Mo Amer 

Palestinian-American comic on losing everything and gaining acceptance

Mohammed "Mo" Amer, 34, fled Kuwait with his family in 1990 during the Gulf War and settled in Texas. He became mesmerized with comedy when he first saw Bill Cosby perform and started his own comedy career after high school. Today, he is one of a growing number of popular Muslim-American and Arab-American comedians, whose ranks include Dave Chappelle (for whom Amer headlined in Boise in September, 2015), Dean Obeidallah, Maysoon Zayid and Preacher Moss. He's performed all over the world, including for American troops.

Since May, 2015, Amer has been touring his one-man show, Legally Homeless,"which plays off the absurdities he experienced as a refugee for nearly 20 years until he became an American citizen in 2009.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 9 a.m. at Boise State University, Amer will give the keynote address and perform at the annual conference of the Idaho Office for Refugees. In March, he'll travel to Tunisia as part of a U.S. State Department-sponsored cultural exchange.

Boise Weekly spoke to Amer by phone in advance of his appearance in Boise.

Did you know before you were contacted to do this event that Boise is a preferred resettlement area for refugees?

I had no idea. It totally left-fielded me. It just blew me away.

Because you were a refugee yourself, do these types of events hold a special place for you?

I experienced it firsthand. I had to flee Kuwait with a refugee travel document, went through the process of having to migrate to another country, go through that legal system, learn it, assimilate culturally, try to understand what's happening, what the references were. You have to really, really dig deep to adjust. It's something I'm very, very passionate about for sure.

Are we on the cusp of seeing an increased popularity of Muslim-American comics?

I definitely feel like it's a necessary bridge that needs to happen ... people are starving to know about Arab culture. They really are very ignorant to it and don't know it very well. So it's really, really necessary that we do that. All of the sudden you see hummus everywhere. Hummus is a thing now. It seems like whoever we're beefing with, we really like their food.

What message will you have for your Feb. 9 audience?

Anything you can do is possible; 100 percent. It's not the end. Somebody always has it worse. I know it sounds really cliché, but you have to every day do something functional to hit that goal and it will happen. And one thing that I'll cherish from what I saw as a really negative and horrible experience, which was being uprooted in war. Everything was gone. Everything is just material. You experience the world really differently. And the more time that goes by, the more you smile at adversity.

Do you think comedy can reach those who are fearful of refugees?

Some people just think they're right, and even though they know they're wrong, they can't admit they're wrong. But I think it's a small minority that feels that way. So I believe that it's really effective from that standpoint, that it can really share an experience or give them an experience with somebody they've never sat with before.

You toured in Egypt around the time of the uprisings. How do you feel about performing in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring seems to have been more successful?

I find it to be really fascinating to actually have the opportunity to tour Tunisia after all that and see what the vibe is. Super, super excited for that. It really does create a bond and plant seeds. There really are only two indigenous art forms to America—jazz and standup. So seeing the Arab countries birth some standup comedians is really exciting.

What do you hope people will take away from your performance?

I hope they think it's really funny. That's No. 1. That's the most important thing to me, honestly. But if you can make them laugh and think, then you've really got something.

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