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Michelle Buteau talks infertility, racism and past sexcapades
2020 was supposed to be Michelle Buteau’s year.
In September, the comedian released a comedy special, “Welcome to Buteaupia,” on Netflix. This week, the 43-year-old published her first book, a series of autobiographical essays called “Survival of The Thickest” (Gallery Books).
“I worked so hard to drop a special and a book, and I feel a bit cheated that I don’t get to enjoy it and share it the way I normally would,” the New Jersey native told The Post, referring to pandemic restrictions on group gatherings and travel. “It feels weird being [like], ‘Hey, I hope you got COVID tested, here’s a thing I made.’”
But the podcast host and actress is trying to keep things in perspective. “I feel hateful and grateful in the same breath,” she said.
Calling from a set in Atlanta, the actress said she knows what it’s like to push through tough times.
In “Thickest,” she details her harrowing fertility journey, in which she struggled through in vitro fertilization, endured several miscarriages, and even discovered that she had a benign brain tumor. Eventually, she and her husband, Gijs van der Most, decided to use a gestational surrogate to carry their now 1-year-old twins, Hazel and Otis.
Through it all, Buteau continued to work.
She accepted the role of Veronica in the 2019 rom-com “Always Be My Maybe,” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park, after quickly glancing at the script. “Working with people like Ali and Randall, who also worked so hard to be where they are and don’t take it for granted, they make the time fly by,” she said.
And so she was shocked to show up on set and find out that her character was supposed to be pregnant with twins.
“You take it day by day, hour by hour,” she said of strapping on a protruding belly under her costumes, at the very same time that she and her surrogate were trying to get pregnant with the babies that Buteau couldn’t carry herself. It was painful, but she said that the scenes don’t bother her now: “It’s really fun to watch.”
Because surrogacy was not legal in New York at the time, Buteau, 43, and her husband, found someone to carry their children out of state, in Pennsylvania. It added “one more hurdle” to the complicated process. “I can’t be this emotionally drained and then drive for four hours to an appointment,” she said. If the surrogate needed her, Buteau didn’t have the option to be there right away. “It made every second glass of wine feel like, ‘I’m really rolling the dice.’ There’s a reason why it should be legal everywhere.”
Last January, Buteau joined Andy Cohen in Albany to lobby Gov. Cuomo to make surrogacy legal in New York State.
“While Andy was fighting for this, people would often say, ‘but this is a gay thing’ or, ‘this is a rich people thing,’” she said. In her role as an activist, Buteau said she met a huge range of women impacted by the issue, including a cancer survivor who froze her eggs, but was not able to carry her own children anymore due to her treatment.
“[I heard] beautiful traumatic stories,” Buteau said.
They were successful: Gestational surrogacy will be legal in New York starting in February 2021. “I don’t think people understand their power to normalize things,” Buteau said of her work to change the law.
“Survival of the Thickest” also reveals Buteau’s experiences with racism, growing up Haitian-Jamaican in New Jersey: A white friend’s mom accused her of making her daughter a “n—-r lover” and people would constantly question her ethnicity.
When she was writing, she had no idea that these stories would enter the zeitgeist at a moment of national racial reckoning. “I’m not talking about these things because it’s a hashtag or a new movement, it’s woven into the fabric that is America,” she said. “We’ve always been around these things, but we’ve never been allowed to talk about them.”
She also recounts messy stories from her up-and-coming comedy career in New York City. After working as a news footage editor, Buteau decided to step into the funny field after 9/11. “Editing video of that horrible afternoon over and over and over again made me think, ‘F–k this s–t. We’re all gonna die; we don’t know when or how, so let’s get to that back burner of the to-do list of life and make s–t happen,’” Buteau writes. “September 14, 2001, I did stand-up for the first time. I fell madly, deeply in love with it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Of all the potential readers of her wildly personal book, there’s only one that truly freaks her out — her mother. “I’m 43 and I’m still like, ‘Oh I hope my mom doesn’t read this story about the Dominican d–k I sucked in the back seat of a taxi,’” Buteau said.
Although her stand-up often gets deep, she hopes her fans take one thing away from her book: compassion. “For the person who feels less than, I want them to know that they will feel whole,” Buteau said. “It’s just a whole ass journey to get there.”