Maysoon Zayid is a comedian, actress, and writer with a lengthy resume that highlights her creative talents. She’s done stand up comedy, has appeared on TV and in movies, and is the founder of a non-profit agency devoted to helping kids with disabilities. Maysoon was born with cerebral palsy.
At 2:24 in the interview, Maysoon talks about how fortunate she was growing up that her parents were her biggest advocates. They didn’t listen when doctors told them that their daughter would never do things like walk or graduate college.
“My parents couldn’t afford physical therapy, so they sent me to tap class.”
Learning tap also helped Mysoon learn to walk.
At 4:48, Maysoon recalls a time when she was working on a movie and a colleague suggested she try yoga. Maysoon’s initial response was, “I don’t really think I can stand on my head considering I can’t stand on my feet.” But she tried it anyway, and it was life-changing. Yoga has helped improve Maysoon’s physical strength, and has also helped her to stand (on her feet!) for longer periods of time. Maysoon’s cerebral palsy is manifested in her body shaking – and this is something practicing yoga has helped with as well.
“When you watch me doing stand up a decade ago and now, it’s night and day. It’s a completely different body, different coordination, much less shaking, much less pain.”
Maysoon is now an advocate for getting kids with disabilities to begin yoga at a young age to help with muscle coordination.
At 10:00, Maysoon talks about how she got started in comedy. She chose the genre purposefully. She had seen other women who didn’t fit the “supermodel” mold of women on TV, like Carol Burnett, Ellen DeGeneres, and Queen Latifah, have success. And she wanted to replicate that for herself.
“When I started doing comedy, it was a perfect fit in that I wasn’t a disabled comic, and I wasn’t an Arab comic. I wasn’t even a female comic. I was just a comic.”
She also says she was treated as an equal by all of her fellow comedians because of the hard work she put in – the same amount of hard work everyone else put in around her. But that equal treatment isn’t truly the norm when it comes to actors with disabilities in the entertainment industry. Maysoon says this is because we don’t often see characters with a disability on TV or in films without their disability being the main focus.
At 11:22, she gives the following example: “If you look at a TV show like Friends, there’s no reason that Phoebe couldn’t have had a disability, or Monica even, and not had that be the storyline.” Maysoon writes her own storylines now, featuring characters with disabilities where the disability isn’t a focal point, and hopes to change the way of thinking in the entertainment industry.
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