Why This Arab American Woman Continues to Persist in the Face of Challenges
By: Katie Teague/Arab America Contributing Writer
Being a comedian requires the skill and gift of making people laugh. Not many comedians can make people laugh the way Maysoon Zayid does, nor do they possess the incredible background which comes with her.
Forty-five years ago, Maysoon was born in the state of New Jersey, the daughter of two Palestinian immigrants. She knew she wanted to be an actress from the very beginning, and so she enrolled at Arizona State University’s acting program. And while most college students her age struggled with the usual roadblocks in their lives, Maysoon had Cerebral Palsy to deal with.
Here’s how it all began:
“I was born on Labor Day Weekend and rumor has it that the doctor who delivered me was drunk as a skunk. He had delivered all three of my older sisters and they had, apparently, just slid out for him. He thought my birthday would be a piece of cake and that he’d be back down the shore in time for happy hour. I came out fist first, ready to fight the power, so I was never actually born. Instead, the doctor had to perform an emergency C-section which is not an easy task when you are sloppy wasted. He nearly suffocated me to death. I lost several minutes of oxygen in the process and as a result, I have brain damage. The doctor gave me a very special birthday gift that day. It’s called Cerebral Palsy and I never leave home without it.”
Since then, her disability has never hindered her for a second. As tragic as the story is, her life is anything but tragic. Maysoon credits her parents’ with inspiring her eager determination and supporting her during her childhood. Despite having a disability that causes her to shake all the time, she has known from an early age that she could do anything if she persisted (“You can do it, yes you can” (to be precise). And so, Maysoon ended up walking like any other child her age. She even went on to attend dance schools before taking the big leap into the world of comedy.
Maysoon eventually became the “first Muslim woman comedian in America and also perform in Palestine and Jordan.” Despite her packed schedule, she sets aside three months of the year to return to Palestine, connecting with her Arab heritage and family.
Over time, Maysoon has starred in the following programs, channels, and films on TV:
- Comedy Central’s Watch List
- PBS’s America at a Crossroads: Muslim Comics Stand Up
- As The World Turns
- Law & Order
- You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
- The Arab Americans
- General Hospital
- Muslim Girls DTF: Discuss Their Faith
Watch her acting on the soap opera General Hospital here:
Unsurprisingly, her life story became quite a familiar one in the comedy world. Maysoon also sought to use her disability to inspire others with similar circumstances to never give up. Her TedTalk, “I got 99 problems… palsy is just one” was a 2013 hit with over 10 million views:
To say her story is an inspiration is an understatement. Above all, the mantra she preaches as a result of her endeavors is one which should be followed by everyone:
“Never say you can’t do something without trying it first. In most cases, failure will not kill you. It is important to use common sense, though. Please do not try to perform open heart surgery without training and say, “Maysoon said, ‘I cancan.’” If your dream turns into a nightmare, find another dream. Your dream is yours. It may not impress others and they may not believe you can achieve it. None of that matters. It is your dream and no one has the right to wake you up but you.”
To learn more about Maysoon or to book tickets to her tours, check out her website at https://maysoon.com/
Edited by Noah