Aida Rodriguez wants you to laugh at the pain

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AUSTIN, Texas – “I didn’t know I was half Dominican until I got older,” comedian Aida Rodriguez said from the Stateside Theater stage. “They told me like it was bad news.”

The crowd laughed, but Ms. Rodriguez was serious. It is a subject close to his heart. The range of Latin American identities in America often falls under the broad category of “Hispanic,” a checkbox on a census chart that blurs the richness of the many cultures it encompasses. In a country where a handful of famous Latin American comics come mostly from the southwest, Ms. Rodriguez wants to bring a Caribbean perspective to the fore.

When she was 3, her mother left her father and moved them to Miami from Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. She grew up with her Puerto Rican side of the family, thinking she was only Puerto Rican. It wasn’t until this year, when she first met her father since then, that she reconnected with Dominican culture.

She now uses comedy to deal with the parts of her life over which she had no control.

“It’s hard to see things that are a part of you that you don’t remember very well,” said Ms. Rodriguez, of the Green Room ahead of her filming at the Moontower Comedy Festival on September 22. Earlier this year, she filmed a one-hour comedy special, which premieres on HBO Max on November 4. On the show, she uses material that relates to her upbringing and struggles. She looks at it all without flinching. In fact, she even ran cameras when she met her father, capturing parts of their reunion to incorporate into the hour-long video.

Pieces are starting to fall into place for Ms. Rodriguez’s acting career, but when she started she was a single mother of two, and the stand-up was more of an outlet than a path she thought she was taking. .

“I couldn’t afford a therapist,” she said.

In 1998, she left her husband, a former Chargers football player, and returned from San Diego to Miami. “I went home for two years to recover,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I didn’t fit into this world.

At the same time, she was working on a screenplay which she submitted to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, a workshop where new screenwriters are paired with seasoned writers who help them complete their scripts. When she was named a finalist for the program, she saw this as a positive sign to pursue her acting career, so in 2000 she moved to Los Angeles. She took a job at a finance company in between acting jobs and was signed by an arts agency.

“I was signed quite quickly,” she said. “It was part of the illusion that I was going to get there.”

The net of acting jobs she had booked quickly dried up. In 2007, she began appearing on “Speedy’s Comedy Corner,” a radio show on Jamie Foxx’s Sirius XM radio station, The Foxxhole. Show staff put on a comedy show at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix and invited Ms. Rodriguez to be part of the lineup.

It was her first time on stage and she was a success. The audience screamed throughout his five-minute set. She was addicted to the feeling, but it would be a long time before she could find it again. Back in Los Angeles, she managed to secure a three-minute “First Impressions” spot in a “Chocolate Sundaes” show at the Laugh Factory.

“I bombed,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I did well for the first few minutes, but then I got cocky.”

She then booked another five-minute set, this time on “Comic View: One Mic Stand,” a BET show hosted by Kevin Hart. But she wasn’t ready. “Five minutes when you bomb is three hours,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I realized it was too early for me and I needed to focus on the job.”

She started showing up for open mic parties at the Westwood Brewing Company in Los Angeles. Soon after, she began hosting a weekly comedy show at the Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill. After two years there, she landed another hosting gig at a comedy club in San Diego for three years.

In 2010, she opened for Paul Mooney at Punchline, a comedy club in Sacramento. In 2013, it no longer opened at the Punchline; she was now the headliner.

Her big break came in 2014, when she auditioned for season 8 of “Last Comic Standing,” an NBC reality show whose executive producers included Wanda Sykes. Other comedians warned Ms Rodriguez against the reality show trap, but she felt it was her best chance for success.

“It was a reality show, but as a Latina it was the only chance I had,” Ms. Rodriguez, 44, said. “I had to be very careful not to perpetuate stereotypes. It was heavy. “

Mrs. Sykes advised him to let go of his inhibitions. “It just takes a while to get comfortable with who you are,” Ms. Sykes said in an interview. “I think the journey is tough, but once you’re there and you can do it, it’s so liberating and cathartic and just raw and beautiful.”

Although Ms Rodriguez didn’t win the competition, she said it helped her find her voice and she started booking mainstream comedy clubs across the country. She performed in colleges, took a 10-day military tour of Korea, and landed a role in “The Comedian,” a 2016 film about an aging comic book starring Robert De Niro.

Everything seemed to fall into place, but Ms Rodriguez still felt like an impostor, she said. She often felt like she was cheating, as if she could be discovered at any time.

“I just thought, I keep getting away with it,” Ms. Rodriguez said. Still feeling that she had something to prove – at least to herself – she went to New York.

As the saying goes, “You go on the road to get good, you go to New York to get awesome, then you go to LA to get famous,” she said. The New York comedy scene helped her feel validated. Ms. Rodriguez is now a regular at the Comedy Cellar. “I go stand-up every month because that’s where you get the respect,” she said.

Her satire is awash with themes of race, religion, millennial awakening, and motherhood.

“People were throwing Black Lives Matter signs on the marches,” she says on her special. “And they only put these signs up so that no one would break their windows.”

On stage, Ms. Rodriguez can finally take advantage of the spotlight and she wants to use it to inform and use humor to shine a light on her identity, she said. “I want to create more space for others.” As she says in her special, “We have this ethnic spectrum that contains all races – we have white people, black people, Asians, natives, we have everyone. “

With his newfound fame came a wider reach and higher expectations. In 2018, she was criticized for suggesting that Louis CK, who had been accused of sexual misconduct by five women, use his routine to educate other men.

“If he takes the opportunity to fill in his gaps, maybe he can change his fans’ minds and maybe he can save a few girls from unnecessary and unwanted incidents,” Ms. Rodriguez at The Hollywood Reporter.

“They called me a rape apologist,” Ms. Rodriguez said, as she stood in the Green Room at the Stateside Theater in Austin, minutes into the first hour of stand-up since the start of the show. pandemic. “Because I said that when he comes back he should use his privilege and his platform to talk to like-minded people because I will never be able to reach these people.”

In 2019, Ms. Rodriguez was one of six comedians chosen by Tiffany Haddish to be part of her Netflix anthology series, “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready”. Each episode is a 30 minute special from a different comedian. Once again, Ms. Rodriguez made headlines. This time, for jokes considered homophobic.

“If you want to have a conversation with me and tell me: is this problematic?” Let’s talk about it, ”Ms. Rodriguez said. “You want to blow me up on social media and try to take me down knowing I’m deep?” I am the lowest paid of everyone in comedy. Latinas are paid less than everyone else, and comedy is not exempt.

Now Ms Rodriguez is mentoring other Latino comedians, in hopes they can avoid getting caught in the industry’s traps.

“She’s probably dealing with me in a way that I don’t even know,” said Glory Mora, 33, a New York comedian who produced a show called “Morir Soñando,” called “Morir Soñando,” after a popular Dominican drink. . “When she did our show, she gave us props and she didn’t even have to.”

Ms. Rodriguez also stars in and writes a half-hour comedy show based on her life, which is in development at HBO Max. Ms. Haddish has signed on as executive producer. “I just want to show my people in an honest light,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I want to be true to us. “

It was roll call time and she walked towards the stage. In a camo jacket, gray jeans and a pair of bright Jordans designed by rapper J. Balvin, she walked up to the mic and opened with a joke from Karen.

Several people got up and left the theater.

“It’s good,” she reassured the rest of her audience. “Paul Mooney told me if 10 people don’t leave while you’re on stage, you’re wrong.”

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