Ruben Paul on Growing Up Haitian in the U.S.: "If You Go to New York or Miami, There's a Lot of Haitians. On the West Coast, There's Zero."


"My parents were from Haiti, but I was born and raised in southern California," says comedian Ruben Paul. "Ironically, they moved to a place where there were no Haitians. When you come to Minnesota, you see Ethiopians, for example. For some reason they migrated to Minnesota. I have no idea why they would go from one of the hottest places on Earth to one of the coldest, but they have a community there. If you go to New York or Miami, there's a lot of Haitians. On the West Coast, there's zero."

[jump] Paul's parents arrived in Carson, on the border with Compton in Los Angeles, in the early 1960s. "My brother and sister call me 'the accident,'" he adds. "I was born a '70s baby, so it was a while after they were here. I was the only person in my family born in America."

While they held jobs during the day, his parents did missionary work mostly at night to help their homeland. This required them to visit churches all over Los Angeles, and young Ruben went with them.

"I went to a lot of white churches, Latino churches, and Asian churches," he says. "I was always around different cultures, so my well-roundedness and my upbringing appreciating diversity came from my parents." To further add to the diversity, he was bussed to a predominantly Latino school. And even though he lived around other black folks, he didn't seem to fit in. "The only thing we had in common with them was the color of our skin. We might as well have been from another planet as opposed to being a family from Haiti."

Paul has since become a headlining comedian, and has done gigs all over the world. Oddly, he has never been to Haiti. "Ironically, the last two years I've traveled all over the world doing comedy," he says. "I've toured with Russell Peters and done shows on my own, but Haiti is the one place I have never played."

That will change soon, though.

"I did the Montreal Comedy Festival this past year," Paul says. "I met somebody there that approached me about performing in Haiti, so I'm very excited about that. My sister has gone back, but I've never had the opportunity to see where my parents came from and explore that whole part of my life. I don't really know much about it." Paul's sister went into social work, while his brother pursued a career with U.S. immigration services. "Just normal jobs," Paul says. "Me and my sister are pretty close. Me and my bother have an interesting relationship."

Traveling to so many different places has allowed Paul to develop a unique approach to his comedy. "One thing I like to do, whether I'm performing in Minnesota or South Africa, is to find out what makes that city special, or just observe that way of life, because everybody is just a little bit different, whether it's internationally or in the U.S.," he says. Paul estimates that his overseas audiences are mostly expatriates from places like the U.K., U.S., Australia, and Canada, with a small local contingent.

"I'm such a people person, I like to have conversations and explore, and walk around. My comedy comes from how I navigate that city, and that makes it original and fresh and new," he says.


Ruben Paul

The House of Comedy

Mall of America, 408 E. Broadway, Bloomington; 952-858-8558


18+; 21+ later shows

7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday