Mena Soliman

About Mena Soliman

Mena Soliman is a Writer, Part-time conspiracy theorist, a defender of snacks, hoarder of trivial facts, abuser of parentheses, and when he eats apples...he doesn't stop at the core.

Approx Reading Time-11From my meeting him, an émigré from Venezuela, to seeing him on stage at the Melbourne Comedy Gala, it’s been a wild ride for my friend.

 

Fame and I have an abusive, distant relationship. I’ve interviewed a handful of well-known musicians, notable AFL players, and even exchanged a finite glance with an Oscar-winner in an airport queue. But that be the extent of it. This story isn’t about me, though; it’s about this famous guy I know.

Other night on prime time television, I saw a good friend of mine walk in front of a huge audience at the Melbourne Comedy Gala.

 

My friend’s name is Ivan Aristeguieta.

I met Ivan one balmy evening down an alley in Adelaide (a city not known for its alleyways). He was the only person there, unfashionably early, cutting a peculiar figure in a fedora. He was contented pacing small circles as he waited for other new students to arrive for the first night of radio school.

I caught his attention as I approached, nodding in greeting. A fleshy, cheek bunching smile shot back in reply.

“Hi there, are you here for the radio course?”, I asked tentatively.

Jyess, I am,” he responded brightly (NB: accent embellished).

We paced those hot alley stones together, chatting for the next 10 minutes, welcoming the gradual trickle of new faces. I was able to witness his opener, “My name is Ivan Aristeguieta…but you can call me…Aristeguieta” more than a few times. Ivan told us of his very recent migration to Adelaide from the rather exotic-sounding Venezuela. “Cool, a South American,” I thought, wondering how his street gang were taking his desertion to the realms of radio.

That evening, a dozen strangers with aspirations sat around a long, chest-high boardroom table. It started tentatively, as these things usually go, but grew with enthusiasm as the ice thawed in the room. When the “baton” was finally passed to Ivan (no, there wasn’t actually a “speaking baton”), the laughs genuinely began. In a high lilting voice, basted in an irresistible Latino sauce, Ivan launched naturally and instinctively into a three joke bit, simultaneously amusing and dividing us with his unabashed confidence.

It turned out this wasn’t just natural flair, but experience gathered from well-honed performance skills. We would later learn that in his native Venezuela he had achieved great success on the stand-up circuit. He would often pull out his iPhone in its hilariously oversized black hard case (I’m presuming to protect the device on occasions of street muggings and kidnaps) to show us YouTube clips of his appearances on various Venezuelan TV shows, or Venezuelan radio.

“Who is this guy?”

One week, in our voice over workshop, Ivan and I partnered up to coach and time each other reading various radio scripts. I will never forget his cartoony, nasal renditions of a bogan accent, or the 31 takes it took to correctly pronounce the word “Mackay.” He could almost be described as a huge Latino megaphone: you whisper Aussie life into one end, and get an explosive burst of energy, with his unique Latino perspective, out the other.

After radio school wrapped, Ivan and I continued to catch up from time to time, bonding over our mutual love of Seinfeld and cheeseburgers. He would sit there telling me all about stand-up, his love for the craft and execution of it; he even promised (threatened) to coach me when I revived that ambition for my bucket list.

We went our separate ways after that, as work sent us to different states. I remember his small, meaningful victories along the way; the big award from his peers after just a year in the country, booking his first Adelaide Fringe show, the first time he got a room at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, touring the nation on the roadshow, travelling interstate and overseas (it was a cruise ship, but it counts).

Honestly, it’s no surprise how far Ivan has come, especially here in Australia – a country he has loved and adopted wholeheartedly. But I’m still kicking myself for one big mistake. I could see he was driven to re-building a comedy career in his new home, and I thought it would be a hoot to see his continual rise to fame on video.

Well here we are, a little over four years from that day in the alley, and he is on goddamn national television. He bloody well did it. And while I’m waiting for that backstage invitation that’ll never come, I’ll be over here kicking myself for dragging my feet on that “before he was famous” video – because based on the other night’s TV performance, those days well are behind us.

 

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