She’s sassy, she’s funny, and over the summer she answered the burning questions that people had about life for a girl on wheels. In the first of a very special series, I talk to actress, writer, and improviser Santina Muha about her turn in the spotlight in BuzzFeed’s videos and more.
Gabriel Gonzalez: First off, what brought you from New Jersey to California?
Santina Muha: Ever since the first episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 I knew I wanted to live in the magical place called California. I have always loved all things celebrity and entertainment, so I guess that’s why I’ve always been drawn to LA and now that I live here I feel like I’m living inside my TV! And I love it.
GG: Both of your videos for BuzzFeed: “What It’s Like to be a Girl in a Wheelchair” and “Wheelchair Dating Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask” have over a million views. Did you expect them to be so popular?
SM: I am not surprised to see them become popular because there are so many people out there affected by disability and they are completely underrepresented, so I knew they would want to see videos like these. And on the flip side, there are many people out there who are so unfamiliar with the world of disability, but still curious, so I figured some of those people would want to see something like this too!
GG: How did filming the videos come about? Were you approached by BuzzFeed or vice-versa?
SM: I had been wanting to do videos like these for a while but wanted the right platform. Then, Buzzfeed put out a call for questions for a person in a wheelchair, and I emailed saying I didn’t have any questions but I had some answers. Jared from Buzzfeed, who was putting the videos together, contacted me soon after and since we were both in LA we were able to meet and talk in person. We scheduled the first shoot pretty soon after that!
GG: What has been the most popular question you’ve gotten about dating after people saw the video?
SM: :Do that many people really ask you if you can have sex?” And yes, yes they do.
GG: What have things been like for you since the videos came out? Are you recognized out in public?
SM: I was at the LA County Fair recently and got recognized twice throughout the day, once by a teenage girl and once by a man in his 30s, I’d say. Both seemed very excited to meet me, which made me feel so great because it showed me that I was reaching more than one demographic for sure. Also I am so happy that I am able to use comedy to educate people about something – I think that makes the lessons stick so much better. I have been recognized a few other times since, and I can’t lie, it always feels pretty cool!
GG: Have people stopped to ask you for dating advice in person?
SM: Not strangers, but my friends ask me all the time. And believe me, I also ask them for dating advice.
GG: You share so much about dating while in a wheelchair, can you tell us about the most awkward date you’ve ever been on?
SM: I went on a date once and a few glasses of wine in I discovered their restroom was not even close to accessible. Not even the kind where I can kind of improvise a way to get in. So I basically had to rush us out of there, nixing dessert and not even fully finishing our meals so we could drive around Staten Island looking for a Dunkin’ Donuts or something with a public accessible restroom. Stuff like that is always so embarrassing because the last thing you want to do when dating someone is make them think you are going to need special accommodations all of the time.
GG: After watching your clips from “One Woman Show” I notice that your thoughts on how people take handicap stall also comes up, exactly how big of a thing is that for you?
SM: It usually depends on the instance. Like I always say, if all of the other stalls are taken then by all means. Or if you have children with you and want to keep them in eyesight, go for it. Or even if you apologize or acknowledge that “whoops, you got caught,” I’m pretty cool with it. But if all the stalls are open and I have to wait because you took that stall for no reason, it is rude. It already takes me longer than most of my friends to pee – you try pulling up skinny jeans without standing up – and it doesn’t help when I have to tack on extra time because someone was being inconsiderate and didn’t learn a basic human courtesy. (Yeah, I guess this topic is kind of a big thing for me!)
GG: You do not shy away from being “That Girl in the Wheelchair” and you use it to create a very entertaining performance from what you’ve shared on the internet. What experiences do you feel give you the most material to share on stage?
SM: Drunk people give me the most material because as they say, “In vino, veritas.” So when people are drunk, their filters are down and they ask a lot of the crazy questions that cross people’s minds but they are usually too embarrassed to ask when sober.
GG: What was it like the first time you performed comedy or improv in front of people? Were you nervous?
SM: I was so nervous I almost turned around and went right back to New Jersey that night. But I forced myself to get out there and the reaction felt so great that I knew I wanted to do it again. Then the next time I was so nervous again. But AGAIN, the end result felt so good. The nerves never totally go away, especially as the circumstances change, but that great feeling afterwards doesn’t go away either.
GG: What inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment?
SM: I’ve wanted a career in entertainment ever since I was a little girl, even before my accident. Television and movies and celebrities and all things pop culture have always been my world. Now I see the value of pursuing this career in my particular case, because I understand how much of our society is dictated by entertainment and pop culture, and I want to help mainstream disability so it is not perceived as a pitiful or heroic thing. It is a part of diversity, and should be incorporated as much as everything else.
GG: If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
SM: Luke Perry, aka Dylan McKay, from Beverly Hills, 90210 because he is my first true love and I will never get over him until I have closure.
GG: What are three things you’d like people to know about you besides that you are in a wheelchair?
SM: I’m a good cook, and I love to cook for other people and make them tell me 100x if they like it. And I always cook with garlic.
I’m super Italian and I speak Italian but I’ve never been to Italy and I would love to go to Italy so please someone take me to Italy.
I’m a huge pop culture buff, especially TV stuff of the 80s & 90s – I was even on an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Pop Culture Week