When you speak with Aida Rodriguez, it’s easy to understand why she earned her place on the eighth season of Last Comic Standing: she’s funny as hell. In this close-up interview, Latinas will be inspired by the challenges this Puerto Rican, Dominican woman has faced and the obstacles she had to overcome to realize her dreams.
HipLatina: What experiences shaped your life the most? And who?
AR: I grew up in Allapattah, Florida, a segregated community in Miami. I know what it’s like to live in an institutionalized system of crime, poverty, and illiteracy. If you get out of that system, you’re the exception. If it wasn’t for my community, my people – what others called the societal derelicts, drug addicts, and prostitutes – I wouldn’t have gone to Florida State University. They helped me get shoes and books. They helped to push me over the wall and get out. Every move I make now is with them in mind, to throw the rope back.
My grandmother was the matriarch in my family. My mother had me when she was really young and I grew up with five uncles. Only one of them went on to become a soldier and get an education. When I told them I wanted to be a stand-up comedian, they supported me because we were all influenced by my Cuban stepfather who exposed us to Cuban comedians. But when I told my mom what I wanted to be when I grew up, she said, “That’s not for girls.” And I’d say, “Well, Lucy Arnaz is doing it, why can’t I?” Even today, it’s still foreign to my mom, but when she sees one of my shows, she realizes, oh, this is real.
HipLatina: What are your most powerful inner qualities?
AR: I never look up or down at people. I don’t allow anyone to feel less than. We’re all on the same plane. I also never felt embarrassed if I didn’t have the things others had.
Reading has always been my outlet that I could get out, do what was possible, and think for myself. I learned the importance of critical thinking. That’s where my self-esteem came from. They told me that I was smart. The value of education is strong and powerful. I walked away knowing this.
HipLatina: What advice would you give aspiring young Latina comedians and actresses?
AR: There’s no rhyme or reason to success in this line of work. With the internet, TV, social media – there’s no formula to this anymore. With stand-up comedy, you cannot fool people for an hour. With true art, there is no cheating. If you really want to be a comedian or an actress, you have to love it. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be torture, but if you love it, it will give back. You have to show up 100 percent.
HipLatina: Who is your mentor? Hero? AR: Mohammad Ali. I had lunch with him and I was worried that my fantasy of him wouldn’t meet reality, but my time with him exceeded my expectations. He was everything I aspire to be. He took what he loved to do and became a humanitarian. He was a social justice warrior. He’d go into the heart of Africa and visit impoverished children and showed them what was possible.
HipLatina: What’s Your Mantra?
AR: The universe agrees with a made-up mind. It’s a metaphysical principle. The programming of the subconscious mind either works for you or against you. I go out and teach this accepted belief to influence how people think.
HipLatina: What would you like to say to your Latina community?
AR: We’ve got to keep supporting our own. Creating a way for one another. There’s room for everyone. We’ve got to stop feeling threatened by other’s successes. We know how to support each other in time of struggle or tragedy; that we’ve got down. But what we have to learn to support each other when we’re in front of a crowd.
When Aida’s not busy traveling the country doing her stand-up comedy acts, she’s home in Los Angeles, writing her memoir.
Monica Dashwood is a freelance and blog writer.