Maysoon Zayid is taking her show on the road
2003, says the Palestinian-American Maysoon Zayid, was a dark time. The World Trade Center attacks and the launch of the Iraq war meant that, as an Arab in America, she felt completely vilified. And Zayid wasn't just troubled socially. She was an actress, but noticed that roles for Arabs had almost completely dried up - "unless you wanted to portray a terrorist". Meanwhile, the parts depicting disabled characters she thought she might have a chance with (Zayid has cerebral palsy) almost always went to able-bodied actors.
"There's a long way to go in the casting of actors with disability," she warns. "Actually, I find it a bit obscene that there are still so many able-bodied actors in these roles." Still, Zayid decided to do something about it and turned to stand-up comedy, in which she confronts cerebral palsy head-on. Of course, she had to deal with being patronisingly called "brave", but it was actually the rest of the routine - detailing Arab life in the West - that began to win her acclaim. "It's strange," she says of her popularity. "I mean, I'm not a traditional observational comedian - I'm more of a storyteller. It's just that I tell very personal stories about my life as an Arab."
Encouraged by like-minded Arab talent, Zayid founded the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival in 2003 and her inclusion on the wryly titled Axis of Evil comedy tour alerted the likes of Adam Sandler, who wrote a part for her in You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Her comedy career began to take her across the world and on to television and, at the end of this week, she brings her Funny Arabs show to London and Liverpool. But Zayid doesn't just restrict herself to English punchlines: her shows in the Middle East (in Palestine, she's helped to set up disabled-access playgrounds) are performed in Arabic.
"And that's really different again," she laughs. "The stand-up comedy scene there is starting over in some ways because of the security and political situation, but it's great to tell jokes in Arabic. The language is much more flowery and musical - which is a relief. It means I can take more short-cuts to jokes!"
Maysoon Zayid is at SOAS Brunei Theatre in London on Friday and Epstein Theatre in Liverpool on Sunday. Visit www.maysoon.com