Comedian and Actor Raiza Licea Was Let Go From Her Dream Comedy Group… So She Started Her Own
Latinx comedy fans have likely heard Raiza Licea’s topical and culturally relevant quips on popular improv podcasts or even seen her perform live at The Paramount in Los Angeles.
The Cuban-American comedian and actress is one-quarter of the trailblazing Latinx comedy quartet Spanish Aquí Presents and has appeared in HBO’s award-winning comedy “Hacks.” She is the first woman of color, and the first Latina in history, to serve as Artistic Director of the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). As a major comedy theater offering its stage to comedians of international stature, Licea’s work is groundbreaking.
“I am constantly curating lineups that are big names mixed with up-and-comers so they can all get a chance to shine,” said Licea in an interview with mitú. “So many UCB Latine comedians got their first chance on that stage via [a Spanish Aquí Presents] show and had never seen any Latine comedians on stage do what we do. For the first time ever, they were able to see it and know they can also do it too! It’s all about communidad.”
Before Licea got to taste her success, she spent many years hustling and moving past setbacks. She owes her work ethic to her father, Rafael, and her sister, Dania. In fact, she thinks of her family, and their strength comes to her when she needs it.
Her Latina culture has helped her throughout her career, especially being from Miami. Licea owes her ability to connect with many people to growing up speaking in Spanglish and being bilingual.
The bold artist tells us about growing up in Miami, why she decided to start an all-Latinx comedy group, and inspiring new Latinx comedians.
Her career was slightly rerouted… for the better
Licea was born and raised in a Cuban family of six in Miami, Florida. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in theatre performance from Florida International University. After a cross-country move to Los Angeles to pursue acting 11 years ago, she began performing comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).
Licea became the first bilingual Latina to be invited to UCB’s sought-after Harold team. She was eventually let go, but that’s when things began to turn a corner for her comedy career.
“Being cut from Harold lit a fire within me, so I created [Spanish Aquí Presents] and submitted our show to UCB,” said Licea. “It wasn’t easy, but we were persistent. After countless follow-ups, we booked a meeting with UCB leads, who agreed that Latino representation in LA’s improv scene was necessary.”
Making a life-changing move
Spanish Aquí Presents (SAP) comprises Licea and fellow comedians Oscar Montoya, Tony Rodriguez, and Carlos Santos. They are UCB’s very first Latinx mainstage comedy team. Together, they also started their podcast of the same name, which was the first Latinx podcast on the lucrative Earwolf comedy podcast network.
It was exciting for Licea to share her point of view with an audience through SAP. After being cut from Harold, she thought she would never be able to again.
“People would regularly reach out and express how much they related to my stories and humor because they were also Latina like me or even just a child of an immigrant,” said Licea.
SAP performed at UCB for the first time in January 2018. The show was completely sold out, and every show they’ve done since has been as well. “An ambulance even showed up at the end because a woman fainted. We were that funny,” Licea says before adding: “But also, to be fair, I think she admitted she didn’t take her medicine that day.”
She overcame heavy setbacks
When Licea started SAP, it was difficult for her to book people because she wasn’t connected to Hollywood’s Latinx community. She asked mutual friends to connect her to performers and felt supported when the community came through.
Additionally, she has had her share of misogynistic comments thrown at her just for being a woman in comedy.
“You are told, ‘Don’t look too pretty on stage because people won’t find you funny,’ or ‘Make sure you don’t look too sexy because then men are just sexualizing you and not even listening to how funny you are,” said Licea.
At her job at UCB, it was a demanding start for the first six months. She was approached to apply for their reimagined role last year. Hesitation ensued because it was at the same place that made her feel unworthy as a comedian. “I pretty much dealt with microaggressions on and off stage all the time, but I wanted to change that,” said Licea.
It’s a problem most BIPOC comedians, unfortunately, know all too well. The Los Angeles Times previously reported in 2020 that veteran BIPOC comedians at UCB organized an initiative to restructure the company “with the goal of dismantling ‘systemic oppression of all kinds.'”
She did her “lil Cuban-style limpieza” where she could. Then, she began working with her team to ensure the safety of marginalized individuals at the comedy theatre.
What she wants future Latina creatives to know
Licea’s tips for Latinas who want to start doing comedy or their own project include putting a plan together. Make a list of things to accomplish in order to start. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, she says. “Many of us are happy to be asked.”
Her next tip is to “be annoying;” if done right, persistence will get you where you want to be. “When I first started booking shows, I legit annoyed everyone and their madre, and sometimes I still do,” said Licea.
Lastly, she recommends being assertive when you say “no.” You don’t need to worry about being nice about it or being perceived as aggressive, extra, or rude. Fake it ’til you make it, if necessary!
She lives by a quote said to her in a meeting by another Latina in her industry: “You are an investment, not a risk.” Licea understands her value as a Latina in Hollywood and that she’s so much more than a “diversity hire.”
“So many of us think people just ‘need to take a chance on us, and they will see,’ but the thing is, they need to invest in us because we are the future,” said Licea. “Y como dice Benito, ‘Todo el mundo quiere ser Latino.’”