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Always a Leading Light, Maysoon Zayid is Working on a Semi-Autobiographical Sitcom

Our fingers are crossed for the fantastically smart and extremely funny Palestinian-American comedian and fervent disability activist.

Her top-rated 2014 Ted Talk, I've Got 99 Problems… Palsy is Just One is one of the most watched in the programme’s history, she launched the successful New York Arab-American Comedy Festival and now Maysoon Zayid is planning to reshape television. The Palestinian-American actress, comedian, disability activist (and tap dancer) has a development deal with ABC to create a semi-autobiographical sitcom called “Can-Can.”

The pilot, inspired by her own life, is about a Muslim woman who lives in New Jersey and has cerebral palsy, just like Zayid, and the struggles she faces as she navigates the different spheres In her life, from the professional and social to the romantic. If “Can-Can” makes it all the way and actually gets aired, it will be the first show centred on a main character who is Muslim-American and will push boundaries for authentic disability representation. 

“We're going to show the diversity within Islam. There are Muslim characters who are devout, people born Muslim who are completely atheist and Muslims who try to be good Muslims but sin all the time. I want to bring in the nuance and show Muslim women like me whose heads aren't covered,” Zayid told "Pacific Standard."

As well as starring in it, the talented speaker is also writing the sitcom, which is set to be filmed in March, with a team. She is an executive producer too, along with Joanna Quraishi, Todd Milliner and Sean Hayes, who plays Jack on “Will & Grace.”

As Zayid told “Glamour” magazine, she became interested in comedy as it “is a place for misfits and I was a misfit.” The stand-up comedian manages to make the most provocative subjects like death, religion and disability funny, for example she calls herself a sit-down stand-up comedian because of her Cerebral Palsy. She regularly headlines comedy tours in the US and tours internationally, always leaving her audience beguiled and hoping for more. She has also had a role in the Adam Sandler film “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” and “Stand Up: Muslim-American Comics Come of Age.”

Zayid, who is married, is revered for founding the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival when she was beginning her comedy career, just after 9/11. Zayid and Dean Obeidallah came up with the idea for the festival, now in its 15th year, to contest damaging images about Arabs and Muslims in media. Plus, of course, her 2014 Ted Talk was the most watched that year. The talk, which was part of her work promoting Arab comics, attracted nearly 15 million views.

While she majored in Theatre from Arizona State University and pursed acting after graduation, life had more plans for her than acting. After taking a comedy class, she began to get gigs and the only way has been up. What’s more, after being rejected as an actress due to her handicap in the past, (even for a role of someone with cerebral palsy) she is the ultimate activist to make people realise non-handicapped actors poorly portray disabled people.

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