If Aida Rodriguez only made incisive stand-up comedic looks at the family, freedom, social politics, love and the multi-culturalism of her Puerto Rican/Dominican upbringing and the Latin continuum with specials such as Fighting Words that would be enough. Instead, Rodriguez is a wizened personal storyteller and pop cultural writer at Buzzfeed and for Oprah Winfrey’s websites, has directed the filmic work of fellow stand-up comedians, and has a vision that goes far beyond comedy, stand-up and otherwise.
So what makes Aida Rodriguez tick? You could read this interview for some insight, as she delves deep into the heart of comedy and power in the entertainment business. Better still to see her perform her new set, Rodriguez’s Don’t @ Me tour, with several stops along the City Winery chain starting March 7 at City Winery Philadelphia, March 8 at City Winery Chicago then more March and April dates stretching into Atlanta, Nashville, New York City and Boston.
A.D. Amorosi: Before delving into your own stand-up, I want to discuss honing and utilizing your writing skills and crafting a universe where you are directing as much as you are performing…. How and why did stretching into directing for others and writing become a thing: is it about financial self-empowerment or was it just an organic part of who you are and how your aesthetic range can stretch – comedically and otherwise?
Aida Rodriguez: What a thoughtful question, thank you. Writing has always been the foundation. I began to write when I was about 9 years old and it became a major outlet for me. I wrote my first piece that was published in my City Paper at 11, and my first play at age 14. I knew that it would always be where my art would start. I enjoyed putting the pieces together and watching them come alive. Directing has just been part of my journey and a very empowering tool as a performer. I have so much information about the process that will, no doubt, help me the next time I step in front of the camera. Shining a light on my fellow artists definitely makes me better.
A.D. Amorosi: You write for Buzzfeed and Oprah’s sites – as those places allow for the intimate and the personal to be revealed, what are you hoping to deliver there, in writing, that you don’t within your own stand-up specials?
Aida Rodriguez: When I write those personal pieces, I don’t feel the pressure to be funny and am allowed a different type of vulnerability. I am expressing a part of me that I hope resonates in a way with the reader that is welcoming, warm and also relatable. It is merely a peek into my world that is personal and doesn’t come with any expectation.
A.D. Amorosi: How and why did you push for – or were asked to – direct Entre Nos: Winners and Ian Lara: Romantic Comedy and Marcella Arguello’s Bitch Grow Up!, and what vision do you believe that you had for those shows that you might not have for your own-stand-up specials?
Aida Rodriguez: I have a personal relationship with both Ian and Marcella and am also very familiar with their styles of comedy and content. When the EP Edwin Licona (Viva Pictures) asked me if I would be interested in directing, I was not only flattered, I was humbled. He knew that I had a hunger for more creativity in this business. I wanted people to see these two artists in the best light, figuratively and literally. It was personal, I was coming off of my own special (Fighting Words) and I was ready to jump behind the camera.
A.D. Amorosi: I have asked this of other stand-up comedians who have directed fellow-stand-up comedians – e.g. Jerry Seinfeld directing Colin Quinn: what is the conversation like between you and them? What are you making and choreographic and cinematograph-ing beyond you, them and a spotlight?
Aida Rodriguez: I had several conversations with the comedians that I directed about their vision of course, what they wanted their set to look like and so on. I also wanted to know how they wanted their audience to feel. Some people have a Rock Star vibe and want the audience to bask in their presence, some want their show to feel like an intimate conversation with friends. I wanted to get to the center of that. I start with asking, “What’s your thesis?”. Something a fellow comic (Ramon Rivas) introduced me to. What do you want these people to walk away with? Everything starts from that.
A.D. Amorosi: I have spoken to a handful of Latinidad/Latin continuum comedians about what it is they do. First, do you feel that everything that you do as a comedian/comic artist has to rep the Dominican population of the US, and what sort of weight does that feel like? Secondly, do you feel as if there is a huge huge difference in your comedy when speaking to Latin continuum audiences and Black and/or White audiences?
Aida Rodriguez: I am a comedian who happens to be Puerto Rican and Dominican. I share stories that are culturally specific with the intention of humanizing us and showing that we are people like everyone else. Of course, I am proud of every ounce of who I am and believe that there is magic in that. I also know that as individuals, families, communities we have a lot in common and there is plenty of funny in that,
A.D. Amorosi: What is your feeling regarding bilingual shows or all-Latin-language stand-up events? Would you do? Have you done?
Aida Rodriguez: Bilingual shows are fun, I actually started in a Spanish language room with my fellow comic Francisco Ramos and it was hard. It was definitely a rewarding experience but a totally different muscle to exercise. The sensibility in Spanish can be very different than in English. I commend the comedians that can master both, it is truly a gift. I hope to one day be able to deliver a comedy special where I can provide an hour in both languages.
A.D. Amorosi: How and why did you even get to stand-up comedy in the first place?
Aida Rodriguez: I participated in a roast for a friend’s birthday and a comedian, Chris Spencer (Real Husbands of Hollywood) told me that he thought I had what it took to be a comedian. He gave me the name of a local open mic and the rest is history. I did stand-up for seven years as a hobby, I never thought it would pay off. It wasn’t until I made it to the finals of Last Comic Standing that I had to make a choice. I quit my job and I kept going. I haven’t had a day job since.
A.D. Amorosi: I love the honesty – or what I’m guessing is real life/real world interludes – of your stand-up, something I have seen referenced as “turning pain into progress”. Please discuss this vibe… and how you believe it has morphed/changed/challenged itself from the start of your career to who you are and what you do on stage now?
Aida Rodriguez: I can’t take credit for making the funny out of the bad things in life, I learned that in the neighborhood I grew up in. We were roasting, snapping long before I became a comedian. It has always been a coping mechanism. I have always taken note of the reaction of the audience whenever I delve into the uncomfortable, it is something that really gets me going. It wasn’t until a woman approached me after a show to hug me because it was the first time she laughed since her teenage son took his life 2 weeks prior that I realized that there was room for me in this space. I took it bit by bit and started to stretch out more in that direction. I am so glad that I did because I am having my most authentic experience in comedy.
A.D. Amorosi: Without looking for an easy phrase or a 20-words-or-less thing, how would you best describe the evolution of your stand-up – its tones and texts, its trajectory from where you were when you started into the present? And where would you like to see it go next?
Aida Rodriguez: My comedy started out messy, loud and angry. It had spirit and intention but no direction. I had something to say but didn’t know how to get it out. I was trapped in my feelings and all I could do get on stage and do my greatest impression of what I thought a comedian was. The more I took to the stage, the more I learned about myself as a human being. I began to understand hat there was a way to turn these experiences into stories that would make people laugh and think. I became a workaholic and was on stage every chance I could. I went from telling safe jokes and rushing through my set to really taking it to sharing experiences that people felt and wanted more of. I became a better comedian by taking what I started with and applying mechanics and structure. Really learning that stand-up comedy is not about saying what you want in front of people, it’s art and a science. I am just a much better version of who I was when I started. I would like to continue to get better and continue to evolve. I never want to stop growing.
A.D. Amorosi: What would you say – as they are so close together – is the biggest difference between what you put on tape for Fighting Words VS what you will do/are doing on this Don’t @ Me set of shows?
Aida Rodriguez: Growth is the one thing you will definitely notice while I am on this tour. I am better than I was when I did Fighting Words. I am really leaning into my bits and taking them as far as I can. I am also much happier. I am definitely having more fun and it is pretty noticeable.
A.D. Amorosi: Right now, what is the funniest thing that you saw or that happened to you today?
Aida Rodriguez: Today I realized that I had a day off and laughed at my own reaction. I started sliding across my floor ala Tom Cruise. It cracked me up to feel relieved that today I didn’t have to stand in front of people and make them laugh. I made myself laugh.