By Joanne Grana
ABC TV’s long-running daytime drama, General Hospital, made history on June 21, 2019, when actress/comedienne Maysoon Zayid made her debut as attorney Zarah Amir. Zayid is the first actress with a disability to be given a recurring role on General Hospital.
Zayid’s Ted Talk, I Got 99 Problems…Palsy Is Just One, was the most-watched “Talk” of 2014. She has been a columnist. Her political humor was featured on Countdown with Keith Oberman Zayid. She had a part in Adam Sandler’s movie You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and tapped-danced her way on to Broadway among her many other credits.
TMW wanted to know more about the multi-faceted Maysoon Zayid so we asked and she graciously answered. Read on to learn more.
What was your life like when you were growing up?
I had a very American Pie childhood topped with a scoop of the Middle East. I spent my school days in the predominantly Italian Catholic New Jersey town of Cliffside Park. I grew up walking distance from New York City and saw my first Broadway show by the age of 8. I started watching General Hospital with my three older sisters at the age of five. My parents should have been better at monitoring my TV intake but thankfully they were not. I was the only disabled kid in my class in public school all the way through graduating high school. After graduation, I headed to Arizona State to pursue my dream of being on General Hospital. I majored in theater.
Were you treated any differently because you had cerebral palsy by your family/or your peers?
I was never bullied. I was never made fun of. My friends, my mom, dad, and sisters all treated me equally. I always wondered if my kindergarten teacher took my friends aside and warned them not to make fun of me. My friends swore that never happened, they were just raised right. I never noticed people looking at me differently in public, but my sisters say they did. I started being treated differently when I started college. Suddenly, everyone around me was obsessed with my ability.
You’ve said that when you were born the doctor told your parents that you would never walk. Your father was determined to prove him wrong. Tell our readers about the phrase “Yes you can-can.” Did he really dangle a dollar bill in front of you to encourage you to walk?
Yes, you can can came from a Shoprite Supermarket commercial. It was a cartoon ad that featured Can-Can girls. So I think that’s where my dad got the second “can” from.
Tell us aboHow did you learn to tap dance?
My parents couldn’t afford physical therapy so they sent me to tap class. My walking improved immensely because I learned to tap dance in heels. I also took piano for seven years as occupational therapy for my hands. I tap-danced on Broadway during one of my comedy shows.
Did he really dangle a dollar bill in front of you to encourage you to walk?
My dad 100% dangled a dollar bill in front of me, which is kind of the same thing that my agents do today to get me to move.
Did people try to discourage you from going into comedy?
The head of the theater department at Arizona State definitely discouraged me. My parents would have preferred I was a lawyer, doctor, or engineer but they have always supported my career. Comedy-wise, no-one discouraged me because I became a paid comic by my third show. It is rare for artists to make a living so everyone around me was surprised and supportive. My worst experience has been with casting directors. Very few are willing to give me a chance. Of course, Mark Teschner is the exception to that rule.
What’s the most frustrating thing for you about having CP?
The most frustrating thing for me about having CP is that I shake all the time and it’s exhausting. I would love to have just one day off. I can walk, I can dance, but I can’t stand. I fall right over. So that’s annoying too. Not being able to stand is really challenging as a performer and socially. Finally, I’m sick and tired of having to explain what’s going on with me to people seeing me for the first time. If I choose not to explain it, the guessing starts. Is it a stroke? Is she drunk? Is she nervous?
Congratulations on your recurring role of Zarah Amir on General Hospital. What were your first thought when you realized your dream was becoming a reality?
I still can’t believe it’s real. I remained in shock from the moment when Executive Producer, Frank Valentini told me ’til this very moment. I cried when I got my first script, not because I had so much to memorize but because it was one of the happiest days of my life.
Zarah’s advisory in court, is Diane Miller. How would you describe her?
Diane Miller is one of my favorite characters in daytime history. She is funny, independent, smart, sassy, and a great dresser. I love Alexis for a lot of the same reasons. Carolyn Hennessey is a pure joy to work with. She is so sharp and gives amazing advice.
In what ways are you like your TV character?
Zarah and I both have Cerebral Palsy and we are both Arabs! We both find Sonny irresistibly charming. That is where the similarities end.
At some point, will your role be expanded?
You know I can’t answer if my role will be expanded or not. Soap secrets are safe with me.
Fair enough! What’s been the most surprising thing about being on GH?
The most surprising thing is how unbelievably COOL and friendly the entire cast and crew are with me. I thought it would be like the first day of high school when you’re the new kid. I expected the stars to be mean girls. Everyone was lovely, welcoming, and helpful. It exceeded all of my expectations. Being on set is so much fun. It really is a dream come true and I’ve learned so much.
If you could write your own GH storyline what would it be?
If I could write my own storyline, I would make Zarah, Brenda’s long lost twin. CP occurs more commonly in twins, so it would totally make sense.
What’s your next big dream?
I have a bunch of really exciting things in the works. I am developing a TV series that I am also starring in for TNT called Sanctuary. I have a book that’s being published by Reese Witherspoon’s brand, Hello Sunshine coming out on Audible in November and I am developing a talk show. No dream will ever exceed the reality of being on General Hospital, but my next big dream is to make sure that kids with disabilities are mainstreamed into the education system. I like to dream big!
For more info on Maysoon Zayid, visit her website https://maysoon.com/
Watch her weekdays on General Hospital.