for comedian Lara Ricote, her race, gender and disability have always been a big part of her identity. That they can “walk through” without people noticing them. “I’m Latina, but you can’t tell right away just by looking at me, and I’m hard of hearing, but you don’t necessarily know,” she tells me. “I speak in a weird way… but it seems like I have a comic book voice. But actually it’s because I’m hard of hearing and I say all the weird things, I try to make sense of the things I’m saying.” The same goes for her gender and “how much I feel like a woman.”
She may be young (Ricote’s website describes her as “something in her twenties”), but Ricote is currently kicking off one of the most anticipated Edinburgh Fringe debuts of the summer. This is largely thanks to her title as reigning winner of the Funny Women Award, which places her among titans of the comedy scene like London Hughes, Katherine Ryan and Desiree Birch. Ricote never expected to win the 2021 final, which took place on a truly “terrible day”. “I had left my hearing aids in my ear…everything was so crappy, but then it was so good because that’s what happened,” she says to me via Zoom (for what it’s worth, her voice isn’t that cartoonish) . “[Then] I got the opportunity to go to Edinburgh and I thought I don’t even know how ready I am because I’ve never done anything like it. So it all feels like what the fuck am I doing? …I feel like I’m about to jump into the ocean and have no idea what’s underneath.
Ricote is from Mexico but lives in Amsterdam and grew up surrounded by a sea of artists. Her mother and younger sister work at home as soap operas. Her deafness (both Ricote and her sister have degenerative hearing loss) has never held her back. As they grew up, the Ricote children were sent to acting classes more to help them get in touch with their emotions than to become thesps. Comedy first came into her life in the form of improvisation, introduced to her by her sister who, four years ago, on a visit to Ricote in the Netherlands, suggested they go to a class together. She quickly took to getting up and hasn’t stopped since. “I’ve never had a week that I haven’t done it,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, I think that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ I had never felt such joy before.”
Ricote’s own rise came hand-in-hand with Amsterdam’s then-burgeoning comedy scene. “There weren’t any [comedy club] nights, so it was all new territory,” she says. “I think I managed eight minutes for the second time – in places like New York it’s unimaginable.” She quickly carved her niche. “Also being a woman and being Hispanic and being young, all those things are like my symbolic little things,” Ricote says matter-of-factly. “You always need at least one disabled person on your show, or a woman. That got me a lot of spots early on. And that was good. I was good at it.”
Identity has played a big part in Ricote’s performances. Hence the title of her new comedy lesson: GRL/LATNX/DEF. Calling it her “minority show,” Ricote examines the intersections where their gender, race, and disability connect and intersect. “I feel like being a minority is very trendy right now,” she tells me deadpan. “I feel like everyone is consuming [ancestry DNA test] 23andMe to see what part of a minority they are, and that has never been part of our reality. Throughout history we’ve all just tried to be white men and pass for white men. It’s a really good time to be me now.”
As the show has evolved, a new aspect of Lara’s personality has taken hold on stage: climate activism. Ricote studied political theory at the University of Amsterdam and often incorporates it into her work. During the pandemic, she received arts funding from the Dutch government to start a parody business workshop called Training for the End of the World. While the connection between identity and the climate crisis may not be immediately clear, Ricote explains: “I felt so stupid doing a show about identity. What does identity even mean when we’re all on fire? Everything seems fleeting and unimportant as soon as we realize that we have little time left.”
For Ricote, comedy was a way to “channel that fear.” “I don’t think my comedy is going to make a difference or change the world. But I feel like I want to say a lot of things… and I think it’s a really beautiful way of conveying everything,” she says. The subject may be serious, but Ricote treats it with a light touch. On stage, she plays a version of herself from a parallel universe who has joined Extinction Rebellion and visits them to rebuke them for not dedicating their lives to fighting climate change. Ricote loves the silly stuff, “miming s***” on stage or describing the podcasts she pretends to be listening to through her Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids. “I have a weird body, at least that’s what people tell me,” she says. As? “Just my arms are kind of long and I have these weird skinny legs. There’s something about me that’s a little silly when I look at it.”
It turns out people love telling Ricote about themselves. As we speak, she’s in the middle of her warm-up shows in Edinburgh, London. It’s her first time performing in front of really small, not-so-large crowds (“Three people, they’re very small people – only two more than me!”), but it was a positive learning experience. Small audience means direct feedback – although Ricote says she has “that kind of vibe and face [where] People just tell me what they want anyway.
No comic wants to play in front of an empty audience, but these have become an accepted part of the Fringe experience. Ricote’s willingness to admit that this can be “disheartening” feels refreshingly honest. “It’s like watching a movie by yourself,” she says. It’s a lot easier to get a sold-out crowd aside and join in the laughs than when “this is me, staring at you, cracking my jokes, three of us in a well-lit room and it’s hot.”
Conversations about the festival’s accessibility for artists always flare in the months leading up to the Fringe, but this post-lockdown year, they’re feeling louder than ever. Ricote hasn’t even been there and heard horror stories. “It’s crazy … you walk in and you know you’re going to lose a lot of money, and that’s a terrible thing,” she says. Artists must pay for their venues and qualify for the Fringe programme, while rising accommodation costs across the city (Ricote originally wanted to pay £1,500 for a room 45 minutes outside of the city) are driving aspiring artists to the brink. “I can’t believe how many people take that risk, just go and try it… sure, someone else will say, ‘Hey, we’re going to make a better Fringe here,’ and then everything will change, they don’t change anything.”
However, what has brought Ricote to the brink, despite being expensive and potentially empty-headed, is the excitement. She’s nervous, sure, but ultimately “pumped” by the whole thing. “Most of all, I want to feel proud of myself for doing something that’s outside of my comfort zone,” she says. “It’s my first show so I just want to grow and see the places I can go. I don’t want to obsess over anything that will be harmful. Because it’s just the beginning. It’s just beginning It should be chunky and it should be weird. I’m not a genius, I’m just a girl trying to do it.”
Lara Ricote: GRL/LATNX/DEF runs August 10-16 and August 18-28 at Monkey Barrel Comedy as part of the Edinburgh Fringe
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/lara-ricote-interview-comedian-fringe-b2142906.html Comedian Lara Ricote: “I won the Funny Women Award on a horrible day. I had my hearing aids in my ear’