Gwen La Roka is without a doubt a rising star of stand-up.
Gwen has captivated the theater stage with her new one-woman show, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa. Gwen La Roka is without a doubt a rising star of stand-up. Her honest comedic approach, meshed with her physical humor, enables her to bring laughter to crowds of all backgrounds, reminding us that we are all the same when it comes to everyday life.
"Gwen is now the first Latina from Chicago to be featured on an upcoming HBO Comedy Special."
Gwen has worked with some of today’s funniest comedians like Gina Yashere, Felipe Esparza, Aida Rodriguez, Finesse Mitchell, and the Legendary Paul Rodriguez.
Gwen has headlined and been featured at world-famous comedy clubs throughout the country including The Improv, The Laugh Factory, and Zanies in Chicago. Her corporate work includes American Family Insurance, Commonwealth Edison, and the National Museum of Mexican Art, among many more.
Gwen has also captivated the theater stage with her new one-woman show, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa. Self-directed and written, the show was quickly embraced by audiences who filled the house for the entire 13-show opening run.
You can also catch some of her voice-over work in an animated movie that hit theaters this year, “Around the World in 80 Days”, a Viva Films production.
" The winner of HBO Max’s latest “Entre Nos” Latino Stand-up Comedy competition."
The winner of HBO Max’s latest “Entre Nos” Latino Stand-up Comedy competition, Gwen is now the first Latina from Chicago to be featured on an upcoming HBO Comedy Special. Gwen La Roka is most definitely an act to watch.
Late Summer of 2022, I had the pleasure to Interview Gwen La Roka regarding her career, accomplishments, and what advice she would give to today's Latina and the future Latina.
OLM: How did you become interested in your field? Gwen: It’s not so much that I became interested in this field, heck, I was too little to even know fields existed hahaha! Meaning, I was just being me, 5-year-old me re-enacting Fire Marshall Bill scenes from In Living Color. Or walking around telling jokes on the fisher price karaoke microphone I had.
I’ve always just done things that made me happy as a child, whether I was breakdancing, rhyming, acting, or cracking jokes. I was chasing smiles, laughter, and joy. I mean sure, at a certain age I do remember saying how much I wanted to be in funny movies or make people laugh, but I never knew I’d actually end up on the amazing path I’m on now. OLM: How did you begin your career? Gwen: There never really was a clear plan for me. I just kept it moving. Always doing things I enjoyed in the arts. I went from frequenting open mics at small bars, rhyming or performing spoken word, to hosting fundraisers and events for local grassroots and not-for-profit organizations. Around the same time, I auditioned for UIC’s Vagina Monologues and did that for 4 years. I didn’t even attend college haha. That really started the theater itch.
Later, around 2007, I had an amazing months-long sold-out run in Machos, which received 2 non-equity Jeff Awards. Shortly after I was yet again back to the “well now what?” stage. But, like a sign from God, in 2009 my good friend forwards a Mikey O Stand Up Comedy Workshop, being taught by late comedian and actor Rich Ramirez.
I later found out he told Mikey to “keep your eyes on her”. I couldn’t be more grateful to both of these men. Almost 13 years later and here I am hitting stages, handing out laughs and bringing people together. OLM: What do you like most about your work? Gwen: I don’t really look at it like work, it’s my passion. Spreading love. People are my passion. As much as they can get on my damn nerves too, lol, we are all human, in search of the same things in this life, peace, love, and happiness.
This sounds like an inspirational living room frame lol. But it’s true. There are plenty of things out there hard at work to make sure we don’t come together as one. Plenty of things causing hate, divisiveness, and intolerance. What better way to combat all that negativity than with laughter? Talking about things that make us laugh while sprinkling in the heavy but important stuff too. Getting people to open up and explore other ways of looking at things, of looking at each other, that’s where the true joy is. Connecting with people. Bringing people together. OLM: What kinds of accomplishments tend to be valued and rewarded in your field? Gwen: Valued accomplishments in this entertainment industry vary since there’s so much fun to be had in this field. The friendships you make with other comedians, actors, producers, clubs, bartenders, and audience members, you name it! You can’t put a price on that. So much to value in this biz. You can land a sweet stand-up gig and share the stage with other comedy beasts as I’ve had the pleasure of doing so.
I’ve rocked with Finesse Michelle, Felipe Esparza, Aida Rodriguez, and legendary George Wallace and Paul Rodriguez to name a few. I mean, these were all amazing and unforgettable experiences. Right up there with landing a supporting lead role in the 2022 animated movie by Viva Films, Around the World in 80 Days! It’s been an awesome year! Perhaps one of the bigger milestones of this year was taping for HBO Max’s Entre Nos Stand Up Comedy Special!
" I’m still on cloud 9!! "
I am now the first-ever Latina comedian from Chicago to be featured in an upcoming HBO Special. I’m still on cloud 9!! You can accomplish a lot with hard work and all the right people in your corner cheering you on. Mil gracias to the entire HBO Max Entre Nos familia for creating opportunities and shining a light on our gente. The cherry on top was writing and directing my first 1 woman show, Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, which premiered with a 13-show sold-out run in Chicago this past August.
The connections I made with the audience are priceless, from kids to my generations to elders, they all enjoyed the ride and I couldn’t be more thankful. Keep your eyes peeled on my social media @gwenlaroka, I definitely plan to bring this back for another run! OLM: What kind of mindset is required for your duties and responsibilities? Gwen: In this industry, you have to be ready. Ready to take a call, ready to schedule a gig, ready to send your info, ready to get on stage. Stay ready. Stay professional. Just like any other job, show up, be courteous, and professional, and do your job. But make sure you ENJOY doing it.
One thing that helped me was remembering not to take things personally. It’s easy to overthink something or take things personally, but try not to. Just make sure no matter what, you stay true to who you are and what you believe in and stand for. Never sacrifice that. It’s what makes you, YOU. OLM: What are the areas of opportunity that you foresee in your role? Gwen: The biggest area of opportunity is being able to utilize this platform for things that are bigger than me, bigger than the spotlight. What good would it be to have a mic and a platform and not use it for the bigger picture? To not use it to lift people up and bring us together? Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t go out there to preach, I just offer an experience, through my lens. My brown, Mexican, Guatemalan, American, queer lens. You may not think you have anything in common with me, but when that show is over you’ll feel like I’m the family member you didn’t know you had! OLM: How do you stay inspired and motivated in your role? Gwen: I stay inspired by continuously allowing life to inspire me. It’s all about perspective in life. How we choose to look at things. It’s tough to do at times and takes practice, but if you can look at things as happening FOR you vs happening TO you then it allows more space for positivity to set in and hopefully kick off a chain reaction of more joyous feelings.
Law of attraction. Nothing new here. The challenge is to find the funny in those feelings. Whether joyful feelings or not, find the funny. And give yourself permission to be human. We can get stuck in this cycle of "gotta work 24/7/365 to the bone, it’s the only way to show you’re doing all you can, or that you care", but that can take on something else altogether too.
Making time to do things for yourself results in experiences that are breeding grounds for new thoughts, inspiration, and material. Balance is the key. Just make time for yourself just as much as you do for your to-do lists. After all, how well can you truly perform in any field if you're physically, mentally, emotionally, or even Spiritually exhausted? Cuidate.
Aside from that, I know for me, as long as there are people needing to have some laughs, or there's something that needs to be said, I’ll always be motivated to hit those stages and sling these jokes! OLM: What advice would you give to today's Latina and the future Latina? Gwen: The best advice I can give to today’s Latine, or any day’s Latine, is STAY YOU. Stay true to what makes you YOU. Never waver or let yourself fall into self-doubt. Imposter syndrome is very real and though the name sounds all technical y todo, a lot more folks experience it than we may think.
You just put any fear aside and keep going. No need to have all the how's and when’s answered, just KEEP GOING. By the time you know it, you’ll be exactly where you’ve been manifesting. You are always right where you BELONG.