NEW YORK -- The first time comedian Rich Kiamco stood on stage and tried to make a crowd of people laugh, they ran him off the stage.
"I have a traumatic memory," Kiamco says.
He was just a teenager. It took him twenty years to return and make a career out of comedy.
"The first paid gig I had back in the day, the guy said, 'Get off the stage you 'f' word!' and the whole room started chanting it," said Kiamco.
The word they were chanting: a derogatory word for being gay.
"There's freedom in laughter," said Kiamco. "We can take something really painful and flip it and transform it."
Kiamco is an openly gay Filipino comedian who lives in New York City.
As we enter the month of June, Pride month, Kiamco is one of eight people profiled from across the country in "Our America: Who I'm Meant to Be," presenting a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, gender orientations and backgrounds.
He uses his life experiences as part of his comedy act as he regularly performs across New York City and the country.
"Everything I've joked about was probably really painful when it first happened," he said. "But being able to laugh is like turning it around. That's the payoff."
Kiamco has made jokes about coming out to his Catholic Filipino parents, about being mistaken for a Chinese food delivery person when showing up for gigs, and even about his partner dying of COVID.
"When Sandy died from COVID, like two days after I buried him, I was doing jokes about it," he said. "It was really dark, but I needed to do it for me, so that I could feel alive - not to dishonor him, but to not let COVID win."
And when it comes to the crowd's laughter and reaction, it's something he doesn't take as seriously as he used to when he was in his teens.
"When I first was doing it, I'm like, this is all the validation I've been seeking. And now it's like, do not expect this to fill the hole because I've seen people consumed by it," he said. "I'm a complete person, whether or not I get that laugh, because if this laughter is my only source of oxygen, I'm doomed because it will never be enough."
The LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith. It is multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multidimensional. This Pride Month, we're celebrating members of that diverse community as a part of a special series called Our America: Who I'm Meant to Be. Click here for more stories from your city and around the country.