Hi, I’m Rachel. This is, in condensed form, my story:
My “problem”, if you could call it that, is that I’m not content applying myself to just one thing. I used to think it was because I get bored quickly, but that’s not really true. I rarely feel bored. What happens is that I can’t help but see the connections between seemingly disparate things, and thus it becomes impossible for me to focus on one thing to the exclusion of others that are clamoring for my attention. I need to follow the thread.
(Have I just described A.D.D.? Uh–oh.)
Anyway, getting back to the point: I’ve started out by talking about connections and distractions because it explains a lot about what I do, who I am, and how the hell I ended up in Spain. Which is kind of why you’re on this page, right?
I am originally from the U.S. I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but left at 17 to, I now realize, get away from dysfunctional family dynamics. Milwaukee is a lovely city with wonderful people and I feel fond of it. That said, I’ve felt little personal connection to it for many years. To me, Milwaukee represents the starting point, at the bottom of a big pile of crud that I’ve been trying to climb out from under my entire life… as are many of us.
I started off as a stand-up comic. (But of course!)
Like many stand-ups, I secretly wished I were a musician — and even more, a singer — so I never let my admittedly rudimentary piano background go completely go by the wayside. I moved from Austin, Texas, where I got my start in stand-up at the much-loved Velveeta Room, to New York in the late ‘90s, where I got to further hone my craft sharing the stage with the best of the young comics of that time: Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Pepitone, Marc Maron. I was never at their level but being surrounded by the best certainly inspired and improved me.
I moved from New York to L.A., where I got an agent and, like hundreds of other comedians, entered the Hollywood rat race. My problem was, I couldn’t commit to it like others could. I preferred to stay at my piano. Instead of dedicating my time and energy to writing my own sitcom or movie, I wrote one-woman stage shows. I organized a weird variety show in the basement of a Ramada Inn. I recorded a funny album, “How to Be Happy All the Time”. None of my interests stayed within the traditional path of success for comedians, writers or actors, but I was only capable of doing what interested me.
In 2003, desperately in need of a vacation, I booked a plane ticket from L.A. to Barcelona. Once there, I decided to stay.
(There were deep psychological reasons for that decision that I was unaware of until much later. I’ve been writing these things down for years. I hope to eventually be able to organize these diverse experiences into an autobiography.)
I found a beautiful cabaret theatre, the Café-Teatre Llantiol, and convinced the owner to let me do shows there. At first they were music-based — me and my trusty piano — because I wasn’t capable of doing stand-up in a foreign language, and I had no interest in catering to English speakers. I had run away from my previous life and I wanted to immerse myself in a new language, a new culture, a new reality. But after a year, I was doing hour-long standup shows in Spanish.
I completely abandoned performing in English. In fact, I haven’t spoken in English onstage since I left the U.S. That was no accident either.
I was content with my new life except for one thing: I missed the creative charge of being surrounded by fearless, brilliant comedians. Barcelona is a wonderful, gorgeous city, but it’s a far cry creatively and energetically from New York, L.A., or even Austin. I mean, most cities in the world are going to fall short. There was no community of stand-up comedians — or just kooky, creative, non-conformist personalities — in my new city of Barcelona.
So I tried to find them. I set up an open mic, which lasted a year. Then I devised a theatrical, rock-based karaoke, which I called “Anti-Karaoke”, in an attempt to attract fun, young-at-heart Barcelonans, who seemed to break out in hives at the very idea of karaoke.
The Anti-Karaoke took off like wildfire — and not simply amongst English-speaking tourists and residents, as I’d imagined, but locals. I was unprepared for its success. The show ended up expanding to Madrid as well. Anti-Karaoke is in its 9th year and has a cult following not just in Spain, but around the world. (The freakiest thing I’ve learned, from an Indian couple visiting Barcelona who introduced themselves to me at the Anti-Karaoke, is that there is an online community in India who are fans of the show… which is how they ended up there.)
In the meantime, I kept doing standup and, by then integrated into the culture, wrote a new comedy show called Planeta Catalunya (“Planet Catalonia”), based on my observations and experiences as a foreigner. The show played to local audiences for years, and a good chunk of it ended up on TV, when I appeared on Paramount Comedy in 2012.
This whole time, I’d kept up with the piano, and now was composing songs in Spanish. I created cabaret shows, Muérete conmigo (“Die With Me”) and Coñólogos (“Cunnilogues”), accompanied by the striptease and comic talents of a Galician-born performer named Naria Caamaño. Eventually cabaret interested me more than straight standup.
To make things more surreal, I made a couple of brief appearances in two Elijah Wood movies: Grand Piano (directed by Eugenio Mira) and Open Windows (directed by Nacho Vigalondo). What a life 🙂
In 2013 I became obsessed with flamenco music. As a comedian, and one who was dealing with a great deal of personal pain (nearly a defining factor of being a comedian), I became fascinated by this raw and highly complex art form. I realized that flamenco and comedy have a emotional common root. I began to explore these issues and also formally study flamenco singing and piano. From that new twist in events, I came up with my current show, Flamenguiri perdía (roughly translated, “Yankee Lost in Flamenco”). Originally just a collection of comedic songs, this show is taking on a more complete form, expanding to encompass my life story — in other words, how the hell I ended up here.
I am terrified.