Comedian Maysoon Zayid on ‘acting disability’ | Famous Cast Words


Hi, my name is Maysoon Zayid.
I am a Palestinian MuslimVirgin with cerebral palsy
from New Jersey.If you don’t feel better
about yourself,maybe you f-ng should.That’s brilliant because
it’s so subversive.I’m a really f-ing
brilliant comic.You’re really brilliant.♪♪I am here at the home
of actor,writer, producer, comedian,and tap dancer Maysoon Zayid.And also her cat Beyoncé,who has picked the perfect spot
on the couch to join us.You might know Maysoon
for her TED talk“I’ve Got 99 Problems;
Palsy is Just One,”or from
her digital video series“Advice You Don’t Want to Hear”
or from the New YorkArab-American Comedy
Festival.There are a thousand things
you could know Maysoon from,or you may have heard
all the buzz about her upcomingTNT series “Sanctuary.”You might not know her
from the back of her head,as a diner
in “As the World Turns.”Also look at what
Beyoncé’s doing.I mean, come on.She’s like, “Oh, yeah.
You think you got a show?”Thank you for coming to
Beyonce’s lair.♪♪There’s been so many examples
of able-bodied actorsplaying disabled roles.Can you talk
a little bit about that?A large swath of the
disabled communityfeels like, “You
can’t actually act disability.”And there’s
visible disabilityand invisible disability.And we tend to be talking
about visible disability,because what you’re doing
when you’re trying to actthose things is you’re mimicking
a physical replicaof what disability isand not addressing at all that
those physical manifestationscome from something internal
and that you can’t imitate them.So think of how uncomfortable
it would be for someone to sitand play me, like, for you
to have to watchsomeone try to move their mouth
the way that I do.You can’t do it. It’s not
something that you can act.So we say, you know,
much like race,it can be played,
and onstage, I always sayif a wheelchair user
can’t play Beyoncé,then Beyonce,
I can’t play a wheelchair user,and she can usually
slay anything.Just not that.
You know what I mean?And in addition to the fact
that it’s inauthentic,it’s cartoonish, and honestly,
it’s offensive,people with disabilities are
20 percent of the population,but we’re only 2 percent
of the imagesthat you see on television.95% percent are played
by non-disabled actors.So there’s
no opportunities for us.That’s right.
You’re taking whatis such
a small pool of characters,and then you’re taking the
opportunity of that employment,because ultimately,
all this boilsdown to employment opportunitywhen you’re talking about
the entertainment industry,and you’re saying,
“No, even these rolesthat we could have
had you portray,you cannot portray
those, as well.”Now, you had a situation like
this in college.I know you talk about it.Could you talk a little bit
about that?So, I was getting A’s
in all my acting classesand I wasn’t getting cast
in any of the shows.And then my senior year,
they decide to do a showcalled “They Dance
Real Slow in Jackson,”about a girl
with cerebral palsy.I was the girl
with cerebral palsy.So I was like, “Nailed it!”And I didn’t get it.This girl named
Sherry Brown got it.And the head of
the theater department saidI couldn’t do the stunts.And believe it or not,that really is a big reflection
of Hollywood —the idea that we can’t do it,that we can’t remember
the lines,that we can’t handle
an 18 hour shoot,that the insurance
is not going to cover us.There’s a lot of challenges with
disabled actors and insurance.There’s a lot challenges
in sets being accessible.So, you know,
I do a live news commentary.None of those sets
are accessible.But that’s the thing.It’s like you you can’t call
this an H.R. issueif what you could be doingis changing your sets
to make them accessible.But also making sets
universally accessiblejust makes it easier
for the entire crew to navigate.I mean, cameras tend to be
on wheels, too,not just people, you know
what I mean?No, it’s true.And then you could
potentially —we’ve got Beyoncé…Beyoncé’s eating snacks
in the background loudly.Beyoncé decided that
this would be the perfect timeto drink from her red
Solo cup.I’m so glad
that she did that liveso that you could see that
my cat really does drinkout of a red Solo cup.Which I feel works way too far
into the Jersey stereotype.Am I a cliché and caricature
of myselfbecause I have trained my cat
to play pongand drink out of Solo cups?This is the cat episode of —Wait, what is
your show called?“Famous Cast Words.”“Famous Cats Words!”That’s what
we are doing, right?“Famous Cats Words.”We have to write
over the logo.“Cats.”Come on. Focus.[ Laughs ]So, Maysoon, you are
self-described on your TED talk,specifically, as Palestinian,
Muslim, female, disabled,and most challenging,
a resident of New Jersey.So we’re going to take
a look at some phrasesand words that pop up
in casting noticesfor characters
with these various demographics.Are you ready?
I am.“For a variety of disabled
characters,there seems to be a recurring
theme of confused parallelism.”“Even though she is deaf,
she lives a fulfilling life.”That’s right.
All right.“As well as a strange belief
that one’s mobilitymight affect one’s brain.”“Will be wheelchair-dependent,but amazingly sentient.”Amazingly sentient!“Your competition will encompass
a wide swath of humanity.”“Seeking special-needs actors
and also skilled actorswho can or have played
this type of role before.”I don’t know why
you would have stopped.I don’t know what possiblycould have pissed you off
about that.What could have shocked me?[ Laughs ]“Because
your lived experienceis really just an able-bodied
talent waiting to be developed.”“Actor must be able to portray
the symptoms of cerebral palsy.”“Must also know
how to Googlesymptoms of cerebral palsy.”“As a Palestinian,
there are a few recurring wordsI found with which
you should become acquainted.”Tell me it says “rocks.”Aah! There’s no rocks.“Terrorist, militant, hijab.”Rocks? What do you mean?
Throwing rocks?Yeah.If you do Palestinian, usually
“rocks” is in the top three.Oh, my God.“As a woman, though,there’s really just one word
you need to know.”Boobs!Yes! I got it!
It’s “boobs”![ Both laugh ]And lastly, “As a resident
of New Jersey,your character type
is cut and dry.”“Real Housewives.”And this
genuinely did come upin a bunch of breakdowns
I saw.When I started going
to auditions in New York,it was funny
because I had no ideathat people weren’t
going to cast me as,say, one of The Real Housewives
on a Lifetime movie.So I would go out
for, like, Italian characters,Jersey characters, of course,
all the Middle Eastern,you know, hijabi characters.And I never realized the fact
that I was disabledwas getting disqualified me
until I started auditioning.So I would go into auditions,
and sometimes I would walk inand they’d just go,
“No, no, no, no.”And they wouldn’t even
let me read.That is horrendous.And they wouldn’t
let me read.And then I would
memorize the sidesbecause turning the pages
was too hard.So then when I did
have to get sidesthat I had to turn the pages,it would be, like, a fight
to the finishto get the pages to turnbecause it’s really
hard to do.And, like, I never had anyone
take me even slightly seriously,which is why
I became a comedian.Part of the reason
I’ve always been drawn to comedyis you get to take ownership
of what you arebefore anyone else is allowed
to say anything about it.Yeah, yeah, yeah.And if I can get you to laugh
at that first,then I own it and you don’t.And that was my exact
experience when I first starteddoing standup comedy
in my comedy class.The teacher, who was such
a great guy,named Mike Irwin Russell.So he’s gone now,
but he was an amazing teacher,and he made us do five minutes
of comedy every class.And the first time I went up,
I was inspiredby, like, Andrew Dice Clay
and Eddie Murphy.So it was basically just, like,
slurs and misogyny in a box.And it was really funny
and I got good laughs.And when I was done,
Mike looked at me and he goes,“What is happening?”And I was like,
“Oh, I have cerebral palsy.”And he said, “You’re going to
have to talk about it,because if you don’t,
the audience is going to thinkyou’re either drunk
or nervous.And neither of those
things are funny.”And I was like, “But I don’t
want to talkabout being disabled.”So what I did
was the next class,when I introduced myself,
I said,“Hi, my name is Maysoon Zayid,and I’m a Palestinian
Muslim virginwith cerebral palsy
from New Jersey.And if you don’t feel bad
about yourself,maybe you f-ing should.”And the idea was bury
the “palsy” so deepin everything else
that they heard it,they got it,
and they got to move on.That’s brilliant because
it’s so subversive.I’m a really f-ing
brilliant comic.You’re really brilliant.Yeah.No, I mean, you are.There’s something to comedythat allows you to slip
things inand get people comfortable
with things in mannersthat they didn’t even
realize occurred.I always say onstage that
if you have someone laughing,they’re less likely
to kill you.They may still do it,
but they’re less likely.They’re less likely.
I’ll buy that.Who has no idea who I am?[ Audience members cheering ]I’m just saying something
really quickly.I’m not drunk.
But check on me in an hour.If I’m walking straight.
Then you’ll know I’m wasted.[ Laughter ]‘Cause, like, here’s the thing.I’m not drunk, but the doctor
who delivered me was,so I have CP, which means
I shake all the time.So I shake it, shake it,
shake it like Taylor Swift.But she just wants
to shake, shake, shake,and mine is totally involuntary.[ Laughter ]Like, let’s be honest.
I’m not Taylor Swift.I’m the lost Kardashian.[ Cheers and applause ]They moved me away because I
couldn’t keep my legs open.♪♪So you had a situation
where you had one pilot,you had gone through a process
with a producer,and they insisted you work
with another writerwho was just sort of a white,able-bodied, inexperienced
in terms of anythingthat you’re dealing with
writer.Can you talk
a little bit about that?What happened was when they
put me with the head writer,I was really excited
to be collaboratingand I was very, very excitedthat I was writing
with another woman.Unfortunately, she decidedthat she wanted to write
the show without me.So the production company
cut me out of the process.And now suddenly, my semi-
autobiographical comedy serieswas being written by
a non-disabled, non-Muslim womanwho hadn’t spent 17 years
on the comedy stage.Like, I’ve been a standup
comic for 17 years.I learned how to write
about disability,how I write about religion,
how to write about, you know,so many things that are
really difficult to tackleand get very uncomfortable
very quickly,if done incorrectly.And I was completely silenced.And so, when we finally
got to the stagewhere the network decidedwhether or not
to shoot the show,they passed because
it was not funny or good.[ Laughs ]Surprise!♪♪It took seven years
for the series I developedto finally be sold
and picked up.And the first stumbling block
was for years and yearsand years, people said,
“Your writing is amazing,but you can’t star in it.
We need a big name.The only way that we’re going
to do thisis if we have a big name.”And you know, they would suggest
people like Salma Hayek,and Penelope Cruz.And I’d say, “If I can hold
their head underwaterfor three minutesand they can become palsy,
then they can play this part.But otherwise, you need
someone who’s disabled.And news flash,
I’m the most famous, you know,palsy person
in the game right now.So you’re not going to find
a womanthat’s going to be able play
not just palsy,but an ethnic role.Like, you need
a brown disabled woman.It’s me. Like, that’s
who it is right now.”And so, that was the first
stumbling block.I swear to God, the story I’m
about to tell you is true.One producer suggested
that my love interest heal me.And I said,
“Well, I think the CGIis going to be
really expensivebecause it can’t be healed.”And also, how do you keep
going with the series?“It’s a permanent
disability,” you know.But, God, I mean,
that just has “paternalism”written all over it.And she was, like, a legend
in Hollywood.And I had to, like,
look at her lovinglyand be like,
“So, I can’t be healed.And I’m playing the role.”And she was like, “Yeah, I don’t
think this is a good fit.”You know what I mean?
And she was gone.I always say disability —you only get
to tell three stories.Either, “you can’t love me
because I’m disabled,heal me, or kill me.”
That’s it.So, when you come in
and you’re like,“She’s super successful,
and her dating life is good.And the problem is that
her parentsare conservative Muslims who
don’t let her dateand she’s 35 years old
and has to sneak aroundand pretend
she’s not on Facebook.”You know what I mean?
It’s just something different.And they’re like,
“But when does she cryabout being frustrated
from being disabled?”She has vulnerability.It’s simply not tied
to her disability.She has vulnerability.And it’s not because
she’s an oppressed Muslim woman.So even though she comes
from one conservative family,it’s not the images that you see
on TV of these womenwith no voices
and no independence.It’s more like,
“Just like everyone else,she doesn’t want
to disappoint her parents.”Not, “Just like everyone else,she’s going to get
honor killed.”By the way, there’s no killing
that’s honorable.So she’s not gonna get murdered
by her parents.She just doesn’t want her mom
to be sad, you know?I think
the simplicity of thatis so important, is seeing
people just as humansand how we’re all just humans
and it’s still really hard.I am so excited about
all the content you’re makingand all of your standupand everything
that you’re doing.I want a Netflix special.I want you to have
a Netflix special.But I’ll do it for Showtime.What if we do one together?We’re both women.
We’re both very funny.Okay, I’ll give you
the funny.I have black hair.You have brown
masquerading as blonde.I have cinnamon skin.You’re see-through.
[ Laughs ]See-through?!
How dare you.I’ve got olive undertones.Every makeup artist
I’ve ever worked with is…I love you.You can say,
“I love you, too.”[ Both laugh ]That’s my worst nightmare.I’ll say “I love you”
to someone,and they just stare at me.[ Laughs ]I can’t believe you just said,“You can say,
‘I love you, too.'”It’s like Jeb Bush telling
people to clap for him![ Both laugh ]Thank you so much
for being here today.This was so much fun.Thank you for coming to Jersey,and thank you for allowing
Beyoncé to be on set.She is the most important
part of our show.She’s joining the crew now.Thank you for watching.
Take care of each other.And be professional.[ Laughs ]“And be professional”?!
That’s the one I did!♪♪♪♪

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