The World and Mo Amer

June 22, 2018

Interview by

Richard Goodwin

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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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.

[My teacher] knew that my father had died, and I was strug­gling and I stopped show­ing up, and you know, she changed my life.”Mo Amer

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.

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 South just to do gigs for $100 bucks.”Mo Amer

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. 

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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!

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Mo Amer