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Ramya Ramamoorthy

How a Shy Kid Became a Sold-Out Stand-Up Comedian

Growing up, James Mullinger was the quiet kid in class who was intimidated to speak to the other kids and did not have many friends. He lacked interest in sports and academics, so he spent his free time watching comedy videos. He said, “I spent years watching these videos kind of fascinated by the idea that these people were able to walk onto a stage in front of thousands of people and make it look like the most natural thing in the world and make all of these people laugh.” Initially, he did not know that his obsession with stand-up comedy would shape his career path. He said, “For the 5, 10, 15 years that I was obsessed with stand up, I definitely didn’t think that it was something that I would ever be able to do once, let alone end up doing thousands of times.” Mullinger’s fascination with the craft led to his career as a stand-up comedian. 

Prior to becoming a stand-up comedian, Mullinger worked at GQ Magazine in London. Although that looked great on paper, his dream was to do stand-up comedy. He got the urge to finally pursue his passion when he visited his girlfriend (now wife) in Canada. He went to a restaurant with her and her family where he watched a bunch of youth doing a stand-up comedy performance. He looked at them and thought, “Wow, whatever they go through during the day, whatever their home lives are like, whether they have jobs they hate, or they’re being picked on like I was, whatever it was, at night, they were the stars of the stage. To me, that was better than being a headline in Vegas. That was it — they were living the dream.” 

By this time, Mullinger was very frustrated with himself because he knew that he was not actually trying to achieve his dream. He explained, “Failing when you’re trying at something is frustrating, but it is depressing when you’re not even trying. It is like you are the kind of person who complains that they don’t win the lottery but then doesn’t buy a lottery ticket. Similarly, I was hating myself due to my lack of success, but I wasn’t trying to do the thing.” Mullinger knew he would hate himself if he never tried to live his dream, so he committed to trying stand-up comedy for the first time that year in 2005. To this day, Mullinger’s outlook on life is, “If you are doing the thing you love, it doesn’t matter in what capacity you’re doing it. You are living the dream.” 

Mullinger believes the most rewarding aspect of being a stand-up comedian is the ability to make people laugh after they have had a tough week, month, or year. He also finds enjoyment in meeting people after the show. There is a feeling of connection with his fans since they have already shared a laugh and they have the same sense of humor. However, standing in front of an audience and making people laugh has its challenges. Mullinger said, “In order to be good at the job, you have to take the job very seriously. It’s kind of interesting when I’m on stage and I’m pretending like this is the most natural thing in the world and it’s all fun and games, whereas of course, I’m racking my brains going through the kind of Rolodex in my head of jokes and trying to read the audience. It’s interesting to have a job where I have to make it look like it’s easy, but it’s actually the opposite of easy.” Mullinger also described how he feels polar opposite emotions about his career in comedy, “One emotion is that I’m consistently amazed I have any success at all and that I have any career at all. And I’m so grateful and just surprised that I’m even able to do this. But sometimes, within seconds of that, I have feelings of anger and depression that I’m not more successful and haven’t achieved more.”

Since Mullinger began his career in stand-up comedy, he has had sold-out shows across the country with appearances on CBC’s “The Debaters”, movies, TV shows, festivals, awards, and stand-up specials. Mullinger’s success in stand-up comedy has led to two stand-up specials, namely “Anything is Possible” and “Almost Canadian”, both of which are streaming on Fearless. When Mullinger and his wife moved from London to Saint John, he did gigs everywhere from high schools to vineyards. A company called Hemmings House then reached out to him and said that CBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wanted to do a documentary about Saint John from Mullinger’s perspective. With an ambitious mindset, Mullinger decided that he was going to challenge himself to sell out an entire arena for this documentary. This challenge led to the title of the show — “Anything is Possible”. Through self-belief and hard work, Mullinger managed to sell out the entire arena beating sales records of comedians like Jerry Seinfeld. Two years later, Mullinger performed in the same arena, which led to the documentary “Almost Canadian”. Although his jokes were focused on Saint John, he tried to make them relatable to anyone no matter where they came from. “Almost Canadian” shot straight to #1 on the iTunes charts and was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Taped Live Performance. 

Mullinger’s advice to aspiring stand-up comedians is the same tip he received when he started out — gig as much as possible. Stand-up comedy differs from other artistic fields in the sense that one has to practice in front of an audience in order to improve. Additionally, Mullinger encourages aspiring comedians to never give up. He talked about his own story of persistence, “I carried on going way beyond the point that most people would have given up. Most stand-ups start to get good around the three-year mark. I would say I was still pretty terrible at that point. Even after five years, I was the guy turning up to open mic nights, and people were saying, ‘Oh, is he still trying?’” He experienced many nights when he headed home feeling depressed about being booed off the stage. Mullinger further said, “That’s why in five or ten years, you’ll never hear me complain about life on the road or the grind of it because the grind never gets to me. The simple fact that I’m able to do this ridiculous job for a living is really the greatest dream and proof ultimately that anything is possible.”

Watch both of James Mullinger’s stand-up comedy specials on the Fearless app.

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Dafina Roberts Dishes About the Importance of Intersectionality

Growing up in New York City, Dafina Roberts did not see many shows that reflected New Yorkers living their fullest lives, especially not from the perspective of characters who had intersectional identities. Roberts took it upon herself to make a series that reflected the life that she and her friends had growing up in the city. Not only did she direct the series, but she also did the editing, color, and sound for the show. She was also a Kickstarter Creator-in-Residence, which is what helped her and the team to complete the show. The title of the show was inspired by the idea of finding joy in a city that can be so serious and harsh sometimes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with New York slang, “Giving Me Life” means anything that brings one joy while the term “deadass” means something that is serious. The series was well-received by its audience in New York and became the recipient of the AT&T Audience Award for Best Episodic at the Frameline Film Festival, which is the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Roberts specializes in creating content for Gen Y and Gen Z. She chooses to create content for a younger audience because she loves coming of age stories. She admires those stories because they show how we believe one thing when we are “young and innocent”, but then those ideas get challenged as we grow up. It is a universal struggle that we all face at one point in our lives and Roberts loves how the situations these characters are put in can be relatable to so many of us. To her, coming of age stories are about finding joy within the difficulty of realizing that life is more challenging than we anticipated. Roberts said, “The irony of life is the thing that I think the best stories have — it’s not all good and it’s not all bad, and you do lose some stuff along the way. But there are other things to gain and there’s a beauty in that.”

The series “Giving Me Life: In the Land of the Deadass” is a coming-of-age story about a group of young Black and Latinx characters who are navigating through the changes in their lives. Roberts included characters who have intersectional identities as that is an important aspect to many people who live in New York City. For example, the character Travis is gay, but he is also Christian. While some people may argue that one cannot be gay and Christian, the series shows that people can and do have intersectional identities. Roberts explained, “To not recognize that [intersectionality] and to always make it seem like people have to slice up their identity in order to exist doesn’t serve as our community and doesn’t give us an opportunity to talk about the changes and the opportunities and the real things that we’re doing to make our lives whole.” The character Travis does not feel guilty for being both gay and Christian because Roberts didn’t want to make another movie about someone feeling guilty for their identity. When asked why intersectionality is significant, Roberts explained, “I think intersectionality is important, because that’s how we live our lives and trying to section us off just doesn’t feel real.” People demand intersectional characters and content because they want to see characters and stories that reflect their own experiences.

One unique aspect of the show is that every episode focuses on a particular character. Roberts further talked about why she made this artistic choice, “I really just think that people want to hear stories that are not centralized on a particular perspective because I think a lot of people feel like that’s maybe what got us into the place we are with this country. There’s been an idea that there is only one way to look at history, there’s only one way for us to understand our identity, and that one way is the right way. And the reality is that most young Americans don’t believe that anymore. It’s not to say that you don’t have a right to see the world the way you see it. But you don’t have the right to say that we all have to see it the same way.” She continued, “I feel this is the kind of storytelling that people want to hear. And it gives us all an opportunity to see how in many ways, we maybe feel like we’re the stars of our own story and someone else might be like a supporting character, but in the end, we’re all in it together.”

Through her series “Giving Me Life: In the Land of the Deadass”, Roberts highlights the intersectional identities of various characters through a coming of age story. The show is relatable as we all go through the struggles of growing up and facing reality for what it is. As a result of every episode focusing on one person, we begin to think of ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories who are experiencing life together.

Watch Giving Me Life now on the Fearless app.

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How this LGBTQ Classic was Made in Just 12 Days

With a tiny crew, a low budget and 12 days to film, JC Calciano directed his first film Is It Just Me?. Growing up, he had not seen many LGBTQ films that had a happy ending, so he wanted to write a positive community story. “I didn’t want to make a movie that was about being gay; I wanted to make a movie about gay men who fall in love,” said Calciano. The story follows a young man who is determined to find true love, yet doesn’t believe that he is worthy of it. When he matches with a too-good-to-be-true man online, he finds hope, but quickly realizes that he is using his roommate’s account. The story follows the journey of not only his path to falling in love with another man, but also his path to loving himself.

As a first-time director/writer, Calciano faced a couple of challenges while filming. He struggled with his own insecurities of whether he could make the film. Till this day, he battles insecurities about the movies that he makes. However, he still creates films that he would personally want to see and hopes that the audience enjoys as well. Another challenge was having enough money to make the film. He and his two friends just chipped in some money and tried to make the best film that they could on a low budget. In an effort to save money, the film was entirely shot in Calciano’s apartment, the sound guy’s apartment and the art director’s apartment, all located in West Hollywood, Los Angeles.

In addition to his insecurities and low budget, another obstacle Calciano faced was the casting process. Although he wanted to feature LGBTQ actors, he quickly realized that it is neither legal nor fair to ask an actor’s sexuality. His alternative approach was to find the best actors that he could. Once he found a couple of actors who he liked through the audition process, he started pairing them together. He explained, “The thing about an actor is that it’s not only being a great actor, but you also have to have chemistry with your co-stars.” He would mix and match the various characters to see if they worked well together. He said, “So it’s really just a matter of me doing what they call “chemistry reads” and pairing up actors until I feel like I’ve got the perfect cast that all are what was in my head when I wrote the script.” 

Calciano explained that with the help of the actors’ talent, they were able to finish filming in just 12 days. He said that the key to making a film quickly is hiring the right actors for the role. Some of the actors in this film include Nicholas Downs, David Loren, Adam Huss, Bruce Gray and Michelle Laurent. Calciano stated, “If I was going to take credit for anything, I would take credit for being smart enough to hire great actors.” Bruce Gray, who played the character of Ernie, told Calciano that out of all the movies that he has been a part of, Is It Just Me? was his favorite.

Despite the film being released in 2010, it is still popular to this day. Calciano explained why the movie is still well-known today, “I think that if you use a timeless theme and tell a story that’s honest, no matter how old the movie is, people will enjoy it and be able to relate to it and will enjoy it for what it is. And I think that the thing about Is It Just Me? is that it’s just an honest, real, lovely story about two men who find each other and also about the hero who accepts himself and loves himself. Then when he heals, he’s able to find love and that’s really what I wanted to do. I think that it’s as relevant as it is now as it was 100 years ago. I think that these are just timeless stories that stand the test of time.” 

One of the techniques that Calciano used to engage and surprise the audience was to lead with people’s perceptions of the characters and then show who these characters truly are. He further explained, “For example, when they see the go-go boy, they assume that he’s just a vapid, pretty guy who just has no heart and no depth and no compassion. As the movie progresses, you see that this is a real person and he’s lovely. He cares about his friend and he’s part of the fabric of the community, just like the older gentleman. We all have to look out for each other and we have to care for each other. And when we band together, we are better off and I think that those are things that stand out today as they did 10 years ago.” Lastly, the film did really well because the filmmaking process was just fun and that translated onto the screen. Calciano said, “I’m thrilled that people picked up on the love and the care and the joy that went into making the movie.”

As to what Calciano wants the viewers to take away from the film, “I want the viewers to just know that together, we’re a community and that by helping each other and by leaning on each other, by supporting each other, we make each other better. All of us are slightly broken in our own ways and that’s okay, but together we can help each other and we can find our path, whether it be friendship, whether it be love, whether it be companionship, whether it be success in the business, it’s just really about community. I hope that that’s a message that people take away from it.”

Watch Is It Just Me? Now on the Fearless app.

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Dream Big: Tony Babcock on His Passion for Content Creation

Tony Babcock is the creator of three pieces of content on the Fearless app, namely It’s Complicated, Committed and Extreme Actor. He was also the lead actor in the film Josh. It makes sense to see how involved he has been with Fearless as he has always had an urge to tell stories, even at the age of four. He explained, “I was that little kid with boundless energy and my parents opted to send me to drama classes to use up some of that energy. I started to create my own work around 10 years ago when I realized that I had a lot of stories inside of me needing to come out!” 

His passion for acting began when he saw a theatre production as a child. That performance made him realize that he wanted to perform and sparked the acting bug in him. He looked up to Xavier Dolan, a French-Canadian filmmaker/actor/producer/director. Babcock was inspired by Dolan and his films because of his ability to telll hard-hitting, queer stories. Growing up in the town of Kingston, Babcock had only done theatre. When he moved to Toronto, he started to learn about the film industry and became enamoured with the filmmaking process. He also grew up watching tons of movies with his family and was always curious about how a film was made, which piqued his interest in joining the film industry. 

Babcock decided to get involved with Fearless when he came across an ad for it on social media. He thought it was genius to have a grassroots, independent streaming platform. When he found out that Fearless was accepting applications, he reached out to Matkai Burmaster, the Founder of Fearless, and applied. Once he was accepted, the two of them met and began working together on various projects such as It’s Complicated. Babcock explained, “It’s Complicated was a very personal story for me but it was also a universal story and an unapologetic look at being an LGBTQ teen.” The show was also inspired by the music video to Blue Neighbourhood by the LGBTQ singer Troye Sivan. It’s Complicated was filmed on a tight timeline, the biggest challenge being to shoot a whole year in the life of the characters and having 40+ costume changes. There were also a couple of flashback scenes that they had to keep track of, which was a whole other hurdle. Babcock stated, “Luckily we had a fabulous team that made it all happen.” 

Babcock had always wanted to do a documentary series that was a little “wacky”, which led to the creation of Extreme Actor. When asked what inspired him to create this series, he responded, “The concept was: what lengths would one go to in order to research a part? One major influence for this series was Lisa Ling’s This American Life, in that it was really a show about hearing people’s stories.” The production for this film was extreme indeed as they had managed to film six episodes in four days. Babcock described the filming process, “We changed locations a bunch of times. We were lining up guests and locations on the go. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.”

Watch It’s Complicated, Extreme Actor, Josh, and Committed Now on the Fearless app.

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Kimberly Young Reveals the Most Important Lesson She Has Learned

Kimberly Young is the creator behind the romantic comedy show 2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect. It was inspired by Kimberly Young’s own story of growing up sheltered and not having much experience with guys. After she graduated from college, she explored the dating scene. Due to her lack of experience, she turned to self-help books to help her figure it all out. Young said, “I took what I went through and exaggerated the character flaws and created a whimsical world so the audience could get a glimpse of how and why she was the way she was.” 

Young loved the way that movies made her feel; she loved the hope and optimism it filled her with and she wanted to give that inspiration to others. Young’s story about how she began her career in the film industry proves that she really had to start from the bottom and hustle to get to where she is now. As a woman of color, she did not have connections in the film industry. Young explained, “One is only as strong as their network and if you are from a community that does not have access to certain opportunities it makes it harder to work together to achieve goals. Film is a very collaborative industry, and unfortunately, I am met with more cut-throat competition than peer to peer collaboration.”  

Initially, she was not getting many auditions. One of the biggest challenges for women of color in the industry is that many characters are not created for them. It can be difficult for aspiring actors of color to find the fitting roles, so Young decided to write and produce her own content. To get experience, she created her own short films that cost $0 and she learned a lot from this process. Young claims that the shorts were all bad, but they still exceeded her expectations. Each short helped her to make the next one better. By the time she wrote 2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect, she knew exactly what she needed. She had a small budget but was still able to create the quality she desired.

When crafting the storyline, Young prioritizes the audience. She said, “Movies are emotional rollercoasters. I think very hard as to what ride I want the audience to be on. I look at it as a  healing process. I am the practitioner and the audience is coming to me for treatments. The project is the treatment. I want the audience to rediscover love, to rediscover hope, to rediscover themselves or parts of themselves they forgot. To release things they’ve been holding on to or false world views they’ve been holding — to gain new perspectives on their own lives.” 

It was after all the hard work that Young had put into 2 Self Help Books Away From Being Perfect that she learned her biggest lesson — relationships are key in the entertainment industry. After finishing the project, she did not get the opportunities she was hoping to get. It was at this point that she understood that talent is important, but connections are essential. She explained, “It is your peers who invite you into meetings, who vouch for your work, who advocate you to get development deals, who write about you in blogs, who represent you at agencies, and if your peer group is not present in decision making spaces — those opportunities will be significantly harder to secure. People invest their time and energy in people they trust. They need to feel you are invested in their greater interest. So, they give opportunities, collaborate, and work with others who they feel they can trust to push their personal interest.” The industry is more focused on “clout” and “trust”, so Young has been trying to shift her attention toward building relationships with people in the industry. 

Despite the hard work that goes into networking and filmmaking, Young has persisted because of her passion for film and diversity. She believes that representation and diversity are important because they bring forth healing. She explained, “It validates those who have felt unseen and it educates those who do not venture beyond their comfort zone. If the only representation is the news pushing stereotypes it begins to dehumanize groups of people. Diversity on screen shows that these are people and that we have a lot more in common than you’d think. It also inspires more creativity, and expands thinking capacity.” 

Young encourages people to start where they are. She said, “Don’t compare yourself to others. Use what you got and make it work. Artistry is a process, not a finished product. The more you do, the more you’ll grow beyond what you’d ever imagined for yourself. Also, follow your heart. Too much ambition and strategy can kill truthfulness of art. If you love what you do and are true to your self, the opportunities will come. In the meantime, keep doing you and getting better.” Young also encourages people to remind themselves during difficult times of why they started their journey in the first place. She said, “Love should always be present with you on this journey.” Although Young began her career with $0 budget shorts, cut-throat competition, and limited industry connections, her story demonstrates that if one is not offered opportunities, one has the power to create them for oneself.

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How Tom E. Brown is Normalizing the HIV/AIDS Conversation

Inspired by his own story of coping with HIV/AIDS, Tom E. Brown wrote and directed the film Pushing Dead to share how he formed a comfortable relationship with the illness. He explained, “I have been positive since I was 18 so I wanted to write a little something about my experiences kind of coping. I wanted to share a little something from my own HIV Survival Guide, which is, for me, it was settling into a comfortable relationship with the illness because it’s likely that it will be with me forever. So that was kind of what I set out to do.” He believes that HIV/AIDS is still a taboo topic, even in a city like San Francisco that is known for its progressive ideals. For example, in Brown’s experience, he has noticed that people are still afraid to reveal that part of their identity on dating apps. The film aims to inspire people to have a discussion around HIV/AIDS and to normalize that conversation. The movie started out as a Sundance Lab Project and the readers were impressed because this was the first time they had read an HIV/AIDS-related piece in which the person survived. Brown explained that people’s response to HIV/AIDS has changed over the past couple of years. It started with A Day Without Art but today, many people take PrEP while others have protected sex. The LGBTQ community is a little more accepting of HIV/AIDS, but some people still see it as taboo.

When crafting the story, the first scene that Brown wrote was the one in which Dan gifts Paula the monkey. This was inspired by Brown’s personal experience of receiving odd gifts from friends. Paula’s relationship with the monkey runs parallel to Dan’s relationship with HIV/AIDS in an accelerated manner — both of them are freaked out in the beginning, but then the more they get used to it, the more they are comfortable with it. Similarly, Brown was also freaked out when he found out he had HIV/AIDS at the age of 18, but over the course of time, he became more comfortable with the illness and learned to like who he had become because of the journey.

In terms of making the film, it took about 24 days to shoot with 2 days focused on special effects. The most challenging scene to film was the car scene in San Francisco. Logistically, it was challenging as they were using an old vehicle. The rig they planned to use did not show up, so they had to use an alternative towing rig. Other scenes that were a challenge to film were the poetry slam scenes as they had to do three poems in one day. Brown also had to eliminate his favourite poem because they were very rushed that day and he felt like he could not do the poem justice.

One of the most notable actors in the movie is James Roday, most well known for his role as Shawn in the TV show Psych. When the Casting Director of Pushing Dead sent over Roday’s reel, Brown knew he was the one for the role. He wanted someone who was likable; someone who would just walk on screen and the audience could sympathize with him. Roday was actually surprised by the offer because, at the time, he did not have much experience with dramatic work. A fun fact is that during filming, Roday had shown his kindness to the cast and crew by surprising them with a taco truck one day and as a wrap-up gift, Roday had given Brown a portrait of his dog. 

The film was very well-received and many people connected to the story. It went to about 80 film festivals and there were at least a couple of people at each festival who mentioned that they connected to the movie because of their own struggle with chronic illnesses. Brown described his end goal for viewers, “Ideally, I’d like them to be touched by the movie and have a better understanding of coping with chronic illness.” He further explained, “I think an important part of what I wanted people to get out of it is if they have a chronic illness, think of it less as war and more as a relationship.” Brown hopes that people are able to relate to the movie or at the least, get a good laugh out of it as it was a dramatic comedy. 

Brown was also satisfied that the movie played just as well in a place like Indiana (a less progressive state) as it did in San Francisco at the Castro Theater. He also explained that it was great to attract an audience that may not have known much about the LGBTQ community. He said, “That was one of the nicest things is that perhaps this is the first LGBTQ movie for some people that they’ve ever seen because at film festivals sometimes people don’t even realize what they’re, you know, getting a ticket for. They’ll grab tickets like “Oh, Danny Glover!”. And so that was the case with some of my actors too who had never really knowingly worked with LGBTQ people. I worked with an older actor, and he asked me a lot of questions about it. And so that’s always nice when you feel like you’ve kind of in a teeny tiny way have kind of helped the cause by just exposing somebody to it.” Brown is happy with the response from the movie as the film has helped to normalize the conversation around HIV/AIDS, expose people to LGBTQ characters, and help chronic illness survivors to feel understood.

Watch Pushing Dead Now on the Fearless app.

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Hannah Yohannes On Being a Woman of Color in the Film Industry

Through the film Home Away, Hannah Yohannes brings to screen the story of a young black woman who gets pregnant and turns to a youth shelter where she faces challenges dealing with the other girls and the shelter system. Despite the difficulties of living in a shelter, she learns to make new friends and create a new family.

Hannah Yohannes was inspired by multiple factors to begin her film career — her dad’s passion for film, her love for visual storytelling influenced by Disney movies like The Lion King and the chance to inspire her own children. Through her content, she hopes to educate and empower her children to be creative, use their imagination to share their stories and to see themselves reflected on screen. 

One of the biggest challenges she faces as a woman of color in the industry is proving that she is worthy of film opportunities. She said, “I found what helped me in the long run was believing in myself, my faith and my vision.” She learned to reframe her perspective of rejection and see it as a chance to do something better or an opportunity for self-growth. Yohannes felt inspired to create the film “Home Away” to bring awareness to single parenthood and the challenges faced in the shelter system. She explained, “I was inspired because I felt that if I can showcase what I went through as a single parent, then someone who is in either similar or different circumstances wouldn’t feel alone and that there is hope in this thing called life.”

Yohannes’s film features people of color as the lead characters, which is something rarely seen in Hollywood. Yohannes believes it is important to showcase diversity and representation in film because film has the power to change people’s beliefs and ideas of how they view themselves and the world around them. She stated, “For me, I think it is important to highlight diversity and to create a space of inclusion and empowerment that it is possible to be our best selves in front and behind the scenes.”

Yohannes’s advice to aspiring young women is, “Be fearless with your dreams. Your story, ideas, your unique perspective all together are important and do not require validation from others. Keep an amazing tribe of people who sincerely support you and will give you constructive feedback that will shred your pride and ego but never destroy your heart.”

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