|Photo Credit||Mathieu Bitton|
|Interviewer & Article||Richard Goodwin|
Every performer we interview for Comedy Wham gifts us new bits of knowledge we previously lacked. Everything from industry tips, to how to pursue creativity, to philosophies on the world. This week’s guest brought all that, and a very unexpected bonus revelation: apparently I sound just like famed PBS painter, and father of the Happy Little Accident, Bob Ross. When Mo Amer drops that kind of information on you, it’s hard to ignore.
Palestinian, born in Kuwait, and having spent the majority of his upbringing in Houston, Texas, that would already mark Amer as a man who’s seen more of the world than many. Add the fact that he’s performed in over 30 countries, and you start to get a sense of the experiences that influence his comedy on stage. All of this globe-trotting translates to someone well versed in the nuance of character, seamlessly shifting on stage to portray the stories of his life from the many, many places on the planet he’s visited.
Amer describes his past simply as “a struggle”, with a transitory early life, parents in different locations at times, and new beginnings in a country far from home. His tenacity born of dealing with change found new purchase in a fortuitous moment, when visiting the Houston rodeo with his brother. The performers that day were the country band Alabama, and Bill Cosby. In the glow of that experience, Amer knew right away that comedy was his future. Although he still has a stellar concept for a stealthy Arabic country singer.
It was a pursuit he started acting on immediately, and credits with helping him succeed in high school in the midst of turmoil after his father’s passing, and “less than stellar” attendance. Shy of needed credits in Spanish, Amer was in danger of missing out on opportunities like roles in the school theater organization. His teacher took note of his knack for performing, and encouraged him to use class time to do stand-up and Shakespearean monologues for his fellow students to earn the extra points he needed. “[My teacher] knew that my father had died, and I was struggling and I stopped showing up, and you know, she changed my life”, Amer says.
It’s worth noting that Amer speaks multiple languages, so in this story you can see the recurrent pattern in his life: once he sets his sights on a goal, he won’t stand for anything but success. Experiences like this reinforced Amer’s already strong confidence in his abilities, and have served him well in the years since.
Paired with that resoluteness, he started absorbing all the comedy and industry guidance he could from others in the business. Amer recounts, “I would go to every single spot and push it to the max…do one nighters that are 12 hours apart…drive like a maniac across the South just to do gigs for $100 bucks.”
Cross-country drives to gigs, and international flights, gave him continued exposure to real-world challenges that are in the news as we speak. Like the intricate dance of getting through country borders unhassled or the lack of familiarity with multiculturalism in the modern populace. These are annoyances that he deftly turns into high-energy tales of hilarity on the stage. He’s an Arabic comedian, and his comedy sometimes explores what that heritage means to him, but his performances just as often turn the lens on the many and varied peoples of the places he’s spent time. It’s the kind of material that rests on a delicate balance: making the audience laugh, while slyly giving them a greater awareness of some of the challenges with acceptance and civility we still face as a society.
His concentration on success, and his comedic talent for global introspection, led to him co-starring in a highly regarded concert comedy film, Allah Made Me Funny, appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and at the time of this article, preparing for the eve of recording his first Netflix special June 28th at the Paramount Theatre. It’s Amer’s first time on that stage, but he’s no stranger to Austin; he calls it a second home, having toured here with Dave Chappelle and even auditioning for HBO at Esther’s Follies at age 19.
At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about Amer’s chance encounter during a plane ride that found him sitting next to Eric Trump. Yes, of the Trump Trumps. Already a seasoned and well-known comedian, Amer suddenly found himself thrust into a whole new kind of spotlight when the story hit the internet. The experience has been covered in exhaustive detail from outlets worldwide, so I asked him a slightly different kind of question: would he switch places with Eric Trump if he could?
I won’t spoil the answer here, as Amer tells it best in the interview. I will say that his response, and my experience with him in general, serves further to highlight his combination of talents. Confident, determined, focused on his life in comedy, he’s also attuned to the adept observation of topics and norms that many of us would do well to spend time improving upon.
He’s got an infectious laugh that permeates his personality, and even in our brief interview time, he was supportive and helpful, giving me good-natured feedback, and even a little ribbing. Apologies in advance for ruining for everyone any future parties I attend, where I will no doubt be busting out my new Bob Ross alter-ego, boosted by Amer’s encouragement. In the end, Amer’s comedy is a celebration of the variety of life, the absurdity of de facto norms, and a journey through his world, with the audience along for the ride.
Mo Amer is taping his Netflix special, MO, during two shows at the Paramount Theatre on June 28th. Tickets are available at the Paramount website, and are going fast; do yourself a favor and get out and see him!