Tissa Hami knows something about being hijacked.

Her budding career fell victim to cratering public opinion toward people of Middle Eastern descent in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hami is essentially American, having lived in the United States most of her life. But she was born in Iran to Iranian parents and lived there until she was 5. She grew up in predominantly white, suburban Boston and was on a scholarly path — her father holds a Ph.D. in computer science and her mother is a dentist — until all career options suddenly went sideways.

After earning a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University, she spent a stint in Paris.

“I came back to the United States on Labor Day weekend 2001,” Hami says. “A week-and-a-half later 9/11 happened. Two Ivy League degrees, and I could not get a job.”

She remained unemployed for more than a year. Hami came to realize her career would likely not pan out as she’d dreamt.

“I thought maybe it’s time to take a chance, a risk to do something I’d never do,” she says. “I was really motivated to find a way to speak up and speak out after 9/11.”

Hami had never given comedy any serious thought, but her friends often told her she should try stand-up. So her platform would be the stage.

“To me, that was outside the bounds of what a good little Iranian girl from a good little Iranian family would do,” she says. “They expected me to have a serious profession, and I expected it, too.”

But Hami saw and heard the ugly stereotypes of her people swelling across the land, and she wanted to poke a hole in them. Comedy can be a sharp tack. (More)


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