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  • Hello, TEDWomen, what's up.

  • (Cheers)

  • Not good enough.

  • Hello, TEDWomen, what is up?

  • (Cheers)

  • My name is Maysoon Zayid,

  • and I am not drunk,

  • but the doctor who delivered me was.

  • He cut my mom six different times

  • in six different directions,

  • suffocating poor little me in the process.

  • As a result, I have cerebral palsy,

  • which means I shake all the time.

  • Look.

  • It's exhausting. I'm like Shakira, Shakira

  • meets Muhammad Ali.

  • (Laughter)

  • C.P. is not genetic.

  • It's not a birth defect. You can't catch it.

  • No one put a curse on my mother's uterus,

  • and I didn't get it because my parents are first cousins,

  • which they are.

  • (Laughter)

  • It only happens from accidents,

  • like what happened to me on my birth day.

  • Now, I must warn you, I'm not inspirational,

  • and I don't want anyone in this room

  • to feel bad for me,

  • because at some point in your life,

  • you have dreamt of being disabled.

  • Come on a journey with me.

  • It's Christmas Eve, you're at the mall,

  • you're driving around in circles looking for parking,

  • and what do you see?

  • Sixteen empty handicapped spaces.

  • And you're like, "God, can't I just be

  • a little disabled?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Also, I gotta tell you,

  • I got 99 problems, and palsy is just one.

  • If there was an Oppression Olympics,

  • I would win the gold medal.

  • I'm Palestinian, Muslim, I'm female, I'm disabled,

  • and I live in New Jersey.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • If you don't feel better about yourself, maybe you should.

  • Cliffside Park, New Jersey is my hometown.

  • I have always loved the fact

  • that my hood and my affliction

  • share the same initials.

  • I also love the fact that if I wanted to walk

  • from my house to New York City, I could.

  • A lot of people with C.P. don't walk,

  • but my parents didn't believe in "can't."

  • My father's mantra was,

  • "You can do it, yes you can can."

  • (Laughter)

  • So, if my three older sisters were mopping,

  • I was mopping.

  • If my three older sisters went to public school,

  • my parents would sue the school system

  • and guarantee that I went too,

  • and if we didn't all get A's,

  • we all got my mother's slipper.

  • (Laughter)

  • My father taught me how to walk

  • by placing my heels on his feet

  • and just walking.

  • Another tactic that he used is he would dangle

  • a dollar bill in front of me and have me chase it.

  • (Laughter)

  • My inner stripper was very strong, and by --

  • (Laughter)

  • Yeah. No, by the first day of kindergarten,

  • I was walking like a champ

  • who had been punched one too many times.

  • Growing up, there were only six Arabs in my town,

  • and they were all my family.

  • Now there are 20 Arabs in town,

  • and they are still all my family. (Laughter)

  • I don't think anyone even noticed we weren't Italian.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • This was before 9/11 and before politicians

  • thought it was appropriate to use "I hate Moslems"

  • as a campaign slogan.

  • The people that I grew up with

  • They did, however, seem very concerned

  • that I would starve to death during Ramadan.

  • I would explain to them that I have enough fat

  • to live off of for three whole months,

  • so fasting from sunrise to sunset is a piece of cake.

  • I have tap-danced on Broadway.

  • Yeah, on Broadway. It's crazy. (Applause)

  • My parents couldn't afford physical therapy,

  • so they sent me to dancing school.

  • I learned how to dance in heels,

  • which means I can walk in heels.

  • And I'm from Jersey,

  • and we are really concerned with being chic,

  • so if my friends wore heels, so did I.

  • And when my friends went and

  • on the Jersey Shore, I did not.

  • I spent my summers in a war zone,

  • because my parents were afraid

  • that if we didn't go back to Palestine

  • every single summer,

  • we'd grow up to be Madonna.

  • (Laughter)

  • Summer vacations often consisted of

  • my father trying to heal me,

  • so I drank deer's milk,

  • I had hot cups on my back,

  • I was dunked in the Dead Sea,

  • and I remember the water burning my eyes

  • and thinking, "It's working! It's working!"

  • (Laughter)

  • But one miracle cure we did find was yoga.

  • I have to tell you, it's very boring,

  • but before I did yoga,

  • I was a stand-up comedian who can't stand up.

  • And now I can stand on my head.

  • My parents reinforced this notion

  • that I could do anything,

  • that no dream was impossible,

  • and my dream was to be

  • on the daytime soap opera "General Hospital."

  • I went to college during affirmative action

  • and got a sweet scholarship to ASU,

  • Arizona State University,

  • because I fit every single quota.

  • I was like the pet lemur of the theater department.

  • Everybody loved me.

  • I did all the less-than-intelligent kids' homework,

  • I got A's in all of my classes,

  • A's in all of their classes.

  • Every time I did a scene

  • from "The Glass Menagerie,"

  • my professors would weep.

  • But I never got cast.

  • Finally, my senior year,

  • ASU decided to do a show called

  • "They Dance Real Slow in Jackson."

  • It's a play about a girl with C.P.

  • I was a girl with C.P.

  • So I start shouting from the rooftops,

  • "I'm finally going to get a part!

  • I have cerebral palsy!

  • Free at last! Free at last!

  • Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!"

  • I didn't get the part. (Laughter)

  • Sherry Brown got the part.

  • I went racing to the head of the theater department

  • crying hysterically, like someone shot my cat,

  • to ask her why,

  • and she said it was because

  • they didn't think I could do the stunts.

  • I said, "Excuse me, if I can't do the stunts,

  • neither can the character."

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • This was a part that I was literally born to play

  • and they gave it, they gave it to a non-palsy actress.

  • College was imitating life.

  • Hollywood has a sordid history

  • of casting able-bodied actors

  • to play disabled onscreen.

  • Upon graduating, I moved back home,

  • and my first acting gig was

  • as an extra on a daytime soap opera.

  • My dream was coming true.

  • And I knew that I would be promoted

  • from "diner diner" to "wacky best friend" in no time.

  • But instead, I remained a glorified piece of furniture

  • that you could only recognize

  • and it became clear to me

  • that casting directors

  • didn't hire fluffy, ethnic, disabled actors.

  • They only hired perfect people.

  • But there were exceptions to the rule.

  • I grew up watching Whoopi Goldberg,

  • Roseanne Barr, Ellen,

  • and all of these women had one thing in common:

  • they were comedians.

  • So I became a comic.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • My first gig was driving famous comics

  • from New York City to shows in New Jersey,

  • and I'll never forget the face of the first comic

  • I ever drove when he realized

  • that he was speeding down the New Jersey Turnpike

  • with a chick with C.P. driving him.

  • I've performed in clubs all over America,

  • and I've also performed in Arabic in the Middle East,

  • uncensored and uncovered.

  • Some people say I'm the first

  • stand-up comic in the Arab world.

  • I never like to claim first,

  • but I do know that they never heard

  • that nasty little rumor that women aren't funny,

  • and they find us hysterical.

  • In 2003, my brother from another mother and father

  • Dean Obeidallah and I started

  • the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival,

  • now in its 10th year.

  • Our goal was to change the negative image

  • of Arab-Americans in media,

  • while also reminding casting directors

  • that South Asian and Arab are not synonymous.

  • (Laughter)

  • Mainstreaming Arabs was much, much easier

  • than conquering the challenge

  • against the stigma against disability.

  • My big break came in 2010.

  • I was invited to be a guest

  • on the cable news show

  • "Countdown With Keith Olbermann."

  • I walked in looking like I was going to the prom,

  • and they shuffle me into a studio

  • and seat me on a spinning, rolling chair.

  • So I looked at the stage manager and I'm like,

  • "Excuse me, can I have another chair?"

  • And she looked at me and she went,

  • "Five, four, three, two ..."

  • And we were live, right?

  • So I had to grip onto the anchor's desk

  • so that I wouldn't roll off the

  • and when the interview was over, I was livid.

  • I had finally gotten my chance and I blew it,

  • and I knew I would never get invited back.

  • But not only did Mr. Olbermann invite me back,

  • he made me a full-time contributor,

  • and he taped down my chair.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • One fun fact I learned while on the air

  • with Keith Olbermann

  • was that humans on the Internet are scumbags.

  • People say children are cruel,

  • but I was never made fun of as a child or an adult.

  • Suddenly, my disability on the

  • I would look at clips online

  • and see comments like,

  • "Yo, why's she tweakin?"

  • "Yo, is she retarded?"

  • And my favorite, "Poor Gumby-mouth terrorist.

  • What does she suffer from?

  • We should really pray for her."

  • One commenter even suggested

  • that I add my disability to my credits:

  • screenwriter, comedian, palsy.

  • Disability is as visual as race.

  • If a wheelchair user can't play Beyoncé,

  • then Beyoncé can't play a wheelchair user.

  • The disabled are the largest

  • Yeah, clap for that, man. C'mon.

  • (Applause)

  • People with disabilities are the largest minority

  • in the world, and we are the most underrepresented

  • in entertainment.