultural differences, and finding love. As the host of the reality shows The Circle and Barbecue Showdown, she commands the competition. 

The performer illustrates her range once again as the co-creator and star of the dramedy series Survival of the Thickest (2023), proving that we are all, indeed, living in Buteaupia. An adaptation of Buteau’s sincerely hilarious book of personal essays, the series gets real about loving, dating, working, striving, thriving, and surviving in New York and what it means to start over and come into your own later in life. “People talk about turning 25, or 30, or 21 [like] those are the landmark markings, and they’re really not,” says the comedian. “For me, it’s like late thirties, early forties, shit hits different.” 

Buteau may be everywhere, but don’t call her an overnight success. First deciding she wanted to be a comedian over two decades ago, the New Jersey-born stand-up has been putting in the work, delighting onstage and onscreen. “I just had my head down and I worked and I worked and I worked, and I loved what I did,” she says. “You just have fun, you work, you try to figure out how to advocate for yourself, and then one day you just look at your schedule and you’re like, ‘Okay, what are we going to wear to the Hollywood Bowl?’”

Ahead of her show at the Netflix Is a Joke Festival, Buteau speaks to Queue about bringing her book to the screen, how New York City has influenced her comedy, and what to expect from Season 2.

An edited version of the conversation follows.

Michelle Buteau wears a ruffled purple dress and heels and walks on a sticker runway

Michelle Buteau

Jenny Changnon: Survival of the Thickest adapts your book of personal essays. What was it like writing the book and exploring your story in that way?

Michelle Buteau: I was going through this thing where I was really feeling myself and I was like, “Wow.” It was a journey just to even own my sexuality and feel fancy and fun. I was doing podcasts and storytelling shows about what it was like growing up, and I was like, “Oh, this could be interesting,” because I realized I had all these stories that don’t fit straight-up stand-up, but are important and inspire people to feel better or just learn what it’s like for a person that has a different body.

How did you approach taking your memoir and turning it into a series?

MB: That’s where my awesome showrunner came in, because I had no idea. Up until then, I had just been writing material for stand-up, writing personal stories, and then coming up with fun TV ideas that I hadn’t seen on TV yet — I didn’t know that I could mix everything. It was an embarrassment of riches almost because we had all this material to choose from, but how do we make it fit into its own world?  I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself because it was like an emotional jigsaw puzzle. I was like, “Where do we start?”

At what point did you decide that this would be a fictionalized version of your life, with an onscreen persona of Mavis and not Michelle?

MB: It’s so funny because it’s sort of like planning a wedding. I knew what characters, what people in my life I wanted to write about and lean into, and then when I started working with my showrunner, she was like, “But who’s Mavis?” and I was like, “Right, right, I haven’t even thought about her,” because you’re so used to building the world around yourself. And so it was really nice to think about what I wanted to see, think about what I was comfortable putting out there and playing, what I was excited about, what the vehicle was, what we’re going to talk about.

Building who Mavis is piece by piece was just very organic. Mavis was my grandma’s name and she was my person. She was the strongest woman I’ve known. It’s such an old-school name, but it’s just so fun to be on set and to just hear her name all the time, because it definitely feels like she’s always with me.  

Mavis (Michelle Buteau) in Survival of the Thickest wears jeans, a yellow raincoat, and green shoes on the subway, straddling a toilet.

Mavis (Michelle Buteau) in Survival of the Thickest

New York is very much a character in Survival of the Thickest. How has New York influenced your comedy and storytelling?

MB: Just doing a regular comedy show in New York is such a great education. You come here and our comedy style is really just running into the burning building and figuring out how to unpack and make pain funny. I’m really excited for comics that know how to write a good joke, but I’m just like, “Do you know how to feel?” Because we can always get a joke, right? Or you can learn how to write a joke. But see, you can’t teach everyone how to fucking feel something. That’s what I love about New York comedy, and that’s been a safe space to do shit like that.

I know you’re just getting started on it, but what can we expect from Season 2? What’s next for Mavis?

MB: Oh my God. It’s dope. It’s bigger, it’s Blacker, it’s badder. I think everyone in my writer’s room thinks I’m high or definitely haven’t figured out my dosage because I’m like, “Hello, everyone! Let’s go!” I am very excited. It’s definitely giving substitute teacher who just had sex.