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Comedian Aida Rodriguez tells Jalen Rose about childhood trauma, ducking De Niro




Comedian Aida Rodriguez tells Jalen Rose about childhood trauma, ducking De Niro

Comedian Aida Rodriguez does not do roaming charges on her phone — and it could have sabotaged an amazing career opportunity. Aida, who stopped by “Renaissance Man” this week, told me that a few years ago, she performed at the Comedy Cellar in New York City and unknowingly caught the eye of a certain Hollywood giant.

Shortly after her set, she flew to Israel and when her cellphone rang, the call went like this: “‘Hey, this is Taylor. I’m just calling because I saw you at the Cellar and I want you to be in this movie with my friend Bobby.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, Taylor. My phone is roaming. I’m in Israel. I get back on Sunday. Can you call me then?’” she recalled. But she was left red-faced after she told her agent about the exchange.

“My agent was like, ‘You know that that was Taylor Hackford, and Bobby is Robert De Niro.’” Upon landing back home, she talked to Hackford, who has directed movies like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Ray.” She apologized and landed a role in his 2016 flick, “The Comedian,” starring De Niro. She even made the “Goodfellas” star chuckle off-set.

“When I went to the screening with Robert De Niro, he just laughed at me. He was like, ‘Your phone was roaming.’”

I hope one of the big cellular providers is reading this, because they need to make a campaign starring Aida and De Niro right now. In the meantime, Aida is blowing full steam ahead in her career. In 2014, she was burning up “Last Comic Standing” as a contestant. In 2019, Tiffany Haddish picked Aida’s half-hour set to be on her stand-up showcase, “They Ready,” on Netflix. Now she has a hilarious comedy special, her first hour. It’s called “Fighting Words” and it’s streaming on HBO Max.

The proud Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican heritage, who grew up in Miami, chose an appropriate title, because she had to fight through a lot of trauma as a child. She was kidnapped by family members twice as a kid.

When she was a toddler, her mother took her from her father in the Dominican Republic and brought her to the US. “Then my grandmother took me from my mother [because] my mother was on the run with a man who was wanted by the FBI for murder. There was a lot of trauma from that. And when my grandmother came and got me, she cut all my hair off because she wanted to hide me when she flew me across state lines. And I was mad at my grandmother because even though my grandmother was doing what she thought was best for me, I wanted to be with my mother. I wanted to be on the run. It was dramatic. And it shows up still to this day, and I’m still a work in progress … I didn’t trust people. I had a joke about it in my last special about when my grandmother would be like, ‘Hey, you want to go to McDonald’s with me?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Nah, messing around with you, I end up in Milwaukee. I can’t trust you, lady.’ It shakes the foundation.”

Aida Rodriguez was kidnapped by family members twice as a child.
Aida Rodriguez was kidnapped by family members twice as a child.
Getty Images

She has trusted her gut and her mentors — to very successful ends. Aida said she interned for 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell, aka Uncle Luke, who always taught her how to get paid. Then there is funnywoman Haddish, who put Aida and her sharp comedy on my radar.

“Big ups to Tiffany Haddish, who made sure that I got paid like a white man in comedy. That was her thing. She was like, ‘You get paid like a white man.’ As she fought for it, she took a pay cut so that I could get paid. But she has always been in my ear about saving my money.”

Aida listened. She now lives off her stand-up earnings and banks and invests whatever big checks she earns. She also became more financially savvy after her marriage to former Chargers wide receiver Omar Ellison ended.

“I was married to a professional athlete and … we went broke … I was watching firsthand how many people think that a million dollars is a billion dollars.” She has splurged on a Rolex, because watches don’t depreciate, and she does like her shoes. Though our mutual friend Angela Yee bought her a pair of Tom Ford shoes to wear for her HBO special.

And yeah, she’s on HBO now, but Aida’s comedic roots date back to childhood when her uncles introduced her to the finer things in life: Run-DMC, Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Richard Pryor.

“I wasn’t supposed to be listening to that when I was little … I heard Richard Pryor doing this bit about getting high with his dog, and I was laughing and I was like, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ That was it. I was hooked.”

Her first open mike night was at the Westwood Brewing Co. in Los Angeles, and she killed it. Aida would earn the respect of her peers, including Lil Rel Howery, who texted her, “Yo you funny” — a compliment she said “trumped” everything. Kevin Hart and Chris Spencer have also been big supporters.

Rodriguez's new special is streaming on HBO Max.
Rodriguez’s new special is streaming on HBO Max.
Earl Gibson III/Shutterstock

But the next set was a “major, major L. It was so humbling,” she told me. “You learn to bomb just like you learn to miss shots. If you’re really in it, you’re going to figure it out. I’ve bombed on some big things.” For example, while on the Kevin Hart-hosted BET show “One Mic Stand,” she was so bad, she had to be “scraped off the ground” by her friends.

That night, she wore a Versace outfit on the advice of her manager, who wanted her to look like a Barbie doll. Between her flamboyant look and her lackluster set, she caught flak from a woman in the audience.

“That was a bad move … When I got offstage, the woman was like, ‘Who does this bitch think she is?’” But Aida had the last laugh. She created a T-shirt with that quote and made a lot of cash off of it.

And that’s what I love about comedy. It’s therapy. It’s relief. It’s taking a hardship or a loss and turning it on its ear. And no one embodies that more than Aida Rodriguez. I hope the next thing I see from her — after the cellphone commercial with “Bobby” De Niro — is a biopic. Lord knows there’s enough material, and so far, a happy ending.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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