Don’t Make Assumptions About Aida Rodriguez

There was a central theme in my conversation with : fearlessness.

That fearlessness drives the way she informs and structures her comedy, it informs the activism that her platform has created, and it helped her become the first Latina female on Shaq’s All-Star Comedy special, which premiered last week on Showtime.

Unbeknownst to many, she had already decided—internally—she was going to be a part of the lineup. “ always talked about all the opportunities it created for him, to be able to get out and reach a bunch of different people through that brand,” Rodriguez said when asked how the opportunity to join the lineup came about. Luckily, that inner desire coincided nicely with the show’s talent producer Tamra Goins seeking her out. “She really liked my brand of humor. Being a woman, she felt that I was a little bit different in the things that I was talking about. I think that what resonated with her the most was that I was fearless, and that her voice was captured as a woman in her demo and talking about things that made people uncomfortable.”

Discomfort is another concept that came up several times as Rodriguez and I chatted about her road to the All-Star Comedy Jam taping. She mentioned being warned by many people that the show and preceding tour would be uncomfortable. “A lot of people warned me that it was going to be very antagonistic, that the guys were really competitive, that they were misogynistic…and it didn’t go that way for me.” Mentioning a comfortable and supportive atmosphere from the likes of DeRay Davis and Earthquake, her experience was the opposite of what she’d been told to expect. “I was like a sister. They brought me in, and were like, ‘She can hang! Let’s do this!’ It was a really good journey for me.”

Expectations of audience behavior revealed another myth about the shows, something Rodriguez feels strongly about. “It’s unfortunate that people make audiences of color out like it’s an animal setting. And it’s not! People just want to be entertained, and want to be represented and want to see a reflection of themselves in the stories that are being told, which is what we’re always fighting for. And comedy is not an exception.” Rodriguez’s jokes do bring experiences of these often forgotten or obscured audience members to life, speaking openly about her upbringing in a violent, poor, and often misunderstood environment. What’s more, she does so in a smart way- something that regrettably surprises people. These topics and the insightful way she approaches them might make the audiences she typically talks to uncomfortable, but it’s the only way she knows how to write and joke. “I just have been able to embrace who I am and be unafraid to speak my point of view, and that Shaq tour really sharpened that for me.”

In addition to comedian, actress, and writer, Rodriguez counts activist as one of her titles. When asked about how her role as a comedian informs her activism, she revealed a passion for speaking on behalf of Latin women that underscores the determination that made her a trailblazer on the All-Star Comedy Tour. After pointing out that many hot topic shows like The View and The Talk have little to no Latina representation, she shared, “For some reason, we’re not invited to the conversation because people make assumptions about us- and I don’t know why. But I feel like I have to use my platform to say things and speak about things that are pressing in our community. And I do think that Latin women have something to say about gender equality, and we have something to say about abortion and we’re not all Catholic…we’re a varied group of people just like everyone else.”

With such dedication to ensuring important and unique voices get heard, I had to ask: if Rodriguez had the opportunity to create such a platform for other funny folks in need of a boost, who would she pick? Among her choices: Jessica Marie Singleton, her opener Antoine Young, Chaunte Wayans, and Jim Jefferies Show writer Subhah Agarwal. “I would like to do what Shaq did, for us. To create that for younger people who are out there killing it.” And buoyed by encouragement from her idol Muhammed Ali—“I met him and he reaffirmed to me, ‘You’re not going to be like the rest of them. Your job is to go out there and do these things and be a leader.’”—we’d be wise to keep an eye out for who she’ll lift up next.

The latest installment of Shaquille O’Neal’s All-Star Comedy Jam, featuring Rodriguez, Bill Bellamy, Earthquake, and more, is streaming now on Showtime.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.