I love standup more than I hate the system, so they can’t get rid of me. I know I’m the thorn in some people’s side. A lot of people don’t like me because I speak truth to the powers that be. And I speak out about all of the stuff that some people are afraid to talk about because they don’t want to jeopardize their career. But what career can you have if you’re operating in fear?”
Aida Rodriguez is hitting her stride.
The comedian/writer/actor/director/producer/podcaster is busy. Really busy. She’s following up her 2021 HBO Max special Fighting Words by developing a half-hour series based on her life and has directed four upcoming specials featuring rising stand-ups for the streaming network. There’s also an animated series in development with ITV, in addition to a persistent slate of stand-up dates around the country.
“My heroes in this world are like Tina Fey, who wrote a show and made somebody else a star,” Rodriguez says. “Like Donald Glover, who did Atlanta and made three big movie stars. That’s what feeds me. I get fed with art and knowing that leaving these pieces behind and saying my name was connected to this amazing voice that said these beautiful things about people. That’s what feeds my soul.”
Rodriguez’s road to this point has not been an easy one. She started standup later in life as an outlet for processing the emotions of her life’s experience – including being kidnapped twice as a child, the murder of her uncle in a hate crime, and periods of homelessness with her two children, among other challenges. Finding solace in laughing and making others laugh about those experiences wasn’t easy, either, as she faced the misogyny, racism, and ageism sadly inherent in the white male-dominated comedy industry.
“Instead of it becoming the chip on my shoulder, it just became the wind, you know, beneath my wings. And it fueled me to just work really hard,” she says. “I love standup more than I hate the system, so they can’t get rid of me. I know I’m the thorn in some people’s side. A lot of people don’t like me because I speak truth to the powers that be. And I speak out about all of the stuff that some people are afraid to talk about because they don’t want to jeopardize their career. But what career can you have if you’re operating in fear?”
Sound Advice: Be Yourself
“I’ve gotten so much bad advice in comedy, mainly from men,” Rodriguez says. “The worst advice has always been don’t talk about sex. [It’s] a lie because people do want to hear about the experiences of our people.”
Like she said, Rodriguez has gotten plenty of bad advice, but she’s also received good advice, some of which came from fellow comedian Na’im Lynn.
“Somebody told me that I needed to change my set for like, if I’m performing for Black people, that I need to do this, and if I perform for white people, I need to do this,” she explains. “[Na’im] was the one that told me never dumb down for audiences of color. Like, that is the greatest insult. If you think that you have to dumb down for people of color, you are doing the same thing that racist people are doing. Just be yourself.”
Despite pressure to mold her act to fit someone else’s vision, the notion of always being herself has remained a guiding star for Rodriguez.
“There was a time when people didn’t like me because they thought I was too aggressive or they didn’t want to hear me talk about politics,” she says. “They didn’t want to hear my point of view about social issues. It’s more palatable from a white guy that they think is actually smart and not this ghetto girl talking about, you know, patriarchy or talking about this stuff. And I just held on to myself, and I had to hold my own hand because I felt very isolated. But eventually, my people started to find me.”
Rodriguez says she writes “primarily at night while everybody else is sleeping” and frequently on stage. “I don’t particularly like making fun of people in the audience and making people in the audience feel uncomfortable because I feel uncomfortable. So, if I’m doing crowd work, it’s because I’m searching for a bit. I take a lot of chances on stage. I actually wrote a new joke onstage while I was taping my special. It just felt right in the moment, and it worked, and it was real.”
She finds inspiration where others might not immediately see the humor. Like, say, being kidnapped or being homeless.
“My writing process is about experiences,” Rodriguez explains. “Because for so long, the punchline has always been whoever you think is beneath you that you can make fun of. It’s not because it’s racist or sexist or homophobic. It’s insulting to the intelligence of a person who paid their money to come to have a comedy experience, who had to get a babysitter and pay for parking. That’s the majority of the country; that is who we’re servicing.”
Paying It Forward
“Kevin Hart gave me my first TV [appearance] and I had only been doing standup for maybe a year, and I bombed terribly,” Rodriguez remembers. “It was like my friends had to come scrape me up off the ground. It was bad.”
Despite feeling she had blown her chance, Rodriguez kept grinding. She was a finalist on season eight of NBC’s Last Comic Standing and appeared on HBO Max’s Entre Nos: Part 1 and Showtime’s Shaquille O’Neal Presents: All-Star Comedy Jam, and later she was a featured comic in Netflix’s anthology series Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready.
Now Rodriguez feels that it’s time for her to use her growing opportunities to help spotlight the talent of the next class of comedians on the rise.
“There was nothing more satisfying than to be able to provide a comedian with a taping experience, knowing exactly what it feels like to be on that side,” she says about the HBO Max comedy specials she’s directing for up-and-coming comedians Marcella Arguello, Ian Laura, Ralph Barboza, and Gwen La Roca.
“They’re all very funny and a broad spectrum of voices – from a Black Latin guy to a Mexican Chicana to a girl that grew up in Modesto, California, who’s white passing and is a brilliant mind,” Rodriguez gushes. “Knowing how hard these people work just to get a shot. And two women, you know, a queer woman and a straight woman, that would not ordinarily get an opportunity that was very fulfilling for me. I can’t wait for those specials to come out.”
Find out more about Aida Rodriguez on her website FunnyAida.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter – @FunnyAida.