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+TALK: AIDAN PARK

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Comedian Aidan Park

KARL

The HIV positive comedian making history, up next.

Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today does that and more. He makes us laugh. His name is Aidan Park. He’s a comedian. He’s an author. He’s a self-help guru. Hey, Aidan. How’s it going?

AIDAN

Hey, how you doing?

KARL

I’m doing well. Listen, you’ve got a really big taping coming up this Saturday. What can we expect with Comedy Invasion 2.0?

AIDAN

Well it’s a group of Asian comedians doing Comedy Special. And I’m really excited to be the first HIV positive comedian to have a special in 25 years. And it’s very, very exciting and I love that I get to represent the community.

KARL

That’s phenomenal. Who was the first?

AIDAN

I wanna say it’s Steve Moore, but don’t quote me.

KARL

Okay, we won’t. And who cares about Steve Moore? We’ll focus on you. Do you feel any pressure with that kind of knowledge or are you just gonna go out and do your thing?

AIDAN

You know what? I do feel a little bit of pressure. But I feel pretty prepped for it. I like the jokes that I have planned around it and I actually tried it out in Fresno. I had a gig in Fresno three days ago and it was a heteronormative audience in the middle of Fresno County and it was quite scary. And I was like, “I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna do this.” So I actually did it and it was really well received. Which really surprised me actually. I was expecting a little bit of a pushback from Fresno. So, yeah.

KARL

I love that. And you’ve also got a bestselling book too, Of course, you’ve got a book. I mean, look at you. You can do it all. You’re a funny man. You’re making history this weekend, but The Art of Being Yay, which is also a brand. So tell us about The Art of Being Yay and sort of encouraging people, I guess, to laugh their way to their greatest joy.

AIDAN

Yeah. So it all started when I was widowed, about three years ago. I was with the man that I really, really loved. And I was with him for five years and I have this horrible joke I say. It’s like I literally got ghosted. It gets me in trouble sometimes. But after he passed away, it kinda became a do or die moment. It was like, I didn’t really feel all that inspired to continue on with my life at that point. And so I made a deal with myself. I said, “Okay, well if I am going to stay. Then I’m going to have to find a way to be happy living in this existence.” And so I started studying happiness. What happiness was all about and how to quantify happiness. And what emotional tools I can employ to raise my level of happiness within this devastating loss that I was managing. And so The Art of being Yay is about making sure you can meet your emotional needs and take charge of your own happiness, which I believe that we can do.

KARL

How do you go about doing that? ‘Cause I know you found out you were HIV positive when you were 19, right?

AIDAN

Yeah.

KARL

So I’ve got to imagine that’s a tough time for you. You were also undocumented. Yeah. How did you go about finding the drive to get up and go on when you faced all of that and then you have this situation as well with your husband?

AIDAN

Well, when I was 19, when I got diagnosed with HIV and I was undocumented. I really had no kind of parenting up until that point that was solid. And a friend of mine referred me to her voice teacher who she was like, “Oh, my friend has HIV and is going through all of this.” You know, yada, yada yada. And so he took me on as a student, as a scholarship. But the deal was I had to go take empowerment courses to take charge of my life, right? So I started doing that and that got me through that point. And I got really good at creating things tangibly. I became very good at like creating money. Finding career success. Dealing with people, et cetera. But losing my husband kind of shook all of that up. So I started thinking, if I want happiness what if instead of having tangible goals for my life, if I made the emotional goal the end result, what would happen? What if the goal wasn’t the job or the career or the boyfriend or whatever. But instead the goal was happiness. I started applying all those empowerment tools that I had learned for tangible things toward an emotional result.

KARL

And now, when you look back on that time of where you were getting the tangible things, do you look at it now with a new sense of, “Oh, wow!” That was just a level of happiness, but perhaps underneath there was still a lot of raw emotion or internalized stigma, untapped stigma that you thought you were dealing with ’cause you looked good on paper, but when you had something bigger happen that you went, “Oh, holy shit.” Maybe it didn’t really get handled fully.

AIDAN

Yeah, yeah. Because I think a great thing about empowerment is it gives you a lot of like power, right? A lot of masculine energy, Let’s go out and get it. The shadow side of “let’s go out and get it” is let’s not deal with the emotional end of things. Let’s just go and achieve and then go hunting. Go gather, right?

KARL

Right.

AIDAN

And so there’s unfelt emotions. There’s emotional wounds that aren’t necessarily dealt with. When you have an emotional trauma, like losing a husband, all of that comes back. And then I actually did try at first, when I wanted to be commit myself to happiness again. My first line of strategy was to go ahead and try to gather things again, right? Like go out with friends every single night. Go do comedy shows every single night. Make more money. Work harder. Do more things and it didn’t work. Because the emotional wounds were so overwhelming and it was finally time to have to deal with that.

KARL

And you seem to be doing great with it. And what have you found about yourself when it comes to sort of HIV stigma related stuff and dealing with that? ‘Cause we still face it in this day and age for no matter how long we’ve all been living with it.

AIDAN

I feel that I was concerned about, I was actually in the closet about my being HIV positive until just a couple of years ago. When I started writing the book. And I find this has been the case in my life. When I was hesitant about the fact that I was gay and I presented with hesitancy. I’m gay. That apologetic hesitancy that energetic people responded to that. But when I said I’m gay and this is who I am, people responded to that. People said, “Oh, that is who you are.” in a very matter of fact and they accept it.

KARL

Right.

AIDAN

So I feel that with the HIV stigma, if you present in a way that is matter of fact and confident, it can oftentimes override people’s preconceived notions. Like I’m HIV positive. This is the way it is. You can’t get it from jokes. You can relax. I can say that on stage.

KARL

You can’t get it from sex either if you’re undetectable.

AIDAN

No, you can’t and people don’t know that. People don’t know that. But when you approach with confidence, it actually opens the door for people to feel comfortable enough to ask questions.

KARL

What is your advice then to the person who is living closeted with that HIV diagnosis or who is afraid to go and get tested? Because they’ve got that feeling in the pit of their stomach, that perhaps they’re going to get a positive test. How do you get to that point where you can approach it with confidence, as you say?

AIDAN

Ah, well. It depends on everybody’s comfortability level, right? But I would say not knowing is more dangerous than actually knowing. So if you are afraid to get tested because you have this feeling. If you get tested, it is completely manageable. You can have a long, healthy, happy life with HIV, as long as you’re responsible about it. The real danger is the people who have no idea and they go around and they spread it. And they think they’re negative but they haven’t been tested in a really long time, right? And their health deteriorates. So it’s better to take charge of your sexual health and better to take charge of this HIV thing in that way. And as far as being open about it, I can’t tell people to be like, “Hey, tell everybody you’re HIV positive.” It’s up to,

KARL

We’re all on a different journey.

AIDAN

We’re all at a different journey. But what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna present openly and I’m gonna present confidently. So that maybe other people can take steps to present more openly and confidently. That’s just what I can do. I don’t know what they can do. They’re not responsible for anybody else. They don’t have to feel like they have to do anything. And I’m actually not doing it because I feel like I have to do anything. It’s just where I’m comfortable.

KARL

We appreciate you being comfortable and we appreciate you doing it because you do make it a lot and a little easier for people who are nervous to step out and feel confident in themselves. Aidan Park, this has been a real treat. Congratulations on the comedy special and more to come. I look forward to it. Thanks for chatting to us.

AIDAN

Thank you.

KARL

That’s gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk. Thanks for joining us. Remember, you can follow us across social media platforms. We are at PlusLifeMedia on all social platforms and visit the website PlusLifeMedia.com. Until next time, stay safe. Have a laugh or two. We’ll see you soon.

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