Comedian To Perform At Tropicana Room Friday
The bullet points on Rojo Perez’s biography tell one story, but the finer details tell a much different one. On paper, it might make sense to ask, what was the transition like moving from Puerto Rico to Florida before pursuing a career in standup comedy? But in speaking to the young comedian, one will find that things are much different than expected. That simple question has an intriguing answer.
While both of his parents are Puerto Rican and he grew up on the island, Perez was actually born in New York City.
“I caught the tail-end of my parent’s American Dream scenario,” Perez said.
Like many fellow Puerto Ricans, Perez’s mother and father made the move to New York in hopes of earning money for a while before returning home. That trip back to the Caribbean came when Perez was just starting elementary school, giving way to an ironic fish-out-of-water scenario.
“I almost failed third grade because I couldn’t speak Spanish,” said Perez. “I was like, I have no idea what anyone was saying. I was going to be an elementary school dropout. Those early few years were rough.”
Finding himself in an unusual reverse-immigration scenario, Perez made connections using a time-tested avenue to break down language barriers — sports.
Playing basketball, baseball and volleyball made it easier to get to know his classmates and friends. Sports also fostered a competitive streak that has become important to his success on stage.
“I think I was real competitive. I would cry, but out of anger, if I struck out,” Perez said.
Perez made the move to Florida to attend college, and started out on the path to comedy by writing skits and sketches before getting up in front of a crowd for the first time.
“A buddy of mine, we would always write sketches and make silly videos. He had started going to open mics and I had all these stories and I didn’t know what to do with them,” Perez said.
That first experience on stage is one that most professional comedians and even amateurs know all to well.
“I got nothing, not even smiles,” Perez said.
Making matters worse was the fact that the friend who had brought Perez into the fold had a great set, highlighting the stark difference between success and failure on stage.
But, just as the case was on the baseball diamond, that lack of initial success was a driver.
“I think what got me coming back was my own ego. Like that can’t be the only time you try this, you can’t be that bad,” Perez said.
A year after graduation, Perez was back in his original hometown, New York City. While he may have told some of the people around him that the transition was part of a career move to a more traditional profession, comedy was always in the background.
“I didn’t really tell people that was the reason I moved to New York. I studied journalism and video editing. I was able to hide behind that for a minute,” said Perez. “Really I knew I was going to focus and do standup.”
Making the move from a regional scene in Florida to New York is a little bit like winning a county club championship and trying to walk onto the PGA Tour.
Not only are there legendary names in the industry out there every night, but there are also hundreds of other people you have never even heard of, and they are all extremely talented.
In this comedy proving ground, Perez found that his competitive streak was as useful as ever.
“Those first four years are pretty rough,” he said. “What is amazing in New York is it is a hub, you know New York and (Los Angeles). When you get here you start seeing comedians who are much better than anything I had seen before and no one knows who they are. Just the work ethic was different.”
In smaller markets, comics are often content with doing a few shows a weekend when first starting out. In New York, Perez quickly noticed his peers getting on stage two or three times a night.
The increased workload and competition may have made for some tough times early on, but they have certainly paid off.
“That first time you get a good laugh, this is crack now. I’m searching this now forever,” Perez said. “Looking back I don’t know if I would do it again, but I’m thankful I went through those bumps. Not only are you trying to figure out how to do this but I’m 21, I’m trying to figure out how to be a person.”
Perez now boasts a resume that includes an HBO special premiere titled “Entre Nos: Spot On,” as well as credits from “Conan” on TBS, Comedy Central’s “Funny Cause It’s True”, and TrueTV’s “Comedy Knockout”.
He will perform on Friday at the Tropicana Room, 2 W. Third St., Jamestown, with shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m.
Perez plans to arrive early to tour the National Comedy Center, and hopefully take in history from some of his favorite comics.
“I just didn’t know that was something that you could do,” Perez said of his early experience with standup.
“I saw Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” way too young. I have no idea why they let me see that. My parents must have just wanted me to say quiet for an hour. John Leguizamo’s “Freak“, there was something so real about him being so real on stage.”