30 May Episode 34: What No One Tells You About Being a Creative with Comedian Tissa Hami
Full transcript of episode is available. Scroll to the bottom!
- This is the last episode of season 1. Season 2 will start in September. Thank you for joining me every week for the past 34 weeks! I have loved the feedback, the reviews, and most of all the listens! Please keep the feedback coming, as I want to make season 2 bigger and better!
- What I’ve learned – podcast is a lot of work! It does not provide the instant gratification that comedy does.
- Thank you all for sending in your goals! And for joining our Facebook group! If you haven’t joined our FB group it’s com/groups/creativebreakthroughcommunity or via the link on funnybrowngirl.com! Regarding your goals, A lot of you wrote in you want to submit a TV pilot, finish your book, or get casted. We can all help each other meet these goals and provide inspiration and new ways of attaining them in the Facebook group! So please head over there … http://facebook.com/groups/creativebreakthroughcommunity
Today’s episode is supposed to be a solo episode, but I felt this interview with comedian Tissa Hami is a better way to end season 1. We talk about finding your passion, pursing your passion full-time, the pros and cons of pursuing your passion, leaving your passion, the challenges of being a women of color, and lots more – all in 60 minutes! Listen to the end, because this story has a wonderful ending!
Activist. Idealist. Smartass. In fall 2002, just a year after 9/11, Tissa Hami dared to do something that no one in America had ever done — step onstage veiled and tell jokes. At a time when Muslim-Americans were advised to keep a low profile, she chose to stand up.
Tissa’s groundbreaking humor quickly caught the attention of audiences, bookers, and the media. She earned a reputation for making people think as well as laugh.
Due to increased demand for her voice and perspective, Tissa branched out into speaking engagements, classroom workshops, and writing. She has traveled to 25 states, bringing her show to diverse audiences. From prominent universities like Harvard and Yale, to small towns where she’s been told that she’s “the first Muslim they’ve ever seen,” Tissa has connected with audiences across the country.
Tissa grew up in a traditional Iranian family in a predominantly white suburb of Boston. The daughter of a pediatric dentist and a software engineer, she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Ivy League universities. Her parents were “thrilled” that she wanted to pursue a career in comedy.
Tissa has been featured in media around the world including the PBS documentary “Stand Up,” ABC’s “The View,” NPR, BBC, and the Washington Post. The San Francisco Chronicle named her one of the Top 11 female comedians in the country.
Tissa Hami is now a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and Trainer. She works with corporate clients on creative ideas to advance D&I in their organizations, including training programs that feature interactive theater, stand-up comedy, and storytelling. She regularly speaks and performs at D&I conferences nationwide. This is a great story of how Tissa was able to pivot her creative passion and combine her passion for comedy and activism. And with that, I say goodbye until September. Now go Flex Your Creative Muscle, and Keep Winning!
Key Questions answered by Tissa Hami
- How did your creative journey begin?
- How do you balance a full-time job and a creative side hustle?
- Why she left a well-paying job on Wall Street to pursue stand-up comedy
- Why Tissa decided to stop performing comedy
- What resources she recommends to creatives
Tissa Hami Discusses:
- Her parents’ reaction to her new found career
- How she addresses issues through humor
- How she made the jump in to comedy full-time
- How she created success in her comedy career
- Highlights in her comedy career (and lows)
- Which is harder in entertainment – being a woman or a Muslim?
- Challenges to being a full-time creative
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Social Media Info
Connect on Instagram:
Shereen Kassam – @funnybrowngirl
Connect on Facebook:
Tissa Hami – https://www.facebook.com/tissacomedy/
Shereen Kassam – https://www.facebook.com/FunnyBrownGirl/
Connect on Twitter:
Tissa Hami – www.twitter.com/tissahami
Shereen Kassam: twitter.com/funnybrowngirl
Connect on YouTube:
Shereen Kassam: https://www.youtube.com/c/FunnyBrownGirl
Connect via Email
Shereen Kassam – email@example.com
Full transcript of Episode 34 with Tissa Hami:
Shereen Kassam 0:05
Are you an aspiring, creative in entertainment, business, fashion, design or the arts? Do you want to elevate your creative passion project to the next level? Then this show is for you. Whether you want a career in television, film, radio, literature, music, or beyond Creative Breakthrough will show you how to take your dreams and turn them into reality. This show will not only leave you feeling motivated and inspired, but also provide you real life tools to pursue the creative journey you have always wanted. I’m your host, creative coach, and chicken wing lover Shereen Kassam aka the Funny Brown Girl. Yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with chicken wings. Now, get ready to flex your creative muscle!
Lately, I’ve been feeling the stress trying to balance my comedy schedule with this podcast. And my full time job keeps me busy and sometimes I feel like I just can’t keep up. Luckily someone introduced me to CBD to help manage my anxiety and stress and it’s making all the difference. I now use a CBD tincture and CBD gummies every day. Not only am I sleeping better, I’m also more calm. If you struggle with anxiety, stress or even insomnia visit HoorayforCBD.com and learn how CBD can help you, that’s HoorayforCBD.com. Tell them Shereen sent you.
Welcome back to the last episode of season one of Creative Breakthrough. I cannot believe that we have been doing this every week for the past 34 weeks. I want to say thank you for joining me week after week. I have loved hearing the feedback, seeing the reviews and most of all, knowing that you all are listening and getting something positive out of this podcast. It means the world to me I’m so humbled and grateful that you guys continue to tune in week after week.
Season Two will start in September but over the summer please continue to send in any feedback that you have because I want to make sure season two is bigger and better. A lot of you have asked me what have I learned from season one. I will say this podcasting is a lot of work. I had no idea how much time this would take and I think the hardest part for me is that it does not provide the instant gratification that comedy does, which has been a real struggle at times. I also want to say thank you all for sending in your goals for the summer that I asked for an episode 33. I enjoyed reading them all! I was impressed because there were so many goals that came in and a lot of them fell around the same themes. A lot of you want to write or submit a TV pilot, a lot of you want to finish a book or start a book, and a lot of you want to increase your performances so whether it’s getting cast or booked on shows. I urge you to join the Facebook community. I urge you to join there because I think we can all work together to provide inspiration and even new ways of pursuing and attaining your goals. The website again is facebook.com/groups/creativebreakthroughcommunity. Or you can just search creative breakthrough community and you should find it. I’ll also put it in the show notes on funnybrowngirl.com/Episode34.
Today’s episode is supposed to be a solo episode, but I felt this interview with comedian Tisa Hammi a much better way to end season one. In this episode, we talked the full gamut of a creative journey. We talked about finding your passion, pursuing your passion full time, the pros and cons of pursuing your passion, leaving your passion, the challenges of being a woman of color, and a lot more all in 60 minutes. So I urge you to listen to the end because this story has a wonderful ending.
Tisa Hami – activist, idealist, smart ass. In the fall of 2002, just the year after 9/11 Tisa Hami dared to do something that no one in America had ever done. Step on stage vieled and tell jokes. At a time when Muslim Americans were advised to keep a low profile she chose to stand up. Her groundbreaking humor quickly caught the attention of audiences, Booker’s and the media. She earned a reputation for making people think as well as laugh. Tisa grew up in a traditional Iranian family in a predominantly white suburb of Boston, the daughter of a pediatric dentist and a software engineer. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree from Ivy League universities. Her parents were quote thrilled that she wanted to pursue a career in comedy. Tisa has been featured in media around the world, including the PBS documentary Stand Up, ABC, NPR, BBC and The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle named or one of the top 11 female comedians in the country. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.
Welcome to the guest chair Tissa
Tissa Hami 4:59
Thank you. Hi Shereen, hey, I’m so glad to finally get to talk to you. It’s been so many years since we’ve connected
Shereen Kassam 5:06
I know likewise, looking forward to it. So let’s start from the beginning. I’d love to know when your creative journey started.
Tissa Hami 5:13
Sure. I was really just sort of one of those kids who did what she was supposed to do. In High School tried to study all the right things, study hard, went to the Ivy League, I know you and I both went to Brown, and never really thought I would be a creative person. But while I was in college, and then after college, I went and worked on Wall Street. People would always tell me, you know, you’re so funny. You’re so funny. What are you doing here? You should be a stand up comic. And I thought, No, I shouldn’t like, we’re at Brown, or we’re on Wall Street. We’re Ivy League grads, we don’t do that stuff. And I thought I would have like a really straightforward, traditional career. So I never really planned to have a creative life. So this was a surprise, even to me. I mean, part of that was cultural and parental expectations. But I expected to have a very standard career.
Shereen Kassam 6:09
When you said people will tell you you should be a stand up. Had you ever watched stand up and thought that’s what you wanted to do?
Tissa Hami 6:15
I had seen it on TV. I had never been to a comedy club until I decided to do comedy myself. I had never been to a comedy club. So I had seen it on TV. And I remember one moment stuck out for me. And I think I was in middle school or high school. I was channel surfing one day and I got to Star Search. And this Asian American woman was on. She was young, she seemed like she was only a few years older than me. And she was on stage telling jokes. And she was joking about her family and speaking in her parents Korean accents. And I thought who is this and it turns out it was Margaret Cho. And I just had never occurred to me that you know someone who looks like that, or has that story could do stand up. So that moment just sort of sticks out for me. But I still never really imagined I would ever do that.
Shereen Kassam 7:13
So then how did you go about learning stand up or actually starting to do stand up?
Tissa Hami 7:18
Sure. So I was motivated after 9/11. So after, after my three years on Wall Street, I decided, it’s you know, it’s been an interesting run. But this isn’t what I want to do for the future. And I went back to grad school and I studied what I had studied in college, which was international relations. And that’s what I was interested in. And I got my master’s in international affairs. And my second year of my program, I studied abroad in Paris. And I thought when the year was up, I thought I would come back to the United States, I would find a job pretty quickly. And that was that. But I moved back and a week later 9/11 happened. So among many other things that happened in the country at that time, and the whole mood of the country, there were no jobs. I mean, people were laying people off, people thought it was the end of the world. And here I was, with my fancy expensive degrees and no job. And unemployment that year just dragged on and on. And I ended up being unemployed for over a year, which I had never expected. The thing though, was, there were a few male Muslim comics who started to emerge during that time. And I remember a friend of mine, my best friend from high school, sent me an article from Newsweek that featured a few male Muslim stand up comics in LA, who were using comedy and humor to really address the stereotypes and people’s fears and combat Islamophobia and all of that. And in the note, my friend wrote on the article was, you know, there’s no woman doing this, or she’d be in this article. And that was sort of her hint to me to really go for it. And I eventually got to the point where I really felt like I had nothing to lose this job search for a sort of a traditional career was going nowhere. And I thought, Okay, I’m going to do what I’m going to do stand up. And really, when I saw it, from the point of view of activism, of social justice, of making my voice heard, of speaking up, speaking out, getting a point of view across, that’s when I became interested, I was never really like a Hollywood person or trying to be an actress. I really came about it from the point of view of an activist. So I got on stage about a year after 9/11 in the fall 2002. That was my first show. And it just took off from there. And I missed what you said.
Shereen Kassam 9:42
I said, I’m sorry, was this in New York?
Tissa Hami 9:44
This was in in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard Square across the university at a little club called the comedy studio.
Shereen Kassam 9:51
Yes. Okay. with Rick Jenkins
Tissa Hami 9:53
with Rick Jenkins. Yeah, and the attic of a Chinese restaurant. Like, Oh, so you mentioned how did I get into it? When I wasn’t really didn’t really have that background? I took an adult. I took a class at the Boston center for adult education.
Shereen Kassam 10:08
Oh my god, I took the same class.
Tissa Hami 10:10
Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. Who was your teacher?
Dana J Bein?
Okay. I don’t think I know.
Shereen Kassam 10:16
He may have started after cuz he is turning…Well, I won’t tell you his age. But he’s six years. He may have not been there. Okay. I was I was a freshman. But all this was happening in college.
Tissa Hami 10:30
Oh, wow. Okay.
Yeah. So I took that class and fall 2002. And so you know, the class quote, unquote, graduation is to perform at the comedy studio. And so that night I was on that first. I was on that show with all first time comedians. I was terrified. But it went extremely well. Like on my first show, I had multiple applause breaks. And it went great. The crowd totally got it. And I was booked on the spot for another show. And things took off from there.
Shereen Kassam 11:03
Wow, that’s awesome. Rick does not book people right away. So that’s, that’s a big accomplishment!
Tissa Hami 11:07
Yeah, that’s what I heard. And I didn’t really know because I didn’t know about this world. So I just remember I knew when my comedy teachers jaw dropped. And he said, When did you book and he said, Oh, he booked you for those shows? Like, yeah, he was for one. And I said, Saturday. And he goes Saturday, and he tripped over the word. And I was like, Oh, I guess Saturday’s a good night, which I know. Yeah. Saturday. So my second show was on a Saturday night show. So yeah, I mean, it just took off from there. Rick, got it, which, I mean, that was, that was lucky. And I mean, I still really feel like I really owe it to the audience that night, who totally was who, who got the jokes and supported it and laughed and applauded. And it was fantastic.
Shereen Kassam 11:55
So after that, you just knew that this is what you wanted to do.
Tissa Hami 12:00
I knew I wanted to try. I still had that voice in my head of like, you know, the immigrant child and good Iranian and now I have two Ivy League degrees to live up to and my mother’s a dentist, and my father has a PhD. And I was still in my 20s it really felt like, Hey, I, you know, as my mother always says, It’s not too late for dental school. So I still had that voice running through my head. But I knew I wanted to try this, I sort of thought, this is something I never thought I would do. But I felt like I could make an impact in this way. That I could change, hopefully change people’s minds or get them thinking or address issues they have never heard of doing that through humor.
Shereen Kassam 12:46
So this time, when you were starting to think that this is what you wanted to do, what were you thinking in terms of making an income?
Tissa Hami 12:52
So at the same time, as I started that stand up comedy class in fall 2002, I got a day job at the Harvard Kennedy School. And it was a 50% pay cut from Wall Street. But I knew that that job would give me my evenings to go out to comedy clubs. And I have to say, the Harvard Kennedy School was extremely supportive of my comedy career. They were fantastic.
Shereen Kassam 13:20
That’s an awesome win for your employer’s.
Tissa Hami 13:22
Yeah, from my colleagues, to my managers to the overall the school like I performed at school multiple times, they put me in their alumni magazine, which was unheard of if you weren’t an alumni of the school, they were super supportive. And I’m just still really grateful for that.
Shereen Kassam 13:39
Now, let’s talk about your parents that they come to your first show at the comedy studio.
Tissa Hami 13:43
No, I did not let them come. They came maybe a month or so in they came to the show.
Shereen Kassam 13:50
And where did they think?
Tissa Hami 13:51
They thought it wasn’t too late for medical school!
Shereen Kassam 13:56
What was that conversation like that? I mean, how was the kind of in general, when they found out that you were doing comedy.
Tissa Hami 14:03
I mean, they my mother, my father sort of expresses his opinion, then sort of let it go. My mother does not let anything go. So I would hear from her all the time, like because I lived with them at the time. Because I had that year of unemployment. I had just moved home. And I was still home. And I would come home tired from shows. And she’d be like, Well, why don’t you quit? It was always Well, why don’t you quit? So that was tough, because yeah, I would come home tired. And as you know, not every show goes well, especially at the start of your career when you’re out on like a Tuesday night, open mic. And you come home, you’re getting up for your day job the next day and trying to juggle all of that. So it was really it was tough.
Shereen Kassam 14:49
When did that conversation with your parents start to change where they became more accepting?
Tissa Hami 14:54
I think when I started appearing in newspapers, on TV, on the radio, and my mother’s friends, and particularly her Iranian friends would say, Oh, hey, I saw your daughter in the newspaper. And she’d be like, Oh, really. And so it took sort of the approval of others, particularly from the Iranian American community, for her to sort of come around.
Shereen Kassam 15:20
And then they were proud of you?
Tissa Hami 15:22
I don’t know if I’d go that far.
Shereen Kassam 15:25
They had faith in you. They realized you were funny.
Tissa Hami 15:28
Oh, yeah. It was kind of like, Well, okay. And I remember at one point, my father, we were watching the Oscars together a couple of years in and I forgot who was hosting. But it was a comedian. It was a comedian. And, and they were showing clips of past Oscars, and it was like Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal and, you know, other stand ups, or people who had started in stand up. And he said that he was like, oh, stand up comics can do this. And they can go host the Oscars. And I was like, yeah. And he’s like, oh, okay, and that kind of thing made them come around, I think they just didn’t see a career path or a future in it. Um, so I remember that moment of watching the Oscars with my dad and having him see, okay, that career a career is possible here.
Shereen Kassam 16:15
So when did you realize that like, when did what show were you on? Or did you get off of or what event happened that you finally said to yourself, I can do this for a living?
Tissa Hami 16:29
I think I always had my doubts, just because I knew comedians who, as you probably know, you can make it and not really make it. And you can be doing well and get TV opportunities and still have your day job. So I would say I never really knew. But I think when I got to the point where I was getting enough requests, and for each gig, I was getting paid enough that I could go full time into comedy. I was like, Hey, I can actually do this. And it’s going to be tough, probably because it’s not super predictable. But I can, I can at least try. So I was a full time comedian and speaker for five years.
Shereen Kassam 17:09
And at that time, were you still in Boston? Or had you moved to San Francisco?
Tissa Hami 17:12
when I decided to go full time I moved to San Francisco.
Shereen Kassam 17:15
Okay, and why was that?
Tissa Hami 17:17
I just wanted to do something different. I felt like Boston, I grew up in this area, I felt like I just wanted to do something different. And as long as I knew, as long as I was in a city that had a comedy scene and had a major airport, so I could travel from there, that would be fine. And that actually narrowed it down to just four or five places. And looking at those I hadn’t heard of one good thing about the LA comedy scene, and I had heard the New York comedy scene was really tough. So I decided on San Francisco also, because at the time, I thought I would focus a fair amount on some writing projects that had come up. And I knew in San Francisco, and this is how you’ll know how long ago it was. I wouldn’t need a day job.
Shereen Kassam 18:03
Tissa Hami 18:04
Shereen Kassam 18:05
Now you would definitely need a day job to day jobs in San Francisco.
Tissa Hami 18:09
Shereen Kassam 18:11
That’s interesting. So the five years you were performing full time, you were living in San Francisco?
Tissa Hami 18:16
Shereen Kassam 18:16
Okay. So you had mentioned this before. Like you’re you were making TV appearances. You were in the news. I mean, you were on The View, BBC, Wall Street Journal. You were named top female comedian in the country. Talk to us about how you rose so fast in your new career, like how did you become so well known and a household name almost immediately.
Tissa Hami 18:39
I think a lot of it was timing. And thank you. I don’t I don’t know that I ever made it to a household name. But thank you.
Shereen Kassam 18:45
I remember seeing you on the view. I remember I was in college. I don’t remember what year I was in. And that’s how I remember seeing you on the view and being like, Oh, my God, like I at that point. I didn’t even know what comedy was. And I never wanted to be a comedian. But I do remember seeing you as a Muslim woman making jokes and being like, Wow, she’s doing something really cool.
Tissa Hami 19:04
Shereen Kassam 19:05
Yeah. That’s how I came to know who you are. And like, when I finally decided to actually do comedy, like years later. That’s why I was like, Oh, my God, Tissa I remember her from what I saw her on the news.
Tissa Hami 19:16
Can I tell you, you have never told me that?
Shereen Kassam 19:19
I’m sure I must have mentioned it before. That’s how I like got in touch with you because I’m a stalker in that sense, like,
Tissa Hami 19:25
Wow, thank you. I’m really flattered. It kind of reminds me of my Margaret Cho story.
Shereen Kassam 19:32
Yeah, it was you and Bethany Van Delft. Do you know Bethany?
Tissa Hami 19:35
Yeah, I know. But I ran into Bethany two days ago in Harvard Square.
Shereen Kassam 19:38
Okay, so she’s the one who finally like, got me to actually do comedy. But you’re the one who I still remember to this day, like seeing on the view and being like, cuz I was wanting to be on the view. I don’t know why I just thought it’d be fun to be on the view. But I never thought about being on the view as a comedian. I just thought you just are a host. I didn’t know what that meant. I like you said, you go Brown. And you just think the next step is investment banking or consulting. You never really think about other things do with your life.
Tissa Hami 20:06
Exactly. That’s so funny. Well, I’m really glad to hear that story. Thank you. And now I don’t remember your question. But I know, I know. It was really good.
Shereen Kassam 20:16
The question was, is how did you rise? How did you get discovered and rise so quickly?
Tissa Hami 20:21
Yeah, I think it was timing. Just being when I started, it was a year out from 9/11. It was scary, frankly, to perform comedy at that time as a Muslim and to get on stage. And they were still telling Muslims to, you know, keep a low profile. Don’t you know, don’t show your Muslim-ness too much. And meanwhile, I was on stage
Shereen Kassam 20:46
in a full hijab, right?
Tissa Hami 20:47
in a hijab, exactly.
And so I think it just attracted attention that way. One night, at the show at the comedy studio, I think I was about six months in there happened to be a Boston Globe reporter in the audience. And then he wrote about me. So that was just six months, and I had a feature story in the Boston Globe. And then others started to pick it up. And I did my own press relations, which I learned thanks to the Harvard Kennedy School, I took some media workshops there. And I built it from there. And I saw that people really wanted to hear from a Muslim and a Muslim woman, to the point that I was almost dead for certain things that came my way. I was like, I don’t know if I’m qualified for this. They were there were times when I was getting interviewed. And I was like, they’re looking for a religious scholar, or they’re looking for an academic. But they’re asking me, I guess, because I’m here. So I saw that people were curious. They were interested. And so I think the timing was right. And I think there were those who just thought, Well, you know, Oh, she she’s getting stuff because the timing was right. No, you still have to be good. I mean, I remember…Yeah, I won’t mention his name. But there was a male Muslim comic who started maybe like a year after I started in the Boston area. And he really didn’t get anywhere and his career stopped just a few months in. So it wasn’t just that you were Muslim. And suddenly you were in the paper. I mean, you still have to be good. And so I think I think it was that I think it was just a combination of things. But the timing was right.
Did you ever feel like you got extra scrutiny? Just because you not only were you Muslim, but you were a female?
Oh, sure. I mean, even from other comedians,
Shereen Kassam 22:38
What was harder being Muslim or female?
Which one was harder? Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Probably Muslim, frankly. Because there were there other well, so again, like I don’t I don’t Well, if you know, Bethany, you might know we used to do Boston’s annual women of color and comedy show,
Tissa Hami 22:56
color struck. Exactly. So we used to do that show. And before I joined it, I I happen to join it in its fourth year. But I heard that in earlier years, some of the comedians in Boston, particularly the white male comics, would boycott the show, and they had their own anti women of color comedy party.
Shereen Kassam 23:16
Oh, interesting. I did not hear this story.
Tissa Hami 23:18
Yeah. Yeah. So I heard that. And it was like, Oh, okay. I mean, we’re not talking about the stone ages here. We’re talking like, you know, it’d be like, the year 2000. might feel like a long time ago now. But it’s not stone ages. And they were having an anti party. So yeah, it was not a great time to be doing this as a woman of color period. And then, yeah, as a Muslim woman.
Shereen Kassam 23:47
Were there any shows that stick out where you were scared, whether getting on stage or off stage, or someone said something?
Tissa Hami 23:54
I was scared a lot. I was scared a lot of the time. I was scared, particularly, frankly, when I would appear in the paper. Because they would list my performances or people would look me up and go to my website, I would see the hits on my website would increase. And people were seeing my schedule, and they were seeing exactly where I would be and when. So things like that scared me. Thankfully, you know, there were no incidents like that. I did have scary moments after shows with people. One show in Indiana sticks out in memory. But I was scared a lot. But I still got on stage.
Shereen Kassam 24:37
Can you tell us what happened in Indiana?
Tissa Hami 24:40
Sure. I was doing a show at a college Valparaiso University. And in this small town in Indiana, they had happened to do international recruiting to I guess, increase their diversity. And so they had happened to have a fairly sizable contingent of male Saudi Arabian college students. And they all came to the show. And the show overall was great. It was great. But after the show, they came up to me. And one was sort of like the spokesperson for the group. And he pointed to his friend who was scrolling through his camera, it was a digital camera at the time. And he was like my friend, he he wants to talk to you. He wants to show you something. And I was like, Okay. And he got to what the picture he wanted to show me which was so the school had put up posters of me around campus to promote the show. And someone I don’t know if this guy had done it himself, but they had crumpled up a poster of me and thrown it into a urinal. And he had taken a picture. And he showed me that. And I said, Okay, I had had enough reactions to my shows by them that I was like, Okay, I knew there was no point and engaging. And I think they were actually upset that I wasn’t upset. And so they were trying to get me. He was like, he wants to talk to you in his room, in his dorm room. Yeah. And I was like, I’m not going to his dorm room. I can talk to him here. And they were like, no, he wants you to go to his dorm room. And I was like, no. And by the way, there were other people around, the professor who had invited me was still there. The student group that supported the show was there. So there were others there. But it just got intense and heated and weird. And at one point, the the professor and the students just moved me into a conference room. They just got me out of there. And they were like, just wait here, we’re gonna pull up a car and take you back to the hotel.
Shereen Kassam 26:52
Oh, wow. Yeah. Do you think if they do you think they want to do to the get you to the room to like hurt you? Or
Tissa Hami 26:58
I don’t know. I don’t it would have been good. But there was no way I was going. Yeah. But they kept I was in that conference room for 45 minutes. And by then a student had come and pulled his car up to the curb to get me. When I when I left that room. 45 minutes later, this group of guys was out there waiting.
Well, and I got in the car, and we left. I think that was probably the weirdest incident.
Shereen Kassam 27:26
Yeah, that’s definitely, definitely something that you would scare me too.
Tissa Hami 27:31
Shereen Kassam 27:34
So I mean, I’m sure over the over time, like when you were doing some of these shows, in more rural places, like not these bigger cities like San Francisco and Boston, there was a lot of ignorance. How did you deal with that ignorance?
Tissa Hami 27:47
Yeah, you know, it was weird when I first started traveling and my manager at the time, she specialized in diversity speakers and performers, and where there is a want, and the need for diversity speakers and performers is where there isn’t much diversity. So I spent a lot of time going to the central time zone to rural America, to places that were hours and hours from the nearest airport, and the nearest airport was small. And I remember the first time I was going, I think one of my early shows traveling was in rural Wisconsin. And I heard from the event organizer, you know, we’ve never seen a Muslim before. And I was like, Oh my god, what am I going to say to these people? Are they even going to get the jokes, because you need to have sort of some knowledge and background in the stuff to kind of get the joke. And then it got to the point where I started hearing a lot it a lot like we’ve never seen a Muslim before I heard this from Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, it almost got to the point where if I didn’t hear it, I was like, Oh, I guess they’ve seen a Muslim, you know? So yeah, I was worried about people getting the joke, as I said, I was scared every time. But people got the joke, I think part of it is most of the places I traveled to it was to a college campus, which can just be a different pocket, even within a in the surrounding community can be a little bit different. But it cannot sometimes be a liberal pocket or just a more woke pocket within a more conservative community. So I was actually very pleasantly surprised that everywhere I went, people got the jokes.
Shereen Kassam 29:34
So you really didn’t have trolls and people coming at you with any sort of spewing hate and stuff that that sort of built up.
Tissa Hami 29:45
I think the closest was that I think the worst was Indiana, I remember I performed once in Colorado Springs at I think it’s Colorado College there. And one thing I actually liked was almost always when I was on a college campus, the show was still open to the wider community. And I would say about half the audience tended to be from the outside community, which to me was great, because I was reaching an audience that I might not reach otherwise. In this particular town, they had told me there were four military bases in town. And this was during the Iraq war, and people were out from the military bases. And during the q&a. As you probably know, a lot of Q and A’s you’re not really asked a question, someone gives a speech. Yep. So I remember, particularly Colorado College, just people got up in the q&a and gave, you know, sort of heated speeches about the Middle East and war and Iraq. And I remember I was sort you know, as a comedian, you can always handle it. But I remember, others in the audience actually started to just kind of take them on a little bit and be like, Hey, we’re not here for this tonight. So it actually worked out. Okay. Just kind of the audience talking among themselves. And I would kind of have the microphone and, and, you know, kind of take control of the situation again. But yeah, there were like moments like that. But overall, it was really, really great.
Shereen Kassam 31:13
So interesting to hear you say that. Do you think and this has nothing to a comedy. But do you think that the perception of Islam has gotten worse over the years to where we are today? Or has it gotten better?
Tissa Hami 31:25
It’s hard to say I mean, maybe just different. I think back then to even be Muslim and be in the public eye at all was so unusual. And even though it’s still unusual, we see it a little more like I remember after 9/11, part of what made me want to do something public, was when I turned on my TV to CNN and all the news stations, every Middle East expert was an older white man, with the occasional white woman thrown in. And I thought, where are we? Why aren’t we speaking for ourselves? Yeah, now, when there were events in the Middle East, they’re actually Middle Eastern commentators. So I, I’m glad to see that in terms of perception, you know, with different presidencies and different events, you know, things things change, they come and go. But you know, it used to always be, you know, when people would speak generally about something like Oh, go to your church, or they would say, go to your church or temple. And now sometimes I hear mosque thrown in. So I’m like, Oh, hey, people are kind of aware of us. You know, Coke has had a couple of commercials, a couple of commercials with a hijabi woman. So I mean, there’s a little more presence. So I’m glad to see that. But, you know, have we ended a Islamaphobia? Of course not.
Shereen Kassam 32:49
Yeah, maybe it’s because I perform in Florida. But I’ve had some. I’ve had some I’ve had multiple incidences where people I’ve had to be escorted to my car. Like there was times when I didn’t get on stage for a couple of weeks after incidents because well, I just was so scared. And I mean, I got banned from a club because I was Muslim.
Tissa Hami 33:09
Oh, no, I’m sorry to hear that. And you’re reminding me so that I got banned from the comedy connection in Boston, which was, at the time the biggest comedy club in Boston.
Shereen Kassam 33:17
Yeah. And it’s so liberal. So what happened there?
Tissa Hami 33:20
Well, Boston at that there was a difference here, definitely between the Boston comedy scene and the Cambridge comedy. So the Cambridge comedy scene was more like liberal the ethnic comedians perform their women perform there, and Boston was still pretty much white guys talking about their dicks. Got it. So I wasn’t a white guy talking about my dick. And yeah, I went to the comedy connection. I was a new comedian, and new comedians only got on the Monday night open mic. And I remember the booker there, Joey? I just want to thank him at the end of the show, like, you know, you shake hands and you think the Booker and he would not touch me. And he would be like, that’s not me. He didn’t even look at me. He looked past me to other comedians and said, That’s not okay. What she did was not okay. And he said some other stuff. And I remember actually one of my comedian friends, Denise, she walked me into my car that night.
Shereen Kassam 34:15
Wow. Yeah, that’s surprising that that would happen in Boston, but I guess yeah, you’re right. Cambridge is definitely more liberal than Boston.
Tissa Hami 34:23
Yeah. And it was still 2003. I mean, it has been 15 years since then. But I think, yeah, things have changed.
Shereen Kassam 34:32
Yeah, I mean, I think I find that things have changed a little bit more after the election. I mean, when I look back on it, I don’t remember being so scared. But lately, just the the number of people. I mean, some guy recently just started to kill me after show because I think he’s PTSD, from being at war. And I had to explain to him like, he couldn’t take that out on me. But he was in such a rage. I mean, you could see his eyes were bulging out of his face.
Tissa Hami 34:59
Oh, no, gosh, sorry to hear that. That is Wow, that is crazy.
Shereen Kassam 35:03
But yeah, I guess that’s also Florida. So
Tissa Hami 35:05
we hear a lot of stories from Florida. We don’t always understand Florida.
Shereen Kassam 35:11
I don’t get it either. I’m gonna have to really write a book and do some psychology. Please explain Florida to us. When I figure it out. I will. So you you mentioned you were doing speaking engagements to and I’m assuming these were around being Muslim? Did you have to go and like learn about Islam to become scholarly? Or was it just more like educating people about your lifestyle and your day to day.
Tissa Hami 35:35
So these were, when I did a speaking engagement, it was always there was always a performance first, and then I shifted to a speaking engagement. So they had seen me perform. And it was mainly for college campuses. And so it was more about like the, the journey I had taken to comedy, the lessons learned from the road, giving them tips as they thought ahead to their own careers. So talk was still more in terms of personal storytelling and stories from the road as opposed to some scholarly lecture on Islam.
Shereen Kassam 36:10
What were some of the challenges you face? Like? What were some of the stories from the road that you told them?
Tissa Hami 36:15
Well, some of the ones I shared with you.
And I would also, I mean, I would try to share good ones, like one show that I was scared about in advance was one I did in rural Kansas. And it was a really small town, Concordia, Kansas, and there’s a community college out there. I think it’s called St. Cloud Community College. And it’s it’s the nearest airport was Wichita, and that was a three hour drive away. So you were just driving past fields for three hours to get to this campus. And the town was I think, something like 5000 people. And I was told that it was like something like 99% white we you know, again, I heard we’ve never seen a Muslim before. And another thing I learned about the town, because I looked it up was that in World War Two, I hope I’m remembering this right during World War Two, there had been a German prisoner of war camp in this town. And once World War Two ended, some of those German soldiers stayed and settled in the town, which means it was settled in part by Nazis. So I every piece of information I was learning about this town just made me more and more scared for the show. And then, on top of that, I it was my actually was actually I had just moved to San Francisco. Within my first week, I was traveling for this show. And the PBS camera crew was coming with me for the documentary. And I just thought I need to be good, and I’m super scared. But in this small town, they actually have a beautiful old theater. Because they used to be on like the rail, the railroad. And so they had a beautiful city theater in this town. And the theater was pretty full that night, and a show went great. And I got a standing ovation from rural Kansas. That’s awesome. That is Yeah, so I tried to share good stories too. And I again, I’m I’m missing details now that I remembered more back then. But it was really a like a fun show. And for me, like a highlight. And I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of shows. But I still remember that one. And I remember the theater and the town and and even the conversations after the shows which started to become my favorite part of the show was the conversations I would have with people from the audience after the show.
Shereen Kassam 38:40
Yeah, sometimes those are the best because you you can tell one on one, you’re helping change perspectives.
Tissa Hami 38:45
Shereen Kassam 38:47
And they’re like, you’re my first Muslim friend. Can we take a picture? So I can tag it on Facebook and say I met a Muslim?
Tissa Hami 38:53
Shereen Kassam 38:55
So I know, you mentioned Indiana, what happened in Indiana, but how did other Muslims react when they would come watch you?
Tissa Hami 39:04
I would say there was a range.
They tended to be the biggest supporters and the biggest opponents. And I think when I started again, thinking back to 2002, I sort of thought the the people who would really oppose me were your run of the mill bigots and people who hated all Muslims and thought we were all terrorists and whatever. And it actually turned out to be other Muslims. Who were the biggest opponents.
Shereen Kassam 39:32
Because thought you were too liberal?
Tissa Hami 39:35
Yeah, and that I shouldn’t be doing this. The hate mail I got from Muslim men was epic.
And I got I got fan mail, too. But yeah, I mean, the best and worst reactions were from other Muslims.
Shereen Kassam 39:53
Well, nothing’s changed there. So you’ll be proud to say I’m carrying that torch. Yeah, you taught me well, Tissa. Excellent. So now, I mean, when people find out, you’re a comedian, and whenever people find out, someone’s a comedian. They think it’s such a glamorous life, and you’re on stage, and you’re making people laugh. And like, that’s all there is to it. What are some of the other challenges you faced? as a comedian?
Tissa Hami 40:20
Oh, so many. The money?
Shereen Kassam 40:25
Oh, he doesn’t pay you? Well, I’m just joking.
Tissa Hami 40:26
No, really. So I mean, I think for considering that, you know, I would travel and be on stage for an hour, I probably made more in an hour than I’ll ever make, again, unless I really hit it big with some other thing. So the pay when I got paid was fantastic. But it could be once a week, it could be once a month, it could be less. So I the unpredictability of it, the lack of stability of it, that was all tough. The travel was really hard. And people think it’s this fun, glamorous career, and it is good to be on stage and connect with the audience. But it’s also a very solitary life. You’re performing, you know, you’re writing material by yourself traveling to shows by yourself, you’re on stage by yourself. So that that was a challenge of it, too. I sort of missed collaboration. I missed having colleagues. So there’s a lot that’s tough about it. But I think I think for me the lack of predictability and the travel were probably the hardest.
Shereen Kassam 41:31
So then after now we’re at kind of we’ve gone through your journey of being a comedian, what happened? What was that deciding factor? Because then you stopped doing comedy? Yeah. What was that deciding factor that was there an incident that happened? Or was it just exhaustion? What happened there?
Tissa Hami 41:48
Yeah, I it wasn’t really one incident, I stopped performing in early 2015. And I think, for a number of years I had had, after I was full time for five years, I sort of after that for a few years was one foot in one foot out. And there was a point you reach or I reached where I realized I wasn’t going to get my own TV show. I wasn’t going to be Ellen, I wasn’t going to be Seinfeld. And that was okay. You know, you can still have a pretty good career and not get to that point. But I thought I realized I could keep doing this, I could keep traveling to the central time zone and doing shows at all these schools. But for one thing, I felt like I had aged out of the lifestyle, a little bit of being out of clubs, a lot of that level of travel. So I just felt and I was starting to be a fair amount older than the students in the audience. And that just felt like not quite, I don’t know, it just felt different than when I had started out. And I just wanted more stability in my life and more predictability in terms of a paycheck and health insurance and less travel. So I think all of that just kind of contributed.
Shereen Kassam 43:08
So how long have you been out three years now? Right?
Tissa Hami 43:11
I’ve been out three years.
Shereen Kassam 43:12
Do you miss it?
Tissa Hami 43:14
I miss having the platform. I miss expressing my ideas. My point of view. I think, especially with the current administration, there’s just a lot to say, especially from the viewpoint of a minority, a Muslim, a woman, an immigrant, etc. I think there’s so much to say that I miss having the voice and the platform. I do not miss the lifestyle.
Shereen Kassam 43:45
So do you ever just get on stage locally?
Tissa Hami 43:49
No, I decided to make a clean break.
Shereen Kassam 43:51
Oh, wow. Yeah. So do you have any other outlets that you now utilize to get across your point of view?
Tissa Hami 43:58
None. I have no opinions anymore.
Shereen Kassam 44:03
You haven’t taken to Twitter?
Tissa Hami 44:06
Yeah, I you know, I love Twitter, but I’m not super into it. And now you know, everyone’s just always getting into Twitter fights. And I’m like, you know, what I don’t need in my life is Twitter fights.
So now do you? are you are you big on like Twitter and political opinions and all that?
Shereen Kassam 44:23
will go on Twitter and read political opinions. I myself do not make political opinions because I do have my full time job. And I’m still not sure what is appropriate and what is not appropriate.
Tissa Hami 44:34
Right. Okay. So yeah, that’s a great point to Yeah, when you have an employer. I mean, one of the things I loved about comedy, especially being full time in it was I really only had to answer to myself. I mean, there wasn’t this employer I had to worry about and whatever it was just like me out there. And I was the sole and really at a certain point, you’re running your own business. And it’s a small one person business, but I was running my own business. One thing I loved about that was being the sole decision maker. And I say that having worked at big organizations in my past, where there were layers and layers for any decision, and any person could knock it down. And I was like, being a sole decision maker really makes things much more efficient. Yeah.
Shereen Kassam 45:20
No, I mean, I’m sure it was so much more relaxing when you were a one person show. And you could say what you wanted and not have repercussions of someone ever saw it on the internet.
Tissa Hami 45:32
Right? And when I started Oh, gosh, can you believe it? There wasn’t YouTube. And there wasn’t Facebook? Well, you know that we just didn’t have the same outlets that we have now. So yeah, I mean, no one had to worry about that stuff. Because we just didn’t have it. Now. There’s so much access. And yeah, you you want to be vocal and outspoken and all those things that comedians are, but yeah, you got to watch it for your day job and all of that.
Shereen Kassam 45:59
You You have no idea who’s following you either. It’s like when I make a comment about work sometimes and someone will comment back. I’m like, Oh, my God, I didn’t even know you followed me.
Tissa Hami 46:09
Yeah, super awkward.
Shereen Kassam 46:10
Like I wasn’t talking about you.
Tissa Hami 46:13
Not you, I meant that worker when I wrote your name as my co worker, on Twitter
Shereen Kassam 46:20
So like looking back now at your life as a comedian, and where you went and what you did? I mean, again, still, I still think you were a household name. And if you don’t think that
how do you feel like your creative journey shaped you?
Tissa Hami 46:37
There are times that I am really glad I did it. And given my current, you know, employment situation, there are times I really regret ever having done it.
So I toggle between the two.
I think mostly I’m really grateful for the experience. It’s something I never thought I would do. And so to have that opportunity to speak to people to speak to audiences directly. And to give them a stories that they likely hadn’t heard before. I mean, what a fantastic opportunity that was, at the same time. It did in terms of not having sort of made it in terms of income, and you know, not having a career like Ellen or whoever. And having to go back to the world of day jobs. It really set me back. And when you so No, go ahead, go ahead.
Oh, I just say it really set me back once I tried to go back into day jobs. So I have my moments where I go, where would I have been if I had never done this comedy thing?
Shereen Kassam 47:46
When you say set you back in terms of day job? Is it? Do you mean you’re not as far in your career as you’d hoped? Or is it hard to go back into the workforce because people think you’re not serious about working?
Tissa Hami 47:57
Both! One thing I’ve noticed is, so I’m actually looking for a job right now. And people don’t really understand comedy or the as much as I try to sell the transferable skill set. And look, I’ve done all this stuff. And I got on stage and I did build this career. And Shereen says I became a household name. And and I think people just still think that it’s like comedians, or just people who are talking about their body parts at the chuckle hut. They don’t think about you running your own business and doing the the finance and the outreach and the media and the marketing and everything else that we do to make the whole thing run. They just think of you know, you know, your little jokes at the chuckle hut. So I think I wish people understood careers in the arts and just how much it takes a little bit more to know that even if it’s your desk job that you’re looking for someone for an artist with that background still brings a lot to the table. That’s true.
Shereen Kassam 49:03
Yeah, I mean, some people like you said, Yeah, people still think it’s, you’re still up there talking about your genitalia and not being an activist.
Tissa Hami 49:12
Shereen Kassam 49:15
So before we go into the lightning round, last question for you, what advice would you have for creatives on their journey?
Tissa Hami 49:26
I would say it’s going to be tough. They’re going to be ups and downs. If you love it, do it.
They’re going to be moments when you hate it. That doesn’t mean you give up
and try. And you may have a great career. If not you had a life experience that maybe you knew you wouldn’t have. But know that there will be ups and downs. It’s not going to be a linear line that just goes up.
Shereen Kassam 49:56
Yeah, I think we forget that as creative sometimes.
Yeah, there’s there will be setbacks, but you just gotta push through.
Tissa Hami 50:06
Yeah, and the timelines can be a lot longer than you think. Like, I remember early on hearing, oh, it takes 10 years to become a really good comedian. I was like 10 years. Oh, you know, but it can take a long time to get really good at your craft.
Shereen Kassam 50:22
Well, it seems like you found your voice pretty quickly.
Tissa Hami 50:27
I think I had that. And I mean, I was 29 when I started comedy. So I wasn’t like super young. So that means so when I said I came about it from an activist, I was always that person. So it was just about translating that
Shereen Kassam 50:43
Okay, so even before you started comedy, you were always very outspoken about your religion and culture?
Tissa Hami 50:50
Um, I don’t know about religion, I would say I grew up in like a more moderate Muslim family. But yeah, about being an immigrant and being Iranian and thought, whole life experience. I yeah, I’m a quiet person. So it’s not like I was, you know, shouting in the streets and whatever. But I had definitely given it a lot of thought, as an introvert. I had thought about it a lot. So I think once I got to the stage, I knew myself and I knew my stories. Awesome.
Shereen Kassam 51:18
Well, thank you so much. So we’re just going to jump into the lightning round lightning round, I’m going to ask you five questions, rapid fire and just answer whatever comes to your mind first.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Tissa Hami 51:32
I don’t know. I, I think about I would say since I’m sort of in job search mode, that when you think about what you want to do, and where you want to work, think about not just what the job is, but who is going to be there and who that’s going to attract
that that might have saved me some time on Wall Street.
If I thought about who would be there.
Shereen Kassam 51:56
And when you say who would be there? Do you mean the people you mean the people you’re spending time with?
Tissa Hami 52:00
Yeah, all day every day. You’re spending time with them.
Shereen Kassam 52:04
Yeah, Wall Street. Interesting.
Tissa Hami 52:06
Yeah, that’s one word for it.
Shereen Kassam 52:08
Would you work on Wall Street?
Tissa Hami 52:10
Oh, are you ready?
Yes. So I worked at a law firm called Sullivan and Cromwell. Well, which I don’t know if you know, but people in the law firm world will know that name. And then in banking, I worked at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
Shereen Kassam 52:24
Okay, I worked at JP Morgan too
Tissa Hami 52:27
Shereen Kassam 52:29
I didn’t I didn’t last very long. I kind of was like, Yeah, I want to go home now. I’m tired. And I never want to come back
Tissa Hami 52:36
That’s how I felt to. And also, I don’t know your experience. But looking up the ladder. I was like, no one here looks like me looking up the ladder. And I mean, that’s the seat here. I just will not.
Shereen Kassam 52:47
That’s like every career I’ve been in.
Tissa Hami 52:50
but I would say especially Wall Street. I was like, you know, I? I hesitate a little bit to say this, but the only people who looked even remotely like me were on the food services staff or the custodial staff. It was not partners at the law firm or the managing directors at the bank.
Shereen Kassam 53:10
Yeah, it’s funny you say that, because one of the jobs I had in my career, someone thought I was janitorial and asked me for toilet paper. And I was like, No, I actually work in this building. And I’m just using the bathroom.
Tissa Hami 53:22
Yep. Yep. We all have those stories. Yeah.
Shereen Kassam 53:27
Okay, so what is a written or verbal resource you would recommend creatives on their journey to read or listen to?
Tissa Hami 53:35
I would say Anne Lamott book Bird by Bird.
Shereen Kassam 53:39
So what’s that about?
Tissa Hami 53:40
It’s about it’s basically about creative writing, or about writing. And
I think that was a pretty good one, when I thought I would write a book because I got approached about writing a book, I read a few different books on the, you know, writing in the creative process, and her hers was probably one of the better ones.
Shereen Kassam 54:01
So off topic, why did you decide not to write the book?
Tissa Hami 54:06
You know, I, because of comedy, I got approached about a bunch of different things. One of those was writing a book and I got approached a few different times. And it just seemed like such a, it seemed like a tough opportunity to turn down. Because I actually have writer friends who have books that are trying to get published and are trying to get an agent and here I was, it fell into my lap. But if I had to be honest, I really didn’t want to write a book. It just, it’s not really something I wanted.
And so I never finished and I’m okay with that.
Shereen Kassam 54:42
Who inspires you and why?
Tissa Hami 54:45
For me, I think it’s the the the activists, the people who really changed things.
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, even sort of the celebrity ones like Oprah Princess Diana,
the people who really use their voice in a way to make positive change
Shereen Kassam 55:12
what’s a habit that’s helped you on your journey?
Tissa Hami 55:16
I thought these were going to be easy Shereen
I think I just have that immigrant discipline still I’m still that like Ivy League grad go get it done. So I would say discipline and always having the drive.
Shereen Kassam 55:35
What do you want your legacy to be?
Tissa Hami 55:40
Hopefully I made people think as well as laugh
Shereen Kassam 55:44
Yes, I think you accomplish that. Thank you. Tissa if people wanted to find you online or email you How could they do that?
Tissa Hami 55:52
So I I don’t have a website anymore. I used to have TissaHami.com which then got bought by a Russian bot I think
Shereen Kassam 55:59
it’s like …
Tissa Hami 56:01
…skincare. So if you would like to go to buy skincare products, it helps me. Not at all, but go ahead. But if you want to find me I am on the facebook. facebook.com/TissaHami. I am on Twitter, which I don’t tweet, but you can follow me there. That’s about it. I’m not on Instagram, Snapchat, all that stuff.
Shereen Kassam 56:26
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. This was awesome!
Tissa Hami 56:29
Thanks Shereen, you were great. This was fun.
Shereen Kassam 56:33
Thank you. I try to be great. I work on that daily.
Tissa Hami 56:37
Shereen Kassam 56:39
Tissa Hami now I diversity and inclusion consultant and trainer. She works with corporate clients on creative ideas to advance diversity and inclusion in their organizations, including training programs that feature interactive theatre, stand up comedy and storytelling. She regularly speaks and performs at diversity and inclusion conferences nationwide. This is such an amazing story of how Tisa was able to pivot her creative passion and combine her passion for comedy and activism. And with that, I say goodbye until September. Now go flex your creative muscle and keep winning.
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