Comedian Aida Rodriguez does not do roaming charges on her phone — and it could have sabotaged an amazing career opportunity. Aida, who stopped by “Renaissance Man” this week, told me that a few years ago, she performed at the Comedy Cellar in New York City and unknowingly caught the eye of a certain Hollywood giant.
Shortly after her set, she flew to Israel and when her cellphone rang, the call went like this: “‘Hey, this is Taylor. I’m just calling because I saw you at the Cellar and I want you to be in this movie with my friend Bobby.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, Taylor. My phone is roaming. I’m in Israel. I get back on Sunday. Can you call me then?’” she recalled. But she was left red-faced after she told her agent about the exchange.
“My agent was like, ‘You know that that was Taylor Hackford, and Bobby is Robert De Niro.’” Upon landing back home, she talked to Hackford, who has directed movies like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Ray.” She apologized and landed a role in his 2016 flick, “The Comedian,” starring De Niro. She even made the “Goodfellas” star chuckle off-set.
“When I went to the screening with Robert De Niro, he just laughed at me. He was like, ‘Your phone was roaming.’”
I hope one of the big cellular providers is reading this, because they need to make a campaign starring Aida and De Niro right now. In the meantime, Aida is blowing full steam ahead in her career. In 2014, she was burning up “Last Comic Standing” as a contestant. In 2019, Tiffany Haddish picked Aida’s half-hour set to be on her stand-up showcase, “They Ready,” on Netflix. Now she has a hilarious comedy special, her first hour. It’s called “Fighting Words” and it’s streaming on HBO Max.
The proud Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, who grew up in Miami, chose an appropriate title, because she had to fight through a lot of trauma as a child. She was kidnapped by family members twice as a kid.
When she was a toddler, her mother took her from her father in the Dominican Republic and brought her to the US. “Then my grandmother took me from my mother [because] my mother was on the run with a man who was wanted by the FBI for murder. There was a lot of trauma from that. And when my grandmother came and got me, she cut all my hair off because she wanted to hide me when she flew me across state lines. And I was mad at my grandmother because even though my grandmother was doing what she thought was best for me, I wanted to be with my mother. I wanted to be on the run. It was dramatic. And it shows up still to this day, and I’m still a work in progress … I didn’t trust people. I had a joke about it in my last special about when my grandmother would be like, ‘Hey, you want to go to McDonald’s with me?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Nah, messing around with you, I end up in Milwaukee. I can’t trust you, lady.’ It shakes the foundation.”
She has trusted her gut and her mentors — to very successful ends. Aida said she interned for 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, aka Uncle Luke, who always taught her how to get paid. Then there is funnywoman Haddish, who put Aida and her sharp comedy on my radar.
“Big ups to Tiffany Haddish, who made sure that I got paid like a white man in comedy. That was her thing. She was like, ‘You get paid like a white man.’ As she fought for it, she took a pay cut so that I could get paid. But she has always been in my ear about saving my money.”
Aida listened. She now lives off her stand-up earnings and banks and invests whatever big checks she earns. She also became more financially savvy after her marriage to former Chargers wide receiver Omar Ellison ended.
“I was married to a professional athlete and … we went broke … I was watching firsthand how many people think that a million dollars is a billion dollars.” She has splurged on a Rolex, because watches don’t depreciate, and she does like her shoes. Though our mutual friend Angela Yee bought her a pair of Tom Ford shoes to wear for her HBO special.
And yeah, she’s on HBO now, but Aida’s comedic roots date back to childhood when her uncles introduced her to the finer things in life: Run-DMC, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Richard Pryor.
“I wasn’t supposed to be listening to that when I was little … I heard Richard Pryor doing this bit about getting high with his dog, and I was laughing and I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ That was it. I was hooked.”
Her first open mike night was at the Westwood Brewing Co. in Los Angeles, and she killed it. Aida would earn the respect of her peers, including Lil Rel Howery, who texted her, “Yo you funny” — a compliment she said “trumped” everything. Kevin Hart and Chris Spencer have also been big supporters.
But the next set was a “major, major L. It was so humbling,” she told me. “You learn to bomb just like you learn to miss shots. If you’re really in it, you’re going to figure it out. I’ve bombed on some big things.” For example, while on the Kevin Hart-hosted BET show “One Mic Stand,” she was so bad, she had to be “scraped off the ground” by her friends.
That night, she wore a Versace outfit on the advice of her manager, who wanted her to look like a Barbie doll. Between her flamboyant look and her lackluster set, she caught flak from a woman in the audience.
“That was a bad move … When I got offstage, the woman was like, ‘Who does this bitch think she is?’” But Aida had the last laugh. She created a T-shirt with that quote and made a lot of cash off of it.
And that’s what I love about comedy. It’s therapy. It’s relief. It’s taking a hardship or a loss and turning it on its ear. And no one embodies that more than Aida Rodriguez. I hope the next thing I see from her — after the cellphone commercial with “Bobby” De Niro — is a biopic. Lord knows there’s enough material, and so far, a happy ending.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.