Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 15 July 2020

'I've experienced so much prejudice': Why Palestinian-American comic Mo Amer believes it's 'about time' for Arab American stories

The 'Ramy' actor, who grew up in Kuwait, has been described by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as 'the cherry on top' of the show

The Palestinian-American comedian and actor is hopeful that more stories about Arab Americans are being told. Netflix
The Palestinian-American comedian and actor is hopeful that more stories about Arab Americans are being told. Netflix

Mo Amer has been so busy working on upcoming projects that he didn't even realise the second season of Ramy had been released.

"I started getting messages and I was like 'Yes, it's out now'."

The Palestinian-American comedian, who plays Mo in Ramy Youssef's hit comedy show, has so far been thrilled with the feedback since the season landed at the end of May.

"When you have someone like Mahershala Ali sending you messages like 'You're the cherry on top of the cake', that makes you feel real giddy inside," he tells The National over a Zoom call.

The semi-autobiographical Hulu show, which revolves a young Arab-American Muslim in the US, has received rave reviews since its first season debuted in April 2019. Earlier this year, lead actor Youssef won a Golden Globe for his performance in the series and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali joined the second season in the role of Sheikh Ali, a mosque leader.

While Ramy – which is available in the UAE on OSN – hasn't been officially picked up for a third season yet, with its current success, it's highly likely it will.

"I would be shocked if it's not [picked up]," Amer, 38, says. "Who knows? But we definitely have our hands full to try and make it even better."

Amer has come a long way from where he is right now. Born and raised in Kuwait, at the age of 9 he moved with his family to Texas following the First Gulf War. After discovering stand-up as a teen, Amer decided to try his hand at the comedy form as a way to express himself and talk about his experience.

He started touring, armed at the time with just a travel document. It took Amer and his family, who originally come from Palestine, 20 years to become American citizens. It's a story he addressed in his first comedy special The Vagabond, which came out in 2018 on Netflix, the first show of its kind by an Arab American on the streaming giant.

Mo Amer: The Vagabond. Courtesy Netflix
In 'Mo Amer: The Vagabond', Amer discusses his family's story of moving to the US from Kuwait. Netflix

At the time, Amer had to make the tough decision to turn down HBO for Netflix, but for a very poignant reason.

"It was a really big deal for me because I wanted that special to be seen in Falasteen [Palestine]," he says. "To see my mum so proud and getting messages from all around the world, it was really rewarding."

As of this month, Amer has been performing stand-up for 21 years and says it's "about time" Arab American stories, such as those in Ramy, are being told.

"When they started doing these shows and allowing these specials to come out, that's how I felt," he says. "How long will you be able to do these one-sided stories and not tell the Palestinian story, for instance?"

It was a really big deal for me because I wanted that special to be seen in Falasteen [Palestine]

Mo Amer

For Amer, that sits at the core of his aim as a comedian and actor – to provide a different narrative.

"It's going to eventually get there. 'What you resist shall persist,' that's one of my mantras," he says. "And people are hungry to learn about it."

"Even black people in America to this day are struggling to find their voice. Eventually they have their own networks and they're able to put out their own stories and this has just been in the past 20 or 25 years," he says.

The conversation brings us to what is happening in America today in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd. Amer's voice becomes more serious, bordering on emotional.

"I'll always be there for my black brothers and sisters and any community that has been dealt an unjustly hand," he says. "I've experienced so much prejudice all around the world travelling as a refugee. Seeing how people talk to me, when they see my ID and see my name and how their attitude shifts, I get it."

However, Amer is hopeful that what is happening in the US will have a ripple effect, not just in America but around the world.

"There's a lot of work to be done," he says. "We need to do a lot better.

"As a society we need to have a lot of compassion for each other. Also, [we need] those individuals who hold the power to tell the stories need to let it happen."

Despite having established his life in the US, Amer's career has allowed him to stay very much connected to the Arab world, visiting the region two or three times a year prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, Amer made a trip to Kuwait, the country he left as a boy, for a sold-out show, even visiting the house where his family lived.

"It was super emotional," he says. "I was literally crying before the show."

He hopes to take a trip back to the Gulf soon but for now, Hollywood beckons.

Updated: June 8, 2020 06:31 PM

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