“Ask Netflix!” was Mohammed ‘Mo’ Amer’s response when asked whether or not his hit-comedy show “Mo” will return for a second season. “We won awards, we are one of Variety’s top shows…” he continued, to the great applause of an eager audience at his In Conversation event at the Red Sea Film Festival.
“Nothing happened overnight; it took a lot of patience and time to be yourself on American television,” said Amer, when speaking on the lengthy journey to be allowed to tell his story in an authentic way within American television. “They put a lot in front of you for you to do things I am not okay with. It took over 20 years of patience and figuring out what the business is, and what story I want to tell, to make ‘Mo’ happen.”
“I think that having that 20 years of thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it made [the show] so timely and timeless. It will live on forever,” he continued. “It’s been so beautiful to have the old school, the new school and everybody in between be so attached to it. It’s been the most incredible response.”
Connecting to different generations and staying true to his community is vital to Amer. The stand-up comedian spoke at length about how he recut one of the episodes of “Mo,” which takes place in a gentleman’s club, to avoid what he perceives as unnecessary exposition. “I’ll tell you: what the director filmed didn’t make the cut. There were a lot of Arabs that did take jobs there or have worked there [in the gentleman’s club], so we’re definitely not going to have booties or boobies popping out – excuse me!” he exclaimed mid-laughter before pointing out that there was “no nice way” to say it. “I cut all that stuff out myself because it’s not necessary to the story. It’s hypersexuality for the sake of just showing it… On the editing I was like ‘take that out,’” said Amer as audience members shouted back encouragement such as “Good job!”
“You have to be balanced. I was born in Kuwait. I’m not somebody who just got there and doesn’t understand it. I’m fluent in Arabic, I hang out with my family and I want to show my face! I want to see my uncles! So I’m thinking about that too. How can I have this level of success while getting the young and the old and everybody in between? That’s the main focus. It’s not about how cool I am or how sexualized my show is… It’s about the damn story, man. It’s all I care about.”
Another great concern of the comedian is paying it forward and opening new avenues to Arab talent in the U.S. “It’s thrilling to be able to give opportunities to other Arab actors and artists because I never had that. I started doing comedy in the South, in Houston. I toured post 9/11 in Mississippi, Louisiana and all throughout Texas… I was very alone. There was nobody who understood what I was trying to do and accomplish.”
The comedian continues to rise, having recently appeared in DC Comics’ “Black Adam.” The film’s premiere was special in more ways than one for Amer, who was accompanied by his mother in her first trip to the cinema in over 22 years. “There were moments where I had the opportunity to audition for movies and it was terrorist-based roles. Can you imagine if I got this big role in a movie and I’m going to take my mom to the premiere? Look what I did, mom!” When describing being on the red carpet for “Black Adam,” the comedian said it was a “historical moment.” The last time his mother had been to a cinema was to watch 1998’s “The Siege,” which tells the tale of a secret U.S. abduction of a suspected terrorist. “She left and had never been to a movie since.”
“Stand-up comedy saved my life,” Amer told the audience, in one of many moments where he became visibly emotional. “After my dad died, I was 14 years old, and five years in America. I was just lost. Stand-up energized me in an amazing way. We’re great! Arabs are incredible. We have such a rich history of storytelling, and somehow it’s been lost like we’re some kind of backwards culture. It’s so infuriating. It’s time for it to come back and for us to tell our stories from our perspectives, stories that are honest, grounded and not trying to make people happy,” concluded the comedian.