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Episode

79

SANTINA MUHA: CREATING CONTENT

WHILE THE WORLD WAS ON PAUSE

Santina Muha is a comedian, actress, writer, producer and disability activist. Her many roles in film and television include appearances opposite Joaquin Phoenix in the Gus Van Zant film “Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot” and the role of Beth on “One Day at a Time.” She recently wrote, recorded and shot a music video called “Ass Level.”

IN THIS EPISODE

(00:41) On what she’s most passionate about

(01:13) On her childhood and love of pop culture

(03:45) On feeling the responsibility to make other people comfortable with her disability

(05:22) On her love of pop culture and becoming an actress

(08:05) On working for The National Spinal Cord Injury Association

(09:22) On working for Teen Beat

(12:14) On the webseries Ask a Woman in a Wheelchair series for Buzzfeed

(15:32) On her show "Rollin' with My Homies"

(19:49) On being sensitive to her audience 

(22:44) On working at UCB and Amy Poehler

(25:23) On being in the film “Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot”

(28:54) On playing Beth on "One Day at a Time"

(31:15) On creating her own content including the video "Ass Level"

(33:20) On advice to a young woman who is living with a disability?

 

RESOURCES

Instagram

FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

Passionistas: Hi, and welcome to the Passionistas Project podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same.

We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and today we're talking with Santina Muha,  a comedian actress, writer, producer, and disability activist. Santina's many roles in film and television include appearances opposite Joaquin Phoenix in the Gus Van Sant film "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot" and the role of Beth on "One Day at a Time." She recently wrote, recorded and shot a music video called "Ass Level."

 

So please welcome to the show. Santina Muha.

 

Santina Muha: Hello, how are you?

 

Passionistas: We're good. We're so glad to have you here. What are you most passionate about?

 

Santina: I'm very passionate about TV and pop culture and all of that. I'm also very passionate about food, particularly Italian food and Italian culture. And I'm very passionate about dogs and animals and tea. I drink tea every day. I drink black tea in the morning. I drink green tea in the afternoon. I drink herbal tea at night, so I do drink more tea than anyone I know.

 

Passionistas: So let's go back to your childhood and when did you first become interested in pop culture and what was your childhood like and what role did pop culture play in that?

 

Santina: I was in a car accident when I was almost six years old. Any memories I have walking, I know I was at least five or younger. Right. And I can remember walking every time, like certain commercials would come on, I would jump up and position myself.

 

Like where would I be in this commercial? Okay. It's Zach, the legal maniac. I'm his little backup girlfriend and dancer, you know, like. And I was in dance when I was little and Oh, and then MTV. So I lived with, I lived in what I like to call an Italian full house because my mom and I moved back in with her parents after my parents got divorced and my two uncles lived in the house and they were young, my mom was 20 and they were her two younger brothers.

 

So they were still in high school. And I had so much fun living with these cool young uncles. We would watch MTV. I would dress up like Bon Jovi. I mean, cause I'm a Jersey girl. So of course Bon Jovi. It just was always in the background. And then when I got in the accident, I watched beetle juice every day.

 

They only had two movies on my floor, "Beetlejuice", and "Ernest Goes to Camp", which, so I watched the "Beetlejuice" every day and I played Super Mario Brothers. You could rent the Nintendo for like blocks of time and I would play that. So, I mean, it also kind of got me through some of those hard times where I couldn't leave my hospital room for essentially a year.

 

And so it got me through those tough times, too. I remember watching PeeWee Herman during my sponge bath every Saturday, it was like PeeWee's Playhouse during the sponge bath, you know? So it, it, it really got me through would watch golden girls with my non that that was my mom's mom and they were Italian off the boat.

 

So I spoke Italian as much as I spoke, if not more than English growing up. And my Nona who didn't really speak a lot of English and me who was four years old, we would watch golden girls together. So we, we didn't really understand the jokes. But we did know that when Dorothy made a face, the audience laughed right.

 

I learned some of my comedic timing from Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia on "The Golden Girls", you know, and all of that sort of translated to when I got out of the hospital. And now here I was this little girl in a wheelchair, the saddest thing anyone ever saw, you know, in our society. And they would look at me like, How you doing?

And I'm like, Oh God, I am depressing. So I would have to cut the tension. And I learned from golden girls and one day at a time, which I later got to be on the reboot. All of these shows, I learned like, Hey, make a joke, make a face, do it thing. And then it will ease the tension. It really has helped me just make it through, you know, life.

 

Passionistas: That seems like a common thread with the women that we've interviewed, who were in the comedy show, that we did that feeling of it's your responsibility to make everybody else feel comfortable.

 

Santina: Yeah. At six years old, I'm like telling adults. No, it's okay. We're I'm fine. I'm happy. I I'm in school. I have a boyfriend, whatever a boyfriend was at seven years, I held hands with a boy, whatever. I mean, I had to convince everybody that I lose. Okay. All the time. I'm still doing it.

 

Passionistas: Did you consciously feel that at six years old where you were aware you were doing it? I was adjusting, no, but it's an automatic thing.

 

Santina: Automatic. I didn't realize it until I was older. That that's what I had been doing. When you're younger, it's really the adults that you have to make feel better because the kids are like, cool. What is that? Can I try? Can I push, can I sit by you? Can I go on your special bus? And then once, once those kids start turning into adults, middle school, high school, that's when you're like, Oh no.

 

Now they're sad about me or think it's weird or think it's different. And now I had to start dealing with my peers in the same way that I was dealing with the adults, you know, cause kids don't care. First I was crawling, then I was walking. Nobody told me that change. Wasn't tragic. So then all of a sudden I was walking now I'm willing.

So I was like, Oh, that's wrong? Okay. Sorry. I didn't know. You know, as far as I knew, I was just on the trajectory. I didn't know. It was quote, wrong thing until everybody was like, that's not what we all do. And I'm like, Oh, sorry. I don't know. I'm just trying to get from point a to point B. Like you.

 

Passionistas: You had this love of pop culture, you kind of integrated comedy into your daily life to get through the reactions you were having from other people.

When did that love of comedy and acting become like a real thing for you? Like, I want to do this when I grow up.

 

Santina: The whole time. I mean, like I said, I would jump up and be in the commercials or, you know, I would watch "The Mickey Mouse Club" after school and put myself off of basically an order and say, Santa Ana, you know, wherever I thought I would fit, I wanted to be on saved by the bell.

 

I wanted it to be on nine Oh one. Oh. When I was little, I did my mom. I lived in New Jersey, so my mom would take me to audition. Sometimes I had an agent like commercial auditions and stuff like that. But in the end, a lot of times they would say, it's just too sad. You know, we can't sell fabric softener if the girl's in a wheelchair. And it's like, why do you think. That the fab. Do you think people are so stupid?

 

They're going to think this fabric softener, it's going to paralyze their children. Like what? We don't give people any credit. And then I'm like my poor mother who they have to hit to hand me backdoor and say, sorry, it's too sad to have a daughter in a wheelchair.

 

My mom's like, okay, well, great. Cause that's what I have. You know, it's like that right. It's up right when I was little, I just thought, Oh, that person stupid. I didn't realize wow. Society is kind of stupid. Sorry to say. No, it's getting better, but I'm talking about, it's just slowly starting to get better now.

 

And that fabric softener commercial. I was seven. So I mean, w come on six glacial pace here. I was a dancer before the accident and that I still dance like here and there, but I don't know, like comedy was always. Acting, it just always, I went right into the school plays in summer summer theater programs.

 

And I didn't think there was any reason why I couldn't do it. I just felt like, all right, I got to keep convincing people. I could do this. Just look I convinced them that I could be in the regular class in school and not in the special ed class. So God, there's something wrong with being a special ed, but if you need it, I didn't need it.

 

I just had to prove to everybody I could be among my peers. At all times, and not now, I'm still doing that in the acting world, but it was just always something I wanted to do. I just felt drawn to the entertainment industry. And in college, I didn't major in theater or anything, but I did major in communication.

 

So I did a lot of interviewing. And then my first job out of college was I had two jobs. I worked for the national spinal cord injury association and I worked for tiger beat magazine. It's like, I can't escape either one of these, because it's funny in the intro, you called me a disability activist and I'm like, God, am I?

 

I mean, it's like, I didn't mean to be, but you kind of can't help it because if you're doing anything normal, like in high school, I was a cheerleader and I thought, great, I'm gonna just going to be a cheerleader because everybody wants to, to do wheelchair basketball and wheelchair this and wheelchair that.

And I don't want to, I just want to be a cheerleader and I'm going to buck the system and I'm not going to be an advocate for anything. I'm just going to be asleep there. Meanwhile, I was the only cheerleader in a wheelchair. You can't help, but be an advocate because just because of the fact that people are looking at me.

 

Passionistas: Tell us a little bit about your work with them National Spinal Cord Injury Association. What did you do for them?

 

Santina: I was there communication director and also media point person I wrote for their publication, sci life spinal cord injury life. I interviewed a lot of bull, like different athletes, Paralympians. I worked with the spinal cord injury hall of fame.

 

I worked with putting that together. And things like that, but it was just all disabilities talk all the time. For me, it was just a little bit of an overload. I wanted to do comedy and it'd be more of a creative. And so eventually I had to leave there and move to Los Angeles and start working in comedy, but taking everything that I learned in all of those connections.

 

And now I have a show called "Rollin' with My Homies", where I interview other people with disabilities. And when we, when it was on the stage, we did improv off of those interviews, which was really fun, but I'm able to still keep in touch with all of the coaches, the texts that I made at the national spinal cord injury association.

 

And I know who these people are and what they're done, and I can sort of help bring them into the mainstream, which is my overarching goal is to help normalize the disability and. Where, you know, where if you see someone with a disability on stage, you're not like waiting to see like, Ooh, where's the joke.

 

I can't wait to see why she's in a wheelchair. You know? It's like, that's not funny. It's not, that's not the joke. Sometimes it's part of the joke, but it is the joke.

 

Passionistas:  Before we go to LA. So what did you do at Teen Beat?

 

Santina: We all had those posters on our walls growing up. Right? I mean, if you're pop culture, people, you I'm sure you did.

 

I did too. You know, Jonathan Taylor, Thomas, right. And Luke Perry is my number one love of my life forever. Everybody knows that. I had a friend who was working there and she got promoted to the LA offices and they moved her out to LA and she, they needed someone to replace her as their East coast correspondent.

 

And she was like, I have a friend who is very jealous of my job. She would love to do this. I had an interview. And then the very next day from that interview, I was in Manhattan at the opening of Dylan's Candy Shop interviewing Jesse McCartney. Oh. Was so fun. That's good at MTV music awards and movie awards, all these red carpet events, and I was freaking out.

 

It was so fun. So cool. I got to interview the Backstreet boys and the Jonas brothers and just whoever was hot at the time. Kelly Clarkson, LMF, FAO. You know, he was just really fun. I really loved being able to do that. And sometimes it was hard. Like one time I showed up somewhere and I had to interview someone who was doing Broadway show while they were getting their hair and makeup done.

 

And it was up a flight of stairs and there was no elevator in that building. And luckily I had my boyfriend at the time had driven me to Manhattan and he was going to go like, have a drink or something while I did my interview. And instead he ends up having to carry me up and down. So there were times where I had to navigate around being in a wheelchair, but I ultimately, I love that that was a job that I was doing that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was in a wheelchair.

 

And then once I moved to LA, I started working with hello giggles, which I also really loved because I was writing more pop culture stuff. And again, when I applied for that, when I sent in my samples and I got the job, it was not based nothing to do with being in a wheelchair. Again, it was just based on my love of pop culture.

 

And that was another like nice win for me because sometimes you never know, like, Are they giving me an extra edge because sometimes it works in my favor. And then also it's like, wait, did I not get the job? Because I'm in a wilderness. Sometimes it works against me. So you just, it's nice when I don't have to think either way about it.

Have you always been a writer? Yes, I remember in third grade they sent me as the ambassador to represent our school to the young author's club meeting. Every Friday was creative writing day. And then on Monday they would read the best ones. And it was like weird. If, if mine didn't get read on that day, it was like, Whoa, I wonder what happened to Santina on Friday.

 

And I was, I was a big reader growing up. I went through a hiatus of reading, like once I discovered. Hot to be honest in middle school and high school, not middle school, high school. I started smoking a little, like having partying and then I was like, really? It's not cool. And then when I got older, I was like, Oh yeah, that's right. Ilike reading. And now I'm back to reading again and now I can do both. Now I can read what I'm gonna look, you know, smoke a joint and read on a Sunday. Hey, why not?

 

Passionistas: You created the Ask a Woman in a Wheelchair series for Buzzfeed, and it was hugely popular, got 10 million hits and counting. So how'd that come about and why do you think it was so popular?

 

Santina: They had a few, right. I think they had like an ask a lesbian one or something. And then someone there was like, I want to do a wheelchair one and co contacted me. And, um, and I was like, yes, let's, let's put this together. It's more about addressing the fact that people are asking these questions than it is about answering these questions, because there's a time and a place to answer those questions.

 

But I think that's why they do well, because I think people see themselves in it. You can't help, but be like, Oh God, I've definitely used the handicap stall before. Or I've for sure. Stared at someone or even gone up and asked somebody what happened. I can't blame people for their curiosity, but think about it.

 

If you've asked one person what happened. Think about how many times that person has had to answer that question, you know, it's like harmless to ask. That means I've had to answer it. Literally thousands of times I'm writing a book right now where I talk a lot about different things. And it's like, I just want to answer these questions from people because I understand the curiosity.

 

And by the way, if a child ever asks me, it's like, okay, great. Let's talk about it. But when it's an adult, I'm like, Do you really want to know how I Santina have sex? You want to know what I enjoy personally me? Or are you asking how people in wheelchairs that's like, what are you asking me right now in the middle of the supermarket?

 

What are we talking? I don't even know you. I get it. But also I'm like, come on. I try to think, like, if I see somebody with an impairment or something, do I want to just go up to them? What up? And it's like, no, I don't. So I don't know. It's a weird, weird line. It's like, we're just not doing a good enough job in.

 

The representation of people with disabilities in pop culture and in media. And it's always like so dramatic and they want to kill themselves at the end. And then the actor that portrayed them gets an Oscar. Meanwhile, I can't even book a commercial for a fabric softener knowing you're giving him an Oscar it's like, come on.

 

Passionistas: Absolutely. And, and I think what you said earlier is really important. Like we have to normalize the concept so that people will stop approaching you and asking that question.

 

Santina: For example, I'm dating, right? I mean, I'm single and dating, right. So sure. Of course, if I'm dating a guy, who's going to want to know like, what's going on, what happened at some point.

 

Right. But if that's like out the gate, I'm like, I don't know. Do you really want to get to know me? Or like what's, if your profile said you're divorced, it's not like I come at you, like what happened? Who blew it? Who, you know, who was the cause of that divorce? It's like, we'll get to those conversations.

 

We'll get to them. It's important to know. Everything about the person that you're with, but it is not important to know everything about the person who's sitting next to you at a show or whatever. And then also it's like weird puts like a weird pressure on me where I'm like, okay, I'll answer. I can answer.

 

But I'm only answering on my behalf because I don't know what XYZ other people do. You know how they drive, how they swim, how they, whatever. I don't know. I can only tell you what I do. So I don't want to answer this question. And then you go off in the world thinking now, you know everything about spinal cord injury, you know, you know what I mean?

 

I don't even know. I mean, that's part of my, what I love about my. "Rollin' with My Homies" is when I interviewed these other people in wheelchairs, I learned so much and I'm like, Oh, what a great idea I could do that? Or I should be doing that. Or, or like, Oh God, I would never do that. You know, it's, it's interesting to me to see the differences among the community, as well as the similarities.

 

Passionistas: How did you start that show?

 

Santina: I went to Italy and I, and I hadn't gone to Italy for. The whole beginning of my life, even though I really wanted to, like I said, I grew up speaking Italian. It is my motherland Sicily in particular, I'm Sicilian. And I just want it to go so badly, but everybody always said, Oh, it's going to be hard.

 

It's not really accessible. So old. And kind of, I let that get in my head for too long. And ultimately, you know, in my early thirties, I think was when I went and I said to my, my best friend, I was like, Please can we go? And she was going through some marital stuff at the time. So she was like, yeah, let's just go.

 

So we went, I trust her. I've known her since seventh grade and she's just like a great friend who has always had my best interest in mind. Like when she got her first car, she made sure it was a hatchback cause she could fit my wheelchair in the trunk, you know, and she doesn't even need that. So it was just, I knew she was the right person to go with.

 

We went to this town in Sicily where my Nona grew up, my grandmother grew up and I was like, pleasantly surprised by how accessible it was. And I said to my cousin, there are so many ramps here. What is going on? It's just an old fishing town in, in Sicily. And she said, Oh yeah, well, you know, if you, years ago we had a mayor or whatever, they call their person there.

 

And Sicily who decided to spend a day in a wheelchair. And roll around the city in a wheelchair and see what needs to be done. Um, and then he did it and then he put ramps here and there. And I was like, Oh my God. Yes. And it's like, not the exact same thing, but a day in the life can be helpful. We live in a world where people are obsessed with celebrity, right?

 

So let me, I have some access to some celebrities, some comedians through UCB, let me put them in wheelchairs and see what they learn and then how they can take what they learn now and bring it to the. Grips that they're writing and the shows that are show running and the shows they're directing, that's how it started.

 

And I did the first one was a fundraiser called don't, just stand there and then it's spun off their slot of wheelchair puns. People it's been off into Berlin with my homies. So I had a show at UCD called that girl in the wheelchair. It was a solo show. And I learned that when people came to see the show, they knew what they were in for.

They knew they were coming to see some disability humor and they could laugh. But when I did, uh, Piece of the show in like a variety or best of show at UCB and people didn't know what to expect or didn't know a girl was going to come out and start making fun of disability life in any way. The audience was like, Oh my God, are we, can we laugh at this?

 

I don't. What's she doing? She making fun of disability. Wait, is she really in a wheelchair? Like they didn't. Right. And so I learned that. I had to again, make my audience comfortable with disability before I could even start making these jokes. And so I found that if we first made fun of the episode of saved by the bell redacted thrill on the wheelchair, right?

 

The episode of "90210", their cousin Bobby comes to town and he's in a wheelchair. If we first made fun of that, then I could get my improvisors on board. Cause even the improvisers didn't want to touch. The wheelchair humor. I had been the monologist for as cat, you know, UCBs like flagship show four times.

 

And I would tell great stories about being in a wheelchair. And they would even the most seasoned improvisers would often take the wheelchair element out of the story. And I'm like, Nope, that's why it was funny. But they were like, I know, but we can't do that. So I said, okay, here's what we're gonna do.

 

We're gonna spend the first half of the show making fun of Zack Morris and NBC and the eighties. Then I'm going to bring up a person in a wheelchair. The second half of the show, I'm going to interview them. And by then, you're going to feel comfortable doing the wheelchair humor. And it worked, it really worked, but it took me a long time to sort of like figure out how to disarm people and get there.

 

And it works for the audience as well. So I think that's some of the things I've like honed over the years is how to incorporate disability and with comedy and make it okay. Cause you can't just come at people with a joke and they're like, are we allowed to laugh at that? You have to make, unfortunately.

 

Make them comfortable first it's annoying, but it is what it is.

 

Passionistas: I imagine nowadays people are even more overly sensitive towards not laughing at things because they're trying to do the correct thing. And so even though it's becoming more of an awareness for people, is it, is it in somehow in some ways, a little bit harder now or is it getting easier?

 

Santina: It's both, it's harder, but in a way that it just makes you work a little smarter work a little harder. You didn't have to figure it out. Yeah. It's hard, right? Because you don't want to insult anybody. And that's really hard because there are people out there who are looking and to be insulted. There's a quote.

 

I love that. I try to remind myself constantly, which is you could be the juiciest, ripest peach, and there will still be people who don't like peaches. If I make my jokes, like if I try to make them too inclusive, I'm, I'm always going to be leaving somebody behind and then I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

 

You can't please everybody with every single joke with every single thing with her. And I'm writing this book of essays right now, and there are times where I'm like, Oh God, this is going to piss somebody off. I know it. No pun intended paralyzes me as a writer of like, then maybe I just won't. But it's like, no, you've got to put the book out because you're going to help more people than you're going to hurt.

 

But I don't want to hurt anybody, but, uh, it's a lot. We're all, you know, we're all as content creators, we're all dealing with this. Right. But it is scary because we are at a time right now where you don't know even something that's okay to say today might not be okay to say next year. And you're like, Oh shit.

 

Now it's in print. Once it's published, it's that it's done. You know? And even if I changed my mind or my point of view, which is. Something that has already happened to me, even from drafts that I've written, you know, before COVID times. And I'm like, Oh wait, this is, I gotta change this. You know? So it happens once it's out there, you know, good luck to us all.

 

Yeah. You have these open conversations with people and it's like, okay, you know what? That's true. That's sorry. I didn't realize that's messed up. So as well, I just, I want to be aware and. I try to give people the same courtesy. Like if someone says something that I feel like is sort of abelist, which is a term that even, I only learned in the past few years, I mean, people were being able as to me all my life, but I didn't know that's what it was called or what it was, but I try to educate before I cut people down or out, it depends on my mood. I said early in the beginning, you know, if you get me on a compassionate day, great. But if you get me like on a day where I'm just like, I've had it, I don't know.

Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington. And you're listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Santina Muha. To keep up with her projects, follow her on Instagram @SantinaMuha.

 

If you are enjoying this interview and would like to help us continue creating inspiring content, please consider becoming a patron by visiting the Passionistas Project.com/Podcast and clicking on the patron button. Even $1 a month can help us continue our mission of inspiring women to follow their passions.

 

Now here's more of our interview with Santina.

 

Passionistas: Was it through UCB that you hooked up with Amy Poehler to do the conversation on disability and comedy? Can you tell us about that?

 

Santina: I love her so much. Yes. I met Amy Poehler at UCB in the hallway one time and I was just like, woo. Oh my gosh. It was like, because she's, you know, she found it she's one of the four founders of UCB.

 

Uh, and so she's like the queen and it would be like running into Dave Thomas, right. His daughter at Wendy's. Right. So it's like, and, and I, I introduced myself to her. I was just a student at the time. And then I kind of came up through the ranks of UCB and became a performer. And then, you know, when they opened up.

 

The sunset location, which we were also excited about was just recently as closed now, which we're also sad about. We had a big opening party, you know, and I was on a house team at the time. So we got to like decorate and Amy was there. All the, everyone was there. Everybody was at that party and dance and just together, all of us dancing.

 

And it wasn't like we were there to watch Amy perform. We were all, all performance together. It was like, amazing. Oh my God dreams just coming true left and right for me, And then we kept in touch and then, you know, she did that. She directed that film wine country on Netflix. And she sent me an email that was like, I need a voice of a receptionist and she's from the East coast too.

 

And she's like, and I feel like receptionists are always, they always sound like a little sweet, but a little bitchy. And I feel like that's how you sound. So could you come be the boy? I'm like, yup. I just like, felt so seen I'm like, that is what I am that's me. She nailed it. So I'm like, she got me. And then after COVID and there was a lot of issues with, you know, UCB in the way they handled diversity and inclusion and stuff like that.

 

And they made a lot of mistakes and they, you know, they're working on those mistakes. So a few of us started this group called Project rethink, where we addressed a lot of those issues. And Amy and Matt Bester, I met Walsh, Indian Roberts or the other founders, and they were all involved. We had a bunch of zoom meetings with them to tell them here's what we as marginalized.

 

Comedians feel, you know, we have all different types of marginalized comedians in Project rethink. So Amy and I got to talk over zoom that way over quarantine. And then through emails, we were like, Hey, why don't we do something like take this time that we have, that you see these not running right now that we have this sort of extra accessible platform accessible, meaning we can reach more people than just the people that can come to the LA location and do this thing we did.

 

And Amy is very passionate about giving a voice to comedians. That wouldn't otherwise, you know, or, or trying to do that, whether it's women, she has her smart girls thing and just UCB in general was created for that purpose to give comedians a platform.

 

Passionistas: Tell us about your experience working on the film “Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot.”

 

Santina: That was amazing. That was also through. UCB because they came, you know, Gus Van Sant, who directed that film. It's a very serious film, but he wanted it to have some levity. So he thought, well, I know what I'll do. I'll hire comedians to play the doctor, to play the journalist, to play them.

 

So that even though the topic is serious, there'll be some level of levity within. I think that, you know, there was like a smart move by Gus. So he came to UCB. It's based on a book written by a humorous too is quadriplegic. And he had a friend. In rehab, who was a spunky brown haired girl in a wheelchair.

 

So they came in, they're like, Hey, do you have this? And they were like, actually we do have one of those. They called me in for this audition. And then I got the call back and the callback was with gusta and sad and Francine Maisler, who's cast it, all these great things that, you know, when you're an actress, like the casting people are celebrities stress, right?

 

So I'm like, Oh my God, I'm going to be friends. I went in and did the call back. And I knew like, you know, sometimes you just know like, Oh my God, you know, you just can tell. A lot of people who have spinal cord injuries, what we do is we celebrate the day of our injury. It's like, because you could either mourn the loss of your legs or whatever, or you can celebrate the fact that you survived on this day.

 

When I was in high school, I locked myself in my room and I was very email about it. And then somewhere in college, on it's my anniversary is March ninth. I decided I it's. So when I had my accident, I was. At Robert Wood Johnson hospital in new Brunswick, New Jersey. So I always have like a bad connotation attached to new Brunswick.

 

Then when I went to college, I went to Rutgers, which was also in new Brunswick, New Jersey, and also the four most fun years of my life. So it kind of switched, you know, the way I thought about new Brunswick and being so close to Robert Wood Johnson. I said, one March night, I said, you know what, let's go bring flowers to the adolescent ward where I stayed.

 

There were two nurses sitting at the desk. One was sitting a little further off and one was sitting up front and I went up to the one sitting up front. I said, hi, I just want to give you flowers and thank you for everything you've done and everything you do as a nurse, you know, I was here many, many years ago.

 

I had a car accident and I was here and the nurse at the far end of the station goes Santina. And I was like, Oh my God. And she came over and she goes, Oh my God, you look the same, whatever she's telling the other nurse, this is Santina and this is San Antonio. And they're just like, Oh my God, you're saying, so it was like such, you know, I had made already an impact here and I thought, okay, this is what I need.

This is the universe telling me, this is the way to go. Now you do something like this every year on this day, because you've made an impact and you've got to keep doing that. So then every year on my anniversary, I would do something nice. And this one. Other things I've done is one year I had a roller skating party and I rented out the roller skating rink.

 

And I put all, because I said, we're all my friends were all on wheels today. Right. We're all going to be on wheels. And that was nice. So anyway, it just so happened that my first shooting day of don't worry, it was on March 9th. So I got to spend that day, that year in a park, right with Joaquin Phoenix and Gus Van Sant, directing us, just dancing in the park with walking Phoenix, both of us in wheelchairs.

 

I mean, it was amazing. That's when you know, those are the times the universe is telling you you're on the right track.

 

Passionistas: So in 2018 you were cast as Beth on the TV series, the reboot of "One Day at a Time." So how did that come about and tell us a little bit about your experience on that show.

 

Santina: That was another thing where a friend of mine who I'd met through UCB was good friends with Gloria Calderon Kellett was the showrunner was the showrunner of "One Day at a Time".

 

And she said, you gotta meet my friend Santina. I think she'd be a great addition to the show because one day at a time was great about inclusion and diversity and not making a big deal about things and just kind of normalizing them. And I think that she would be a great addition to the show and Gloria was like, Oh my God, I know Santi.

And I've seen her perform at UCB. She would be great. And then they offered me this part. I do not do audition. So like we have the main character. Penelope is a veteran she's in the support group and the support group is run by Mackenzie Phillips, who was the original daughter on the show who, like I said, I used to watch with my nonna.

 

So another full circle moment for me to be sitting there in this support group now with Mackenzie Phillips and my nonna used to wear this ring. And I remember like I would play with the ring while we watched TV together. And I would wear that ring on the show every, every time. Just to kind of like, I'm really big on all that stuff.

I'm big on full circle moments and I'm big on like that happened then to get me to where I am now, you know, I pay attention to all this stuff. And what I loved about doing one day at a time is that it was like the best of, of all of my worlds here, because it was a multi-camera. And so for people who don't know multicam is like, when you're watching a show like full house or family matters or whatever, where the audience is laughing.

 

Right. And it it's. So you get to shoot the show. In front of a live audience. So that's like the improv, but then also you get hair and makeup and craft services and you get to tell your family and friends what channel it's on. Right. Which is something you don't get from improv. So I got to do both things at the same time that I loved and feed off of the audience, but then also tell my family, you know, what time they could watch it and where, and when.

 

And then I got to work with all of the, I mean like Rita Moreno. Are you kidding? Me and Jesse Machado, who I loved on "Six Feet Under". And I was just like in awe of everybody around me, Judy. Right. It just, I feel like now I have to, I'm not going to mention everybody because all of them, Oh, it was the best.

 

It was the best. And I've been on like other sets. They're not all the best. That was great.

 

Passionistas: You're not just a comedian. You're not just an actress. You're a creator. And I think that's really important to give you a chance to talk about that.

 

Santina: I have two films that are actually at slam dance right now. And one is "Ass Level", which is a comedic, you know, parody, rap song type thing, where I talk about all the perks of being in a wheelchair, because I thought, God, everybody's always talking about how much it sucked all the time, but sometimes like it's a cut the line sometimes, you know, I get free parking.

 

So I thought, Oh, you know, rack is like a fun way to like brag, you know? And it's like, I, I grew up loving. Uh, Salt-N-Pepa and Missy Elliott and all this like will kill all was like really fun. Nineties raps. I wanted to paint, pay homage to that. I also did for the Easter Seals disability film challenge this year, the, the street last year, the theme was the genre they gave us was documentary.

 

And so the, my team that we decided we were going to do the spilled challenge, we were like, Oh, okay. Now we've got to make a documentary. All right. We're all coming to, you know, comedic creators. So we're like, well, What are we going to do? And I said, here's something cool. In COVID times I've been meeting all these people over zoom and they don't know I'm in a wheelchair until I tell them, which is very different because usually people see me, they see the wheelchair and right away that that's everything.

 

Now that I tell them it's filtered or wow, she's in a wheelchair. And she did that. She was in a wheelchair and she did that. Right. So it was really like, this is interesting. I get to meet people. They get to know me first and then I can fold the wheelchair into the conversation. So we did a documentary and that's called full picture.

 

It's doing really, really well getting great reviews. It's a short doc and I hope people check it out because I learned some stuff about myself too, in my own, like sort of implicit bias that I had internalized ableism that I have, you know, from whatever media and pop culture has put into my head. Right.

 

And I'm really proud of that and proud of this book. And I'm also writing two movies right now, one by myself and one with two writing partners. And I'm just trying to create content, especially now that. In this time where I can't really, you know, go anywhere, do anything because the world is on pause. There's a great opportunity to, to write. And that's what I've been doing, just so I don't feel like lazy.

 

Passionistas: What advice would you give to a young woman who is living with a disability?


Santina: If you think you can't do something, then. And you probably aren't thinking of all of the ways that you could do it. You might not be able to do it like this, but I I'm sure that there's a version of the thing that you want to do that you can do.

 

Or maybe that thing that you want to do is leading you to the next thing of whatever it is. Right. So just know that even if it doesn't look like. What you're imagining sometimes it's not about the experience of the circumstance, but the feeling that you, that you have. Right. And you can achieve that, feeling, doing something, doing something you'll get there. Right. You'll get to that feeling. Even if it doesn't look externally, like what you thought it would.

 

Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Santina Muha.  To keep up with her projects, follow her on Instagram @SantinaMuha. Please visit ThePassionistasProject.Com to learn more about our podcast and subscription box filled with products made by women-owned businesses and female artisans to inspire you to follow your passions. Sign up for our mailing list to get 10% off your first purchase. And be sure to subscribe to The Passionistas Project Podcast. So you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guests until next time. Stay well and stay passionate.