"This is violent, negative, and racist," out of the mouth of a late-night show booker, a straight, white male, describing my comedy. This sentence has been haunting me for months. My life reduced to those six words. And to him, I say, "Tell me about it, I lived it."
He is not alone in his attitude. I've had to face so many like him in this business. Those who stand in the positions of power make decisions from their point of privileged eyesight, while staying blind to others, who don't have the same eyeline – people like me.
And since I was invisible, I started to stand in front of others demanding to be seen, telling jokes. And then something miraculous happened. Comedy gave me a voice. It created a space for me where I could tell my story, no matter how dark it is. I was able to give people a look into my world and they laughed with me; even when it wasn't pretty.
It can be so painful to love something so much that can be polluted by the bigotry of those that guard it as their own and refuse to make room. It has been so hard at times, from having to deal with being asked for sexual favors for jobs, to being paid three times less than my male counterparts, to being left stranded by a bad promoter in Ohio. OHIO, of all places!!! Comedy is a world that has been cruel to women, often dominated by men and those who employ a volatile response to having to include the point of view that doesn't reflect what is familiar to them.
Despite how this industry may try to prevent it, I am still here, baby. I'm giving it all I've got with my Fighting Words, an HBO Max special where I cut in exactly who they've tried to cut out. If it's violent, negative, and racist, it's only because people don't understand the story from our eyes. I'm just being honest. Integrating a documentary where I show the beautiful people of Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic, I gave the world access to places that have probably never been exhibited with dignity and respect, and that has been very healing for the little girl that still dwells in me.
I grew up in a world where television was the only escape from my harsh reality, which has been plagued by poverty, crime, and violence. There, I would find my happy place. This little brown girl wanted to be a star, even though everything around me said I couldn't be. Television was the great rebuttal that continued to grant me hope. Despite the fact that I rarely saw a direct reflection of myself in a positive light, I was still able to relate to the tenacity of Jo Polnaczek. No one made me laugh more than Jack Tripper, and thanks to A Different World, I knew that I could go to college too. It was the human experience that made me feel like there might be room for me – even if I have to carve it out for myself. Much like Roseanne did for the working class and Ramy for the Muslim community; I aim to be a comedian whose transition into the world of television platforms the undervalued stories of my hood. It is with great pleasure that I do it. My people are worthy – all people are.
What I urge the Television Academy to do is create more space. There is room. I applaud you for holding yourself accountable and deciding to be an agent of change. It takes more than creatives like me for a perspective shift. It's not enough if I'm telling my story to people who aren't willing to open their eyes to see the world that I am from. The decision makers need to have varied and diverse outlooks because the truth is the media can change how we see others and how we see ourselves. And if I dared to embark on this journey with no certainty and precedence, can you imagine how many would seek the path if the genuine intention would be to let others in.
Aida Rodriguez is an American comedian, actress, producer, writer, and podcaster.
The statements and viewpoints expressed in the article above are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions or viewpoints of the Television Academy, the Television Academy Foundation, or their members, officers, directors, employees, or sponsors.