By Alheri Egor-Egbe ’17
Growing up, Maysoon Zayid always dreamed of being an actor. But after earning a BFA in acting, she realized that her ethnicity and disability were limiting factors in getting roles. Zayid, a Palestinian-American with cerebral palsy, eventually found her niche and began performing at comedy clubs in New York.
Born in New Jersey to Palestinian parents, Zayid is now a comedian, activist, actress, and an advocate for people with disabilities. She has broken ground with her work, becoming the first person to perform stand-up comedy in Palestine and Jordan.
She will speak at Mount Holyoke College on Monday, December 7, at 4:30 p.m. Her talk will focus on her experiences as a comedian and the intersection of gender, ethnicity, and disability. The talk is part of Mount Holyoke’s celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 2003, Zayid started the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival with a close friend, Dean Obeidallah. They hoped to change the negative image of Arabs in America and in mainstream media. Now in its twelfth year, the festival attracts thousands of people to downtown Manhattan every year. Zayid is also a headliner on the “Arabs Gone Wild” comedy tour and is in the cast of the documentary The Muslims Are Coming!
In a TED Talk that has been viewed more than 7 million times, Zayid says, “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world, and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment.” This belief has shaped most of her life and work, she says. Zayid and her family spent every summer in Palestine because of her parents’ desire to maintain the family’s connection with their home. Now a successful comedian, she runs an organization, Maysoon’s Kids, that helps Palestinian children who are injured, disabled, or orphaned through comedy and storytelling. She also tours Arab countries and performs her stand-up routine in English and Arabic. She funds the program with returns from her comedy tours.
Zayid debuted her one-woman show, “Little American Whore,” in 2006 and has performed at comedy tours in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She also starred in Adam Sandler’s comedy film You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.
The talk is free and open to the public and will take place in Cleveland L2, which is wheelchair accessible.