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Photo: Mackenzie Stroh

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The Performer
Hadiyah Robinson
35, Brooklyn

Occupation: Stand-up comedian

What sparks her mettle: Being heard

"I grew up in a family with seven kids, and in a house that loud, you learn to go above and beyond to get attention. I would stand in the middle of the room and scream, pull my shirt over my head, run in a circle, fall on the ground. That's where gutsiness started for me—the desire to be heard. I didn't try stand-up until 2004, when I was working at MTV. A friend was doing a music showcase with an audience of a hundred or so, and everybody was like, 'Get up and tell some jokes, Hadiyah, you so stupid'—which is a compliment for a comedian—so I did. I got onstage and talked about my toothache—I like talking about familiar stuff, things we all know. And I killed! I felt like Eddie Murphy. I knew comedy was where I needed to be. So eventually I went to my boss and quit my job, crying the whole time. I was scared. I'm still scared. I find myself thinking, 'What are you doing? You don't have health insurance. You haven't had cable in two years.' But there are things that keep me believing. Like what my boss said when I told her I was quitting: 'Stop crying. I just want front-row tickets when you do HBO.' Or my mom telling me when I was little that she expected me to make myself known in the world: 'Let them see you,' she used to say. And when I'm onstage, I feel like they do."
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