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Michelle Buteau Sashays Into the Lead

“Oh my God, are we best friends?” the comedian Michelle Buteau said, 27 seconds into meeting me.

Honestly, it was a joke that felt like it could ricochet into reality. It didn’t. But that is the power of Buteau’s ebullient charisma, which telegraphs to audiences that her preternatural comic rhythm and dolled-up, side-eye style of delivery are in service of being a warmhearted bestie. To her TV, film, podcast and stand-up fans, she’s a moral center with a blue streak. “I truly, sincerely care,” she said, “about these bitches.”

The B-word is one that Buteau and her friend and co-star in the new comedy “Babes,” Ilana Glazer, roll and dice into multiple syllables and meanings, in a sisterhood built on tell-it-like-it-is endearments, unfiltered but uplifting, like Buteau’s comedy.

In “Babes,” which was directed by Pamela Adlon, Buteau plays an exhausted working mother of two young children, reconfiguring her life minute by minute, task by task, to accommodate her career, her family, her partner and her friendships. Also the occasional hallucinogenic trip and breast pump-destroying dance party.

In real life, Buteau does that (or most of it), and is both cleareyed and funny about it: “Every day feels like a panic room — I’m just searching for the next clue.” Having 5-year-old twins with her Dutch husband, a house in the Bronx, some dogs and an ascending, multistrand career is undeniably a lot; the movie reflects that, too. “There’s no such thing as balance,” she said, during a recent lunch interview. “You do what you can, when you can.”

Buteau, opposite Ilana Glazer in “Babes,” is “just a perfect comedy machine,” said the film’s director, Pamela Adlon.Credit…Gwen Capistran/Neon, via Associated Press

In the last five years, Buteau, 46, has made the leap from a 20-year stalwart of the New York comedy scene to a headliner and the star of her own scripted Netflix series, “Survival of the Thickest,” loosely based on her 2020 essay collection of the same name, and heading toward its second season. With “Babes,” now in wide release, she also moves up from the BFF and assistants she played in Ali Wong’s “Always Be My Maybe” and Jennifer Lopez’s “Marry Me,” to a lead: the movie is centered on the friendship between Glazer and Buteau’s characters. It arrives as Buteau is preparing to film her second hourlong Netflix special, “Full Heart, Tight Jeans,” on June 6 at Radio City Music Hall.

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