What does it mean to be your true, authentic self while pursuing your dream? We interviewed writer, actress, and comedian Maysoon Zayid to find out.
If you’re a fan of TED Talks, you might already know Maysoon. In 2013, she gave a talk about her experience trying to break into Hollywood as a disabled Muslim actress. As you can probably imagine, it wasn’t easy – but Maysoon has found her own ways to stay positive and ignore any negativity that comes her way. We think that’s a message any aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from.
We had Kristina Romero sit down with Maysoon to talk a little more about her experience: her failures, her successes, and how she handles criticism. Watch the video below, or read on for the highlights!
On Growing Up Disabled In New Jersey
If you’re not familiar with Maysoon, she was born with cerebral palsy, a disability that causes her to “shake all the time.” Growing up poor in New Jersey, her family couldn’t afford physical therapy – so, instead, they signed her up for dance lessons. That’s where she got her first taste of show business and hatched her dream of becoming a TV star on the daytime soap opera circuit.
Early into her career, however, Maysoon realized there was practically no one on TV who looked like her. According to Maysoon, only .04% of characters on television have a visible disability, and 95% of those are played by non-disabled actors. Casting directors were reluctant to talk to her.
Why She Turned To Comedy
So instead, she looked to comedy – a genre where all different types of personalities and backgrounds were welcome. At first, she thought breaking into comedy could be her “in” to the dramatic roles she craved, but she soon realized that telling her own story was far more powerful than reading lines written by someone else. (That’s a message all of us should definitely take to heart!)
Now, she’s ready for her own TV show to hit the airwaves. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t without risk – she had to turn down producers who wanted to cast a more famous actress to play her character. But in the end, she believes it’s more important to show the authentic reality of living with a disability.
That’s not to say that the show only focuses on her disability. “I struggle more with dating and paying taxes than I ever did with my disability!” she told Kristina. In the end, she wants to present a positive example of disabled people simply living their lives on TV.
On Dealing With Criticism
Television isn’t the only way Maysoon is using her voice to educate and inspire. After her TED Talk went viral, she found herself receiving a lot of attention on social media. People with disabilities from all over the world began reaching out to her to tell her she’d inspired them – but critics also crawled out of the woodwork, attacking her for everything from her weight to her ethnic identity.
Business owners can learn a lot from Maysoon. When you’re the face of your own brand, it’s practically guaranteed you’re going to get some online hate. Instead of panicking and backing off, here’s what Maysoon suggests.
First, she listens to what her critics are saying, and decides whether to take it to heart. If her jokes are hurting people or making them feel ashamed, she might change up a talk or a comedy routine. But if they’re simply trying to tear her down, she takes a different approach. No, not just blocking them on social media – first, she tries to educate them. (Then, if they attack her again, she reaches for the block button. “I don’t have to allow people to verbally abuse me,” she says.)
A Couple Of Amazing Stories
Kristina also asked Maysoon about her fondest stories from her professional journey. You don’t want to miss her story about the time Dick Clark (probably) yelled at her, or the time she went to an after party and choked on an hors d'oeuvre while wearing a corset. You’re going to want to watch the video to hear this!