Op-Ed: The things I thought I couldn’t survive made me into a comedian


Don’t expect to laugh at my origin story just because I’m a comedian. Anyone who makes their living making people laugh will tell you: The line between comedy and tragedy is razor thin.

The road to having my own one-hour special on HBO Max was a bumpy one, a rider. Where I’m from, that means a tough one.

By the time I was 6, I had been kidnapped twice — once by my mother, who took me from my father in the Dominican Republic, and then by my grandmother, who snatched me from New York to get me away from my mother’s boyfriend and took me to Miami. I had a young mom, so my grandmother pretty much raised me. My young uncles were running amok, and we all lived under the same roof. I knew too much to be just a kid.


Growing up poor came with violence, hunger, instability and the list goes on. The daily struggle for survival and being aware of it is something I shouldn’t have known about at such a young age. To counter the weight of it, I would sneak into my Uncle Davie’s room and listen to what he was listening to. It was always too good. Much better than the Christian hymns my family listened to while breaking every commandment standing in their way of a good time.

My uncle introduced me to Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, Run DMC and Richard Pryor. All the stuff that I was into — comedy, hip-hop and martial arts — was not for me. At least that’s what my family said. They would have preferred I study the Bible and maybe perfect my Puerto Rican cooking.

They didn’t respect the idea of me becoming a female rapper, much less a comedian. They’d tell me, “Nobody is going to marry a goofy woman.” But I’d been listening to Pryor’s comedy routines since I was very young, and I remember thinking “he’s funny.” Even though I didn’t understand all of it, he made me laugh. Hard.

It was the kind of laughter that suspended any pain in my life. I decided I wanted to do that, not really knowing what “that” was.

I became a mother, and then married the father of my children, who made it to the NFL. Great, right? This changed our lives but only temporarily. My husband got cut. And I ended up divorced, broke and nearly broken.

I moved to L.A. in 2000 with my kids, determined to be an entertainer. A friend helped me secure a place to stay. I did odd jobs to pay the bills and made a point of being present in my children’s lives. Just when I thought I had it all together, everything came crashing down. The company I was working for didn’t honor my contract, and it caused me to lose everything, my home, my car and my hope. We went from living in a plush condo to staying at Best Westerns and friends’ homes. We even slept in my Expedition, until it got repossessed.


Just when I needed it, I made a new friend. Thank you, God. Our sons were basketball teammates. She gave me this incredible gift: She laughed at everything I said. She was so sure I was funny she asked me to perform at her birthday roast with actual, professional comedians.

I wrote down some funny thoughts, with no idea I was formulating bits. While delivering them, I was so caught up in my fear while I was onstage, I didn’t notice how the jokes were landing.

Then a comedian named Chris Spencer pulled me to the side and lovingly said, “You are a comic.” He gave me the name of a local open mic night and said, “Go!”

I went. When I finally got the courage to do stand-up, it felt so familiar, like I was appearing in my favorite romantic comedy, but the love interest was a microphone. I never thought it would lead to anything real. It was my therapeutic hobby, and as a bonus I got to watch some of the best comedians and learn.

Eventually, I got a call to audition for the NBC reality competition “Last Comic Standing.” When I made it to the finals, in 2014, I had to decide between comedy and my full-time day job. I picked the mic. So many great things have happened since then, despite the sexism, racism and ageism I’ve endured in the business.

I have been able to turn the story of my life into comedy. The things I thought I couldn’t survive became the bits that made me who I am as a comedian.


Aida Rodriguez is a comedian, actress and producer. Her stand-up special “Fighting Words” is airing on HBO Max.