https://www.thestar.com/life/together/people/2022/04/03/why-salma-hindy-left-a-career-in-biomedical-engineering-to-pursue-standup-comedy.html

“Don’t quit your day job” is something comedians hear all the time.

But Salma Hindy, who worked as a biomedical engineer, did just that – and she’s now living her standup dream.

The Egyptian Canadian Hindy has had a banner March: releasing her debut comedy album “Born on 9/11” (her actual birthday) as well as opening for Chelsea Handler on the Canadian dates of her Vaccinated and Horny Tour. But for the 30-year-old, Mississauga-born Hindy, who has a masters in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto, there was a time when even attempting standup was inconceivable. “I wouldn’t wish that upon my enemy!” she remembers thinking, “Why would I do that? That’s terrifying.”

It was Zarqa Nawaz, creator of the hit sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” who suggested Hindy try standup, after watching her and her sister share stories at a dinner party. After months of hesitation, on Nov. 4, 2016, Hindy performed for a crowd of 60 at the now-shuttered Club 120 — a surprise, since she and a friend had scouted the place on a much quieter night. “I thought it was only going to be three people the night we went,” Hindy says, but the audience’s laughter encouraged Hindy to take a class at Second City.

She quickly found her way onto the local comedy circuit, honing her act about growing up in a strict Muslim household (“It’s actually my second time at Yuk Yuk’s, and also my second time allowed being outside my house past 10 p.m.”) and the prejudice she experiences as a Muslim woman (“I was a little late coming because my neighbour confused me for their Uber driver, so I had to follow through with the stereotype and drop them off. I’m just kidding, my husband doesn’t let me drive!”) at such venues as Comedy Bar, the Corner Comedy Club and Tallboys, where Hindy held a viewing party when her episode of CTV’s “Roast Battle Canada” aired. “A lot of us don’t have cable,” she says with a laugh.

When the pandemic brought an abrupt halt to live shows, Hindy, who at the time had been working at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, booked several TV gigs, including CBC Gem’s “The New Wave of Standup” and CTV’s “The Stand Up Show with Jon Dore.” She also began posting videos on Tik Tok; one, in which she recounted standing up to a pair of antagonistic MAGA-hat-wearing tourists, garnered a million views.

Then she posted a nine-minute video on Instagram @salma.hindy, about dating a man she met on Minder (“Tinder for marriage,” she says) whom she learned was also dating three other women. “It went viral in the Muslim community,” Hindy says, “because every Muslim girl ever was like, ‘Oh my God, this is what we’ve been going through and nobody is brave enough to talk about it,’ because dating is still really taboo.” Numerous devout Muslim fans later unfollowed her after she posted a video about choosing to no longer wear a hijab with the caption “Here’s me sharing a recent personal decision I’ve made, on stage tonight, in an attempt for it to be less scary.”

Hindy, who in 2019 gave an inspirational TEDx talk called “Why People Pleasing Is Hurting You,” also started sharing things she learned in therapy, “which also was very new to the Muslim community,” she says, and resonated greatly with her social media audience.

Then, almost five years to the day that she first stepped on stage, Hindy announced on Twitter that she had left her engineering job, a decision she followed with a move to Brooklyn, New York. “It’s so weird. In the moment it’s the biggest decision ever. And then after the fact, two minutes later, I can’t even believe that (quitting) was a question,” Hindy says. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of sadness. There’s a lot of darkness, a lot of regular emotions that human beings have. But every day, I say, ‘This is amazing, you get to actually work on what you love.’”

Hindy celebrated with three live shows at Comedy Bar, where she recorded her album. “It was so funny, though,” she says, “because it was mostly Muslims, (and) Muslims don’t drink, and I’m sure Comedy Bar was like, ‘We’re not pulling in the same bar numbers on Friday and Saturday nights as we’re used to.’ Except for the last show – it was all my Muslim misfit friends. They all were drinking and that was the best recording. That was the one we used, because they’re the loudest.”

The week before the album’s release, Hindy celebrated another major career win, going on the road with Chelsea Handler. “As someone who was taught to shrink themselves growing up, it was healing to see Chelsea embody and celebrate the opposite of that in herself and in me,” Hindy shared on Instagram. “Such a gift to be able to perform to 3000+ audience theatres every night in the most beautiful venues across the country.”

With a packed schedule, including TV writing gigs, Hindy has found that betting on herself has been worth the risk, and in a full-circle moment, Nawaz approached Hindy when she decided to pursue standup herself. “She was like, ‘Hello, I’ve come to you for advice,’” Hindy says with a laugh. “It was so funny.”