Kidnapped twice, formerly homeless, and on the other side of an emotionally and financially devastating divorce, Aida Rodriguez is full of … laughter?
“There are victims and there are volunteers,” explains Aida. She’s chosen to be the latter, volunteering painful experiences to bring laughter and representation to those that need it most.
A successful comedian, actress, producer and writer, Aida joins publisher and host Brian Calle alongside food editor Michele Stueven for an honest conversation on this week’s L.A. Weekly podcast.
“I’ve always just been able to look at my life and say: what a blessing to be able to give a voice to all these experiences,” shares Aida. “It’s made me such a colorful human being. The ability to look at stuff that’s tough and find the humor in it has been a way to deal with it from a mental health perspective, not because I’m trivializing something that’s traumatic, but one of my survival mechanisms has been able to make light through jokes.”
“I’m just thankful that my life has had these experiences and they weren’t in vain. Because when I did my special or when I perform at a show I’ll get emails or messages from young women who’ve been sexually assaulted – or people who have been afraid to leave their husband and be a single mom, or people who grew up in homes with domestic violence, or people who have been kidnapped by one of their parents – saying ‘thank you.’ It’s been freeing,” she continues. “I’m just thankful that those things that happened to me have been part of the reason why others have been finding their healing and it’s been a blessing.”
Aida’s childhood was anything but idyllic. Her mother kidnapped her from her father, bringing the young child from the Dominican Republic to the United States. The abduction would begin a harrowing journey accompanying her mother and her mother’s felon boyfriend across the country.
“One thing that people take for granted is a lot of kids are kidnapped by their parents,” explains Aida. “Sometimes being kidnapped by one of your parents can be one of the most detrimental things in your life.”
She had no idea she had been kidnapped, instead thinking her father had left and therefore the reason for her declining circumstances.
“The most traumatic thing was thinking my father abandoned me. I thought that he was the one that left me,” remembers Aida.
Her mother was very young, and trapped in an abusive relationship. As a child, Aida found solace in comedy, spending her time trying to make her mom laugh. “Comedy is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she says. “That was my connection to the real world and keeping me normal.”
Eventually, the situation got so dire that her grandmother had to again kidnap her from her original kidnapper, further complicating Aida’s already tumultuous life.
“You’re not getting kidnapped to go to Disneyland,” laughs Aida as she recounts past trauma.
As an American comedian of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, she has been galvanized to give a voice to the backgrounds and individuals that have little space in modern conversation.
“It’s important for marginalized people to be able have a voice in comedy because everyone’s stories deserve to be told,” Aida says emphatically.
Especially women, explains Aida. “Comedy can be so awful to women, and has been historically … there is definitely a hierarchy and the wage gap exists.”
Despite the odds stacked against her, she breaks the ceiling. “You can feel the sexism, the racism,” she describes. “It’s important for marginalized people to be able to have a voice in comedy because everyone’s stories deserve to be told.”
She’s fought against the circumstances of her birth and relationships, making proverbial lemonade out of lemons no matter how difficult. One issue she’s passionate about: humanizing homelessness. An issue she’s experienced first-hand.
“I went from having a beautiful three bedroom apartment with everything I needed to a year later being homeless,” tells Aida. “It wasn’t because I was lazy, it was because I couldn’t make enough money.”
“Every single one of us is vulnerable to that,” she warns. “It was with the assistance of my village that I was able to [overcome] it.”
Among her village are her mentors, one being one of the most well-known names in comedy today.
“You never know where you’re going to end up when you go with Tiffany [Hadish],” cackles Aida. “Life with her is always a trip.”
“Tiffany calls me one day and says ‘Hey, I’m going to go get oxygen blown into my vagina. Just come over here, you’re going to come with me. It’s good for your health.’ So we go to this place and get these oxygen treatments … it was the oddest thing I have ever done,” says the comedian.
“I’ve never told that story anywhere else,” she laughs. These two women in comedy stick together to lift each other up.
At the end of the day, Aida is full of laughter. While her road to success may have been far more challenging than others’, she views her life lessons as gifts that enable her to shine a light on those that need it most.
“I like to make sure that I always give life and light to those people that we don’t like to look at and we don’t see, because it can be you and it was me,” she tells Brian and Michele.
“It’s amazing how we do survive,” agrees Michele.
“Vagina is divine,” wizens Aida.