Tefi Pessoa’s Immigrant Parents Didn’t Understand Her Career — But It Paid Off

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Tefi Pessoa’s Immigrant Parents Didn’t Understand Her Career — But It Paid Off


Tefi Pessoa wants to get back to basics by becoming a clown. 

“I read a long time ago that Pablo Picasso, it took him his whole life to learn how to draw like a kid again,” Pessoa tells Refinery29 Somos over the phone. It’s early fall in the middle of fashion month, an especially busy time for the 33-year-old social media star. 

After her best friend mentioned she wanted to take clown courses, Pessoa jumped at the opportunity to join in on the fun. “I was like, I really want to be silly,” she says. “And I want to be silly in a challenging way where I’m not doing it for views or analytics. I’m doing it for eight other people in a room with a teacher.”

You might know Pessoa for producing content that mixes the aspirational and the relatable — whether she’s chronicling vintage shopping in Paris or not-so-subtly throwing shade at Bad Bunny. She loves to make people laugh and it shows: Her unique style of approachable humor has garnered her 1.7 million TikTok followers and counting. 

Going to clown school, then, just kinda makes sense. 

“There’s a reason why in history, clowns were people of comic relief because they were in a sense mirrors,” Pessoa explains. “I feel that so much with my work in social media — because people do see me as this kind of mirror.” 

“There’s a reason why in history, clowns were people of comic relief because they were in a sense mirrors. I feel that so much with my work in social media — because people do see me as this kind of mirror.”

Tefi Pessoa

Like many others, the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 caused Pessoa to pivot. At the time, she hosted a pop culture YouTube project. Her first day of work was July 22, 2019, which was coincidentally her 29th birthday. The show went live in October of that year. But by March 13, 2020, she was out of a job as the world went into lockdown. 

“It kind of felt like God was laughing in my face,” Pessoa shares. “We had garnered like 100,000 subscribers in four months. So I wanted to make sure that the community I had garnered during this time didn’t forget about me.” 

She took the material she had been developing for the YouTube show over to TikTok. Her videos were mostly “giving advice and doing little things and making random videos.” Then one fateful day in June 2021, she got a comment that, as she puts it, changed her life. Someone had asked: Is it true that Brad Pitt was married to someone before Angelina Jolie?

“And all the skin melted off my body,” Pessoa says. “Then I did a series. The first series I ever did was in June 2021 of Angelina Jolie.” 

At that point, she had approximately 600,000 followers. By the first week of August 2021, she’d hit one million. She had undoubtedly found her formula for viral success: mixing pop culture history with anecdotes and lessons from her own life. 

“I was able to humanize people I had grown up watching in a way where I could put myself in the narrative, too,” she explains. “That was when I started to play around with storytelling. It was very healing for me even.”

“I was able to humanize people I had grown up watching in a way where I could put myself in the narrative, too.”

PESSOA

Much of her pop culture content focuses on celebrities during the 2000s, a formative era for Pessoa. During that time, she dropped out of college multiple times — “I love an orientation,” she quips — and landed her first big job in fashion. She hopped between various marketing and production gigs, but for a while, nothing was quite sticking in the ways she’d hoped. 

“I was a mess. I was very lost,” she says. “There’s something about being born as a millennial [and] because I don’t have a college degree, the idea is everyone is doing me a favor.”

As the oldest of three siblings, Pessoa’s path as a wandering creative has caused some concern among her Colombian and Brazilian family members. “I think they were worried about me for a very long time,” she says. 

Her mom never imagined her eldest daughter would make a career out of being a performer and content creator. Initially, Pessoa’s feelings were hurt. But she began to see it from her immigrant mom’s perspective, where the emphasis is often on safety, security, and stability. 

“I was seeing it from an American lens where I can be anything I want to be,” she says. “And my mom’s lens was, ‘I just want you to be okay.’ But I’m coming into a place in my career where now my parents are proud of me, so now what the fuck do I do?”

“I was seeing it from an American lens where I can be anything I want to be. And my mom’s lens was, ‘I just want you to be okay.’ But I’m coming into a place in my career where now my parents are proud of me, so now what the fuck do I do?”

TEFI PESSOA

Enter clown school, otherwise known as the Brooklyn Comedy Collective. The program is 10 courses culminating in a final show. Students cannot use speech during scenes, one aspect that fascinates Pessoa. “It’s all gibberish and noises and body language,” she says. “If something doesn’t get a laugh, how do you use your body and your expression?”

Beyond expanding her comedic repertoire, Pessoa will begin filming the second season of her original web series This Is My Super Bowl on YouTube. The premise is her breaking down huge pop culture events with fellow creators and influencers. 

She funds and writes the series herself. Pessoa, who supported the SAG strike, would ultimately like to work on more scripted and non-scripted shows in the future.

“There are a bunch of things I want to do,” she says. “I want to bring Latine people of every shade and background to screens and campaigns wherever voices are heard and wherever faces are seen.”

“I want to bring Latine people of every shade and background to screens and campaigns wherever voices are heard and wherever faces are seen.”

TEFI PESSOA

She’s also working on setting up a golf scholarship in tribute to her grandfather, who loved the sport and was an instrumental figure in Pessoa’s life. She comes from “a golfing family,” which is “definitely because of him.” And during a recent visit with a psychic, Pessoa got quite the surprise.

“She said, there’s a man here in a golf cart,” she shares. “And I started bawling. She said, ‘He’s really proud of you, but he doesn’t really understand what you do.’” 

Pessoa laughs, adding: “That makes two of us.”

Mostly, she explains, her work affords her infinite possibilities. She’s creating freely and ready to experiment with new storytelling mediums. She’s challenging her comfort zone with clown school. And in taking herself less seriously, she’s somehow proving just how serious she is.

Now in her 30s, the world feels “more like an oyster” than ever before. She’s grateful that the success she’s experiencing is happening now versus when she was younger. It would have probably been an entirely different phenomenon at an earlier stage of her life. 

“I am in a place where I feel like I can do anything. There are a lot of people who are going to try to tell you who you are and what you should be doing, but at the same time, you got to remember who you are.”

TEFI PESSOA

“I could have [had] this career at 25, and I would still be so concerned about what people thought about me,” she explains. “You know what I mean? The world would still be very much a pistachio shell.”

At this age and in this particular chapter, Pessoa is fully embracing the freedom that comes from not following the status quo and forging one’s path. Trying different careers, failing, pivoting, and being imperfect all along the way has created a strong foundation for Pessoa and her brand of relatability. 

“I am in a place where I feel like I can do anything,” she says. “There are a lot of people who are going to try to tell you who you are and what you should be doing, but at the same time, you got to remember who you are. The rooms that you’re in hold more value than the rooms that you are not in.”

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