Meet Rich Kiamco — a local comedian who’s originally from Wood Dale, Illinois. Rich currently lives in the Lincoln Park section of Jersey City, and he has been performing comedy ever since he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. As an LGBTQ+ comedian, Rich likes to focus on his love for that community and creates his jokes from personal experiences. Read on for The Hoboken Girl’s chat with Rich — including more about this Jersey City resident, his shows at Dorrian’s Red Hand, and all about his passion for comedy.
Content Warning: This article references suicide.
(Photo credit: Brett Cohen)
Hoboken Girl: What are some of your favorite Hoboken or Jersey City spots?
- Lincoln Park Tennis Center — I love playing tennis, that’s why I bought my condo that overlooks the park and it’s a quick walk or bike ride to go play or sit on a shady bench or watch wildlife along the river or lakes.
- The Johnston Lafayette Pool/Pershing Pool
- Hamilton Park
- Van Vorst
- Berry Lane
- Overlook Park
- More Express or One Dee Siam for Thai food
- Two Boots
- Ani Ramen
- Left Bank Burger Bar
HG: When did you first realize you were interested in comedy?
RK: I was going to the Fashion Institute of Technology and they had a dorm talent show in the basement. I stood in the doorway between the laundry and the workroom, everyone was sitting on the floor in their sweats and pajamas. I killed it, it was like discovering I was Spider-Man — there’s webbing coming out of my wrists, but they were all punchlines and I felt so high like a superhero. It was like my origin story — I was bit by this radioactive comedy spider and I had to live this life.
HG: How would you say your LGBTQ+ identity impacts your comedy routines?
RK: I’m very aware that I am not straight, and it’s a straight world — so it’s unconsciously in my mind whenever I’m in front of a room, unless it’s a Pride event or a fairly gay audience, that I am “the other, the minority… ” There’s something fun about making fun of the straight community as the gay community in front of an audience, and also engaging the “most powerful people in our society,” straight white men — it’s a fun tension to play with.
I was just down in Asbury Park for a Pride center event, and that dynamic is very different because everyone there has been oppressed, nobody there has experienced full straight privilege. So the awareness is different and I speak to them differently than I would to some crowd with more power and privilege than I have. There, we’re all in the trenches together, consciously or unconsciously coming together for support because of our “otherness.”
I’m also Filipino and brown — so unless I’m at a Filipinx cultural event or something API-like, the room could be pretty white. There, I’d have different energy too, another connection point. Although, in Jersey City, it’s beautiful to see the diversity of comedy crowds, it reminds me why I love Jersey City/ Hoboken because it’s so mixed.
(Photo credit: @richkiamco)
HG: Do you think comedy helped you explore your own identity?
RK: I think comedy was another way to deconstruct and discover all these myths about gender and relationships, and also to show that the humanity of myself and my community to straight people. And now it’s different over the span of my years, sometimes I don’t have to come out to the audience, I just talk as a gay man. Other times, I do come out explicitly because I might be in a more rural area — it’s a fun tension to play with and leverage. As a comedian, I’m constantly leveraging tension and release. That’s what makes people laugh.
HG: Do you get nervous before you perform?
RK: I always have at least a little nervousness before any performance. It’s just because it’s unknown no matter what — it’s unknown, but that’s why I love it. I’m constantly jumping off a cliff and learning how to fly — and I know in the past, I flew. But every time it’s still a new moment and that’s what makes it fresh, even if I’m using jokes I’ve used, I don’t know what it’s going to be like to engage this particular audience. It’s the best feeling and such a rush, even though I’m nervous, it’s the best feeling, and I am the most present when I’m on a stage. I’m not checking my phone, I’m not checking emails, I’m in the moment with other people, experiencing something together. Especially in these ridiculously difficult few years, there’s freedom from all this trauma to just share a moment and laugh.
HG: Do you have a favorite joke or act?
RK: My favorite jokes are something very [dark and] personal — like how my partner died from Covid. To talk about something that painful and flip it into a joke is very rewarding for me — sometimes the audience is on board, and sometimes it’s just so hard, but that’s part of why I love doing comedy because I’m transforming difficult things into laughter — there’s nothing more rewarding than that challenge.
HG: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Pride Month?
RK: I love doing Pride comedy shows or Pride events even though sometimes they’re the most all over the place because of the mobs and ridiculous full-on fierceness of the crowd, but there’s nothing like that tribe energy of everyone getting together celebrating. It’s just something I think that I craved as a child, and when I was a teenager, I would go to downtown Chicago, and those weren’t pride parades — they were political rallies. People walking down the street caring bedsheets with handwritten signs from shoe polish and it was dangerous and they were risking their lives and their jobs. Although today, there’s still political oppression, literally from governments in some states. That poisons the atmosphere for everyone in the world — it’s not just Florida, it affects all of us because it stimulates hatred. So gathering with people during Pride is important for the sake of all communities, for safety and growth. Visibility isn’t just a celebration, it’s creating protection.
(Photo credits: @richkiamco)
HG: What advice do you have for other members of the LGBTQ+ community who are interested in breaking into the comedy scene?
RK: Remember you have permission to be who you are, you don’t need to apologize for how you present/express whether you’re “straight passing” or not, or super masculine or super feminine, or whatever heteronormative traps you can escape. Freedom is you living authentically without apology. Be honest and vulnerable about your fears, and that’s what makes someone engaging, fun, and funny.
HG: What advice would you give to your 10-year-old self?
RK: The people that try to hurt you because you’re different are doing it because they’re hurt and they’re hiding. They’re not doing it to you, they’re doing at you, and it’s because someone did it to them. One of my bullies tried to make amends a few years ago and then he committed suicide. He was struggling with so much guilt. Another bully I found out was sleeping with some other gay guy from my high school and he’s living some closeted life now. People have pain, people have wounds, people have secrets, and people are still hiding. When someone hurts you, it’s not because of you, it’s because of what they can’t handle in themselves and in the environment. You’re 10 years old — you have permission to blossom and express however you want to — even if the world doesn’t get it yet. Don’t abandon who you are because your unique expression is your superpower.
HG: Who are some comedians you admire?
RK: Margaret Cho, Jessica Kirson, Marion Grodin, Matteo Lane, Jo Koy, Ali Wong, Ronny Chieng, Judy Tenuta (I was her costume designer and backup dancer when I was a teen). Also Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster. Just saw their movie Fire Island — it was a fun, summer, gay Asian rom-com — a revolution in representation in comedy. It has some great scenes and some cringe scenes, but what they are pioneering is 5 stars!
(Photo credits: @richkiamco)
HG: How did you come to perform at Dorrian’s Red Hand?
RK: When we got to the second year of the pandemic and people were vaccinated, I was looking for somewhere to do shows indoors that was a fully separate contained room like a real comedy club. I’d been doing shows outside, in the park, on traffic corners, crazy guerrilla on the street, or on Zoom. It was nuts. Dorrian’s has a really nice separate room for events and I’m their Saturday night 6:30PM and 8:30PM — squeezed in between their private events and after-hours wedding parties. I feel like I’m part of this complex pile of events — it’s a great feeling. There’s such a great staff, the tables are numbered, the food is good, and they’re even expanding their menu for more vegan options (I’m vegan), but someone in the audience left our first Google review that wasn’t five stars, they love the comedy but they wanted more options on the menu. There is a large vegetarian South Asian community requesting as well, so Dorrian’s actually is created more options and expanding their menu. They’re very responsive to the community — they had me sit down and try all these prototypes and wanted my feedback. I felt like a real team, they really help make the comedy shows pop, every element is important, people need to eat and drink and be served quickly and all those elements come together for a great night. I always bring a funny lineup, but all these other elements need to come together for the perfect chemistry of a show.
HG: What’s it like performing there?
RK: I love performing there, and every comic that comes is blown away at how it meets so many critical factors of a prime room for laughter — big enough for a crowd but small enough to feel intimate and bursts of laughter. It is a contained, separate room and soundproof so it’s just comedy, there’s good AC and outdoor fresh air for safety, and vaccination proof is required for these shows. It’s easy to get to, park, walk, and across from Citibike and Newport Path. Dorrian’s team respects what we do and goes out of the way to support it.
HG: What are some of the best spots to see comedians in the NJ/NYC area?
- NJ: Dorrian’s Jersey City, Banana’s, Stress Factory
- NYC: West Side Comedy Club, Comedy Cellar, Stand Up NY, Broadway Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club
HG: What are your goals for the next 10 years? What would you love to accomplish?
RK: A Netflix Standup special, a syndicated series show, stadium tours, sustainable organic community gardens in Jersey City, bike lanes on Kennedy Boulevard.