Maysoon Zayid

PALESTINE – AMERICA

I am a Palestinian-Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy from New Jersey”(1), Maysoon Zayid introduces herself and that’s how I am going to introduce her as Maysoon’s disability and ethnicity is a proud part of her identity. She is a comedian and an activist. She co-founded the Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 (with fellow comedian Dean Obeidallah). Held annually each fall, the festival showcases the talents of Arab-American actors, comics, playwrights and filmmakers, and challenges as well as inspires fellow Arab-Americans to create outstanding works of comedy. Participants include actors, directors, writers and comedians.(2)

Zayid is USA’s first Muslim woman comedian and first female stand-up comic to perform in Jordan and Palestine. She spends four months a year in the Middle East, partly running a programme for children in Palestinian refugee camps, partly performing her comedy routine in English and Arabic.(3)

I spent my summers in a war zone because my parents were afraid that if we didn’t go back to Palestine every single summer, we’d grow up to be Madonna,” Zayid recalled in her TED Talk.(4)

Zayid was born with cerebral palsy — a condition that impairs control of movement due to damage to the developing brain.(3)

Born in New Jersey, USA in 1974; Maysoon dreamt of becoming an actress. Growing up in her small New Jersey town, Zayid says she was never made to feel different –- but when she moved to New York to pursue her acting career, she was suddenly exposed to the dark world of cyber bullying.(5)

After years of struggling to find auditions and endless rejections, Zayid got her break when she was asked to appear on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” as a television correspondent. She was absolutely thrilled. Zayid says, “So here I am, I’m finally on television. It’s everything I ever dreamed of,” Zayid says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is so fantastic — and then I got home and I Googled the clip and got the shock of my life.” Everyone was making fun of her appearance, disability and her ethnicity. They were saying things like, “I had Botox gone wrong. And there were these people that were saying I was disgusting. That I was distracting. That they couldn’t even watch me.“(5) This one person said, “Poor Gumby-mouth terrorist. We should pray for her”.(6)

The hateful comments about her disability stunned her, and Zayid struggled to find the courage to get back in the public eye. She began responding to the hateful trolls with humor and compassion and says, “Someone has to. Because if no one ever tells them, ‘Stop. Think about what you’re saying. Are you proud of this?’ then they will go after someone not as strong as me.” She has now made it her mission to tackle issues of hate and discrimination and change the way people with disabilities are represented in the media. She has gone on to be a regular contributor on ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ and her TED talk, ‘I Got 99 Problems…Palsy is Just One’ has more than 6 million views.(5)

Palestinian American Maysoon Zayid doesn’t want your pity. The comedian only wants you to laugh — while listening to her message. “My theory is that positive image creates positive change and alleviates hate. One of the things that I address in my work is that people with disabilities are the most under-represented group of folks in the media and television,” says Zayid. “I think that if we have more positive images of people with disabilities out there that it would help others be less fearful, be less aggressive, and think it’s less acceptable to just shun these individuals.”(3)

If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won’t kill you.” says Zayid.  

References:
1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7492710.stm
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maysoon_Zayid#cite_note-2
3. http://www.hlntv.com/video/2014/12/09/maysoon-zayid?clusterId=115#videoplayer
4. http://palestiniansurprises.com/surprise/maysoon-zayid/
5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/20/maysoon-zayid-keith-olbermann_n_6905384.html
6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/23/maysoon-zayid-cyber-bullying_n_6912984.html
7. Feature image – http://palestiniansurprises.com/surprise/maysoon-zayid/

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