Comic and actress Maysoon Zayid is one of the first female Muslim-American comedians in the U.S. Now, Zayid is a “comic in residence” at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, teaching students the art of making people laugh. We visit one of her classrooms to show you what she does.
Ted Simons: ASU has a "comic in residence," comedian Maysoon Zayid. As producer Allysa Adams found out, the job is a homecoming of sorts for this unique comedian.
Allysa Adams: Being funny isn't easy.
Rick Rob: My name's Rick Rob.
Allysa Adams: Just ask the students in this standup comedy class at ASU.
Rick Rob: It's a daily, daily grind in view of a higher, higher thing. This is the most difficult class I've got going.
Allysa Adams: The single microphone on a solitary stage can invoke some serious mood. Maysoon Zayid has been there.
Maysoon Zayid: Comedy is not just getting on stage telling jokes. It's about learning how to perform, it's about writing, it's about knowing what to do when the audience doesn't laugh. Being quick on your feet. Understanding the structure of a joke and how to put your jokes in order so that you get your funniest joke last and you know how to build the set.
Allysa Adams: Zayid's students are learning that and more under the watchful eye of this mother hen.
Maysoon Zayid: It was great, you totally committed to it.
Allysa Adams: Zayid has a lot of years of standup comedy under her belt.
Maysoon Zayid: I got married for two reasons, number one, they gave me 15% off.
Allysa Adams: Her early dreams started and ended right here in Tempe as a theater major at ASU.
Maysoon Zayid: My dream was to be on "General Hospital," but it's still my dream. I just didn't see people who looked like me when I turned on the TV.
Allysa Adams: She turned to comedy because ranks felt more familiar.
Maysoon Zayid: When I looked I saw people like Richard Pryor, Carol Burnett, Rosie O'Donnell all do comedy. I did it as a means to an end. I didn't know I was going to love it.
Allysa Adams: Now she brings that love of comedy to a different stage. Twice a week she coaches her students with an infectious laugh and some tough truths.
Maysoon Zayid: You have a rough start and we'll talk about that.
Student: She tells you exactly what you don't want to hear and what you want to hear. She's very open.
Maysoon Zayid: I didn't know when I became a comedian I was ever going to be teaching anyone. I just wanted to be a comedian.
Allysa Adams: Turns out Zayid has always been a teacher of sorts. Every stray remark becomes an opportunity for her to education. Comedy is one of her most effective teaching tools.
Maysoon Zayid: Doing comedy takes out of pity and the fear and the struggle and allows people to understand we're just like you. I have the same issues as you. I have 99 problems and comedy is just one.
Allysa Adams: Right now she's focused on helping fledgling comedians through five minutes on pop culture. They have to prepare a routine every week on such diverse topics as family, politics and ASU.
Maysoon Zayid: And the goal is that when they leave the class they will have an actual comedy set they could take to any open mic, they could take to any audition.
Allysa Adams: She wants them to take away more than some momentary adulation. Comedy was not easy for this brown-skinned disabled girl from New Jersey as she likes to call herself.
Maysoon Zayid: I want them to understand the world doesn't end in college and that the stress they are going through, they are going forget within 18 months of graduating. Just to kind of lighten up a little bit and, you know, I'm okay with crying as long as it's attached to laughter.
Ted Simons: In addition to teaching the comedy class, Zayid hosts a weekly workshop on disability issues specific to ASU. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.
Maysoon Zayid: Comic in Residence at Arizona State University