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I Can’t Believe She Just Said That: The Inimitable Maysoon Zayid

Her heart, wit, and total fearlessness push Maysoon Zayid’s comedy into a whole new class of funny. Far from letting cerebral palsy impede her, the Palestinian-American writer, actor and comedian has founded both the Arab-American Comedy Festival and the initiative Maysoon’s Kids in Palestine. Here she catches us up on her latest insights.

Is anything off-limits for you?

I have no red lines and I’m really passionate about not having them. I think in the US we’ve completely lost our sense of humor because we’re so afraid of offending someone.

What’s the difference between performing in Dubai and in Ohio?

I’ve never been the type to memorize a set. I tailor each and every one of my performances to an audience, so what I do at a college in Ohio will not be the same as what I do at the Forbes women’s summit or in Dubai. What’s most different about the Middle East is they understand what a checkpoint is, and a lot of local politics I could never talk about in America because there people don’t have that extensive knowledge.

I don’t have anything that’s off limits, and at the same time, I’m doing a show for my audience. So in Ohio I’m not going to force-feed them politics when they really want to hear jokes about Justin Bieber.

With writing, film, and comedy, you’re a renaissance woman. How do you see your role as a public figure?

I love that you said that, because that’s the message I give people: if you want to achieve your life and dreams, you can’t just do one thing, you’ve got to work every angle; there’s not only one path or one way. Sometimes when you pursue your dream, you realize your calling is something else, so don’t be disappointed if you can’t achieve your first dream. There’s always another dream.

How did you start working in the camps?

I started in April 2002 because I was watching the news and I saw what happened in Jenin and Nablus, and I thought, they’re creating a whole new generation of disabled children and they don’t know how to deal with it. So I wanted to go in and save everyone and I had no idea how challenging it was.

Now we have three projects: the most important is a pilot first grade classroom for physically disabled children taught at exactly the same level as mainstream schools, so the schools have no choice but to integrate them.

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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