People We Love: Maysoon Zayid

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When we first heard Maysoon Zayid speak at “Thrive: A Third Metric Live Event” in New York City, we wanted to know more. A few facts:

  • She’s an actress, standup comedian, writer, and co-founder/co-executive producer of the New York Arab American Comedy Festival. Her screenplay, LAW, was chosen for the Sundance Middle Eastern Screenwriters Lab.

    “I’m Palestinian, Muslim, I’m female, I’m disabled, and I live in New Jersey. If you don’t feel better about yourself, maybe you should.”

  • The 2013 honoree of United Cerebral Palsy of NYC’s Women Who Care Awards, Maysoon would gladly do away with all the modifying labels that are frequently applied to her, including “inspiring.” (“I’m Palestinian, Muslim, I’m female, I’m disabled, and I live in New Jersey,” she told us. “If you don’t feel better about yourself, maybe you should.”).
  • The youngest of four sisters, she learned to walk at age 5 when her dad started taking her for strolls with her feet placed atop his own, manifesting her determination and anti-self-pitying attitude from an early age.
  • Her spare time and then some is dedicated to Maysoon’s Kids, the education and wellness program she founded for disabled and wounded refugee children. At her urging, please be advised that Maysoon’s Kids happily accepts your donations.

On Unfair Comparisons

I hate being reduced to a disabled comic. I’ve been getting compared to Josh Blue a lot recently, and it’s infuriating. He is a great comic, but our styles and material are completely different and the only reason we are compared is because we both have cerebral palsy. That’s like comparing Richard Pryor and Sherri Shepherd.

On the Unexpected Benefits of Comedic Material

I’m not pushing the audience to do anything but laugh. There have been unexpected personal benefits that are a result of my embracing my identity. I’ve had people from all over the world tell me that my comedy or my TEDTalk made them fight for their right or their health or in some cases their life. I feel really blessed to have affected anyone in a positive way.

On the Competition

I love Amy Poehler and Tina Fey because they are hilarious, brilliant, and genuinely dedicated to fighting the good fight. I think Joe DeRosa is probably the funniest comic out there today. A lot of the comics I love the most are unfortunately no longer with us: George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, and Gilda Radner. I also love Carol Burnett.

On a Rewire Me Moment

Getting back onstage after the passing of my father was definitely my Rewire Me moment. I no longer had any filter because there was no longer anyone I could disappoint. I had to relearn doing comedy because that event changed who I am. Comedy is so personal; it had to reflect that.

On Balance

To get centered I do yoga. Not only does it center me, but it improves my balance because I’m quite wobbly otherwise and it’s hard to be centered when you’re tipping over.

Whenever you’re addressing people with a disability, talk directly to them, look them in the eyes, and do not talk to the able-bodied person in their vicinity instead.

On Advice to the Able-Bodied

Whenever you’re addressing people with a disability, talk directly to them, look them in the eyes, and do not talk to the able-bodied person in their vicinity instead.

On the Culture of Nasty Internet Comments

Even though I wasn’t made fun of as a child, I have always believed the sticks and stones will break my bones cliché. Words from complete strangers, who neither know me nor have any effect on my life, roll right off my back. I have been dealing with hecklers all my career, so Internet trolls are like child’s play. The only reason I even respond to them is because I do know that words can hurt and I don’t want them to target someone else who might be bullied into silence.

On Parental Influence

Both of my parents are extremely charitable, so I definitely learned that from them. My mom doesn’t believe in mediocrity and neither do I, so I guess I get that from her.

Maysoon’s Kids is enormous and daunting, which is why we are starting so small. Our goal is to mainstream all students with physical disabilities into the Palestinian school system. If we can succeed with this class of seven, then we can replicate it in hundreds of other rehab centers.

On Charitable Works

Maysoon’s Kids is enormous and daunting, which is why we are starting so small. In August 2014 our first class will be in session with only seven students. Our goal is to mainstream all students with physical disabilities into the Palestinian school system. If we can succeed with this class of seven, then we can replicate it in hundreds of other rehab centers. I never bite off more than I can chew, which is what keeps me from choking.

On Being an “Inspiration”

The most important thing I’ve ever done is tap dance on Broadway. It is one of the first things I was told I couldn’t do and not only did I do it, I did it in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 1,000 people. I’ll take slow claps for that, if you insist, but the more apt adjective is “driven.”

To find out about Rose’s thoughts on how to live a happier life, click here

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