I’m from Los Angeles, born and raised, lived there all my life until I moved out here. The first time I came to Barcelona was on vacation; I fell in love. It’s like a miniature LA. The sea and the mountains are here, but all in closer proximity to each other.
Prior to my first visit, I had been addicted to drugs and alcohol. That played a part in me saying, “I wanna do something big and different”. I needed to spread my wings. At the time of my trip to Europe, I was one year sober, and I thought “I wanna move out here now!” My sponsor at the time told me, “No. No. No. You sit on your hands for a year, and if after a year you still feel like going, I won’t stop you. I’ll support you”. I might have been acting impulsively so I listened to him, then I was like, “It’s been a year, bitch. Time to go”. And he didn’t bug me. He let me go and have a new life.
Now it’s been eight years, which is incredible because I never thought I could do something like this. Prior to getting sober, I never saw life getting better, or richer, or more exciting. I just saw it as one high after another. When I went to rehab, things started to change slowly but surely. I found interesting things to do that I had never thought about before. I mean I never even knew I liked travelling until I got sober. There are so many other highs in life. I’m grateful to be able to experience them now. I was 36 when I moved here, but I believe you’re never too old to start life again.
I came here with enough savings to survive on for a year. I originally thought I would work at a rehab, but did you know, there’s not a single inpatient rehab centre in Barcelona. Then I realised there are no taco trucks out here either! But getting a license in the city is impossible so I couldn’t open one if I wanted to. So after sitting on my ass for a year, someone suggested I teach English. My first reactions was, “Ew! Are you serious?” I know how to speak. But teach? Are you kidding? I took a TEFL course anyway, and it turned out that I was really good.
I’m a natural performer—I automatically incorporate a lot of comedy into my classes—so I had the chops to be a fun teacher. I let my comedy experience from Los Angeles help to overshadow my lack of grammar knowledge. I mean, I had no idea what a preposition was. Isn’t that the shit you put on your butt when you have hemorrhoids? A clause. That’s the guy that delivers gifts, right?
I wasn’t aware that there was an English-speaking comedy scene in the city until about three and a half years ago. I got so excited because that was a major thing I missed from home. I got up on stage for the first time a year before I left, and it was hell. Nobody laughed. My timing was off. I was so nervous. But it became something to dream about, being a stand-up comedian. Not as a profession, but for fun.
The comedy scene was still really small when I discovered it. After my first competition, Barcelona’s Funniest Ficer, I got invited to perform with the group SUCK (Stand-Up Comedy Kills). It was tiny. We regularly performed at the same place, in front of the same people. I began to feel like I was ripping them off, even though it was a free show, because they had to hear the same stuff repeated. I was no longer getting those spontaneous laughs.
This year the comedy scene has blown up. We’ve got all these comedians coming out of the woodwork. And I think we owe it to the people of SUCK for never giving up. No matter how bad a show got or how unreceptive audiences were, the group kept going, kept promoting, kept pushing forward. I owe them a lot. I’ve had such a great outlet through them. But now I’m thinking of branching out. I want to do a one-man show. I want to take on that challenge. But then my head starts playing games with me, and I think, “Who wants to hear me for an hour? Who am I?”
I want to take a six-month break from all my comedy gigs and just write. I want to start afresh, so that when I do my own show, it’s not like ‘The Greatest Hits of Robert’. It’s something new. I let everything about my life inspire my jokes. My past addiction. Getting old—I’m going to be 45 in a few months. I use relationships and homo identity. Anything works. Anybody’s story can be a joke; it just depends on your delivery. Even being a teacher. Students can provide some hilarious material.
Personally, I really like female comedians. Gilda Radner from SNL. Margaret Cho. Whoopi Goldberg. I get a kick out of them. Because there’s less recognition for women in the comedy scene than men, they have to put shit out there, like vulgar stuff. They can’t hold back.
When a comic looks like they’re just talking to an audience, like a friend, rather than telling jokes, that’s when I really enjoy their skits. And that’s what I strive to do: speak to an audience and let them react to my story. When I started out, I used to write everything word for word. If I was going to say, “Ooh gurl”, I would write ‘Ooh gurl’. After my last competition in Madrid, I met this wonderful lady. Her name is Janey Godley. She’s a comic, and she gave me nuggets of advice. She said, “Robert, you gotta find your voice. The gay card. You play that too much.” The whole bitch this, bitch that. She said, “It’s not you when I talk to you in person.” I haven’t completely let go of that character yet, but her advice has helped me to not write everything down and just get up and talk to people. I still have some old jokes in my head as backup, but I’ve really been freeballing it otherwise. It gets scary, though. Without a script.
I’ve never closed the door on exploring other places, but right now I’m happy here. I’m home. The thing is, Barcelona is so relaxed. Working is not just about making money, whereas that’s the mentality back in the States. The drive to make more and more money that I felt back in LA doesn’t exist for me here.
I would die without calçots every year—you know it’s that season again. Oh my gosh. They’re God’s gift to Catalunya. They’re so fun. You have to peel off that sexy, slinky, black-charred dress then suck it up. I just love them. As you can tell, I’m such a foodie. I’m the king of Barcelona on Yelp. If I ate the way I do here in the States—because of the type of processed food they have there—I would be as big as a house. I’m not delgado, but I’m not as fat as I would expect based on my appetite.