Yamina Khouane: Finding Yourself Playing Somebody Else

August 23, 2019

Photo Credit

Bonica Ayala

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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We’re blessed at Com­e­dy Wham to have per­form­ers come to speak with us, car­ry­ing cred­it lists a mile (or two) long. Today’s guest is no excep­tion, but she brings us some­thing else we also love: a first”. In this case, Yam­i­na Khouane graced us as our first Best Actress” award win­ner, hav­ing tak­en the title in the Austin Chron­i­cles 2018 season. 

Khouane, a Val­ley girl of the South Texas vari­ety, is of course much more. Trained in the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, and star, host, and co-host of mul­ti­ple well-known cre­ations, she’s wast­ed no time mak­ing her name in com­e­dy. It was some­thing that came to her in ear­ly school days, where she says: I was very much shamed for being inter­est­ed in bet­ter­ing myself aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly; I used com­e­dy as a way to fit in and melt into the crowd.” Khouane, speak­ing with Valerie Lopez, has the kind of dic­tion, mem­o­ry, and impro­vi­sa­tion­al abil­i­ty that leaves no doubt about the dual per­sonas she learned ear­ly to mar­ry. Com­e­dy Sports was new to me, but this improv team-on-team con­cept is a key begin­ning in Khouane’s mem­o­ry as well. I think a lot of impro­vis­ers sneer at short form,” she says, of the infor­mal contest’s for­mat, but read­i­ly states I love doing short form; it’s how I got start­ed doing comedy…conveying ideas with­out say­ing your words.” In build­ing the abil­i­ty to deliv­er these char­ac­ters rapid-fire, she had to learn to approach per­form­ing in a new way. I stopped wor­ry­ing about being fun­ny, and…focused on just being present. It changed every­thing for me in my life.” It was, as Valerie notes, a pro­found change, and one many of us could learn from. 

I love doing short form; it’s how I got start­ed doing comedy…conveying ideas with­out say­ing your words.” Yam­i­na Khouane

With lofty dreams of insti­tu­tions like Jul­liard in mind, Khouane opt­ed to make the fis­cal­ly con­ser­v­a­tive choice, mov­ing to Austin and attend­ing The Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas for a the­ater degree. After grad­u­at­ing, she split her hours between work­ing at a movie the­atre and improv at the now Fall­out The­ater, it took only about a year and a half before she decid­ed to move with a room­mate to New York City. And if you’re in the NY improv scene, there’s no high­er pin­na­cle to reach for than the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and that’s where she soon found her­self tak­ing class­es at the famed school. It was a strik­ing dif­fer­ence for Khouane. The [Austin improv scene] fos­tered togetherness…there was a lot of pride at being a local scene,” she recalls, where­as the UCB scene felt like a step…you could see the hunger in people’s eyes.” After a time of feel­ing the unfa­mil­iar grind, her moti­va­tion sank and a deci­sion was in the mak­ing. Seek­ing a return to her­self, and becom­ing the per­former [she] want­ed to be”, a return to Austin soon seemed like the nat­ur­al choice. (Recent guest Ron Lech­ler called his own return to Austin a bit of a detox”, a sen­ti­ment Khouane agrees with.) 

The [Austin improv scene] fos­tered togetherness…there was a lot of pride at being a local scene” Yam­i­na Khouane

Since Khouane has been back, she’s def­i­nite­ly found her stride. She’s been a mem­ber of not one but two B. Iden Payne award win­ning groups, Latin­auts and the always-packed Fuck this Week (every Mon­day at The Fall­out The­ater). Week asks audi­ences for a recent less-than-ide­al expe­ri­ence, big or small, which the show trans­forms from a past cri­sis into a cathar­tic expe­ri­ence. It takes so much to…throw your­selves on stage…not know…how the audi­ence is going to react. We could have [the audi­ence] tell us some­thing real­ly trig­ger­ing or intense,” she admits, and believes the trans­for­ma­tions they achieve are a tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of improv that even skep­tics should see. Khouane’s return also result­ed in a reunion with the Lati­na Com­e­dy Project (which fea­tured pre­vi­ous guest and friend of Khouane, Vanes­sa Gon­za­lez), and cre­at­ing an unfor­get­table rap duo with Gon­za­lez under the moniker Glo­rias. Glo­rias released sev­er­al videos includ­ing the fan­tas­tic I Don’t Have a Dad”. She con­tin­ues to per­form as a mem­ber of the long-run­ning Cold­towne improv groups SheSheSheShe and Out­side Job. The con­tin­ued expo­sure and con­fi­dence led to branch­ing out into local plays, which she hints may be the source of that Best Actress award we men­tioned. It’s quite a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence, because – even though she says I don’t feel like I’m act­ing when I’m doing improv…[in act­ing] you find your­self mov­ing in a space that isn’t yours,” liv­ing in the con­fines of a care­ful­ly con­struct­ed sto­ry with innu­mer­able mov­ing parts. 

“I don’t feel like I’m act­ing when I’m doing improv…[in act­ing] you find your­self mov­ing in a space that isn’t yours,” Yam­i­na Khouane

The mus­cles involved are ones that Khouane wants to con­tin­ue to build and flex: I would love to take a script and imme­di­ate­ly fall into the world I’m reading…understand what it’s going to take.” In the same vein, she hopes to write long-form pieces of her own, and take oth­er per­form­ers through the worlds she cre­ates. Khouane is clear­ly on her game, and with shows like SheSheSheShe and Fuck This Week play­ing at the upcom­ing Out of Bounds Com­e­dy fes­ti­val, and her group Pri­ma Doñas play­ing every third Fri­day at Cold­towne The­ater, you have zero excus­es to get out and see her work. And it’s not just her own work she wants you to see, as she notes you should check out Latin­auts mem­ber Lau­ra De La Fuente’s solo sketch show Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk also at Cold­towne (check the­ater for dates and times). With this kind of momen­tum, and that kind of giv­ing and cen­tered spir­it, we hope that Khouane con­tin­ues to call Austin home for quite some time, but wher­ev­er she goes, we’re look­ing for­ward to the worlds she’ll create. 

Catch Yam­i­na Khouane at one of these many upcom­ing opportunities: 

  • Fuck This Week — Mon­days @ 8pm at Fall­out The­ater (fol­low @fuckthisweek)
  • Pri­ma Doñas — Every 3rd Fri­day at Cold­towne Theater
  • Out of Bounds Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val, SheSheSheShe and Fuck This Week
  • The short play Dou­ble Tap with Vivian Mey­ers, writ­ten and direct­ed by Fran­ny Harold and Mase Ker­wick, the first three Fri­days in Sep­tem­ber at Fall­out Theater.

And catch Lau­ra de la Fuente per­form at Cold­towne The­ater as Liz Behan: One Woman at Dusk on Sat­ur­days @ 7pm through Sep­tem­ber 21

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Yamina Khouane