Mo Amer is the first Palestinian leading man on American television with the Netflix series ‘Mo.’

  • Mo Amer is making waves with his new Netflix biographical series, “Mo.”
  • The show depicts his early years as a dashing Palestinian refugee in Houston, Texas.
  • He told Insider about creating a new lane on American television that he wishes he had in 10 years.

As an enterprising young Palestinian refugee in Houston, Texas, Mo Amer refined and sold watches from the trunk of his classic car. But now is his time to shine.

The Palestinian-American comedian is making waves with his Netflix series “Mo,” a stark depiction of his early years in the US awaiting an asylum application after fleeing Kuwait during the first Iraq war when was 10.

Amer has found success as a world-touring comedian for the past 24 years, now in the close circle of Dave Chapelle, but the show sets a new benchmark with him as the first Palestinian refugee to make his way onto American television screens. .

It’s infectiously funny at one time, separating the bastardization of chocolate and flavored hummus and devilishly serious at other times, dealing with intergenerational trauma, the limbo of an asylum claim, and interfaith dating at other times. Together, the ingredients, and her personal bottle of olive oil, take viewers into a new world, one that Amer wishes was depicted on television long ago.

He told Insider about the joys of doing the show and the novelty of being not just famous, but “WhatsApp famous.”

I wanted to start by asking you specifically, as a Palestinian, Palestinian American, how does it feel to be the first Palestinian lead in an American series and get the kind of feedback you’ve gotten so far?

Yes, it is surreal. It’s something I’ve been waiting for 20 years. It’s exciting to make this breakthrough on American television and come out on a platform like Netflix.

It really, warms my heart, man. It was emotional at first and now the happiness is starting to seep through. I’m like, “Oh, we really did that. I did that. Bro, you did that. You believed in that, you did it, and you put it in.” together and it happened and with a great team and vision. It all worked out.” It’s very exciting. Very exciting.

I’ve been at this for 24 years, so I felt like I was on my own for a long time.

Is it true that you carry your own olive oil with you?

Of course it’s true, man. Where do you think he came from? I mean, I’m not as consistent as I used to be with it, but for a while I used to do that. And hot sauce. It was hot sauce and olive oil, so at any time I can prepare the hummus I ordered. That’s actually the reason I kept it. I get good deliveries from home. Every six months we receive deliveries from our own olive farms.

The care and consideration that goes into the pressing of the oil sets it apart. And besides, we basically drink it, so it goes to the next level unfiltered. Every time I get it from my house and pour it out of that little tank, chunks of olives come out. You really never see that. So it’s very, very rare in that way and it’s so flavorful and fragrant.

When you came to the US and until this point or until you started working on the show, what was your perception of Arabs on TV as a consumer at a given point in time?

Well, I never saw myself or my community on television. That’s the problem, right? I never saw it ever until this day. It wasn’t until my series dropped that I actually saw something that was realistic and based on seeing a Palestinian family, at least in Houston, Texas. And I’m getting tremendous comments from abroad saying, “Finally, a real Palestinian family on TV where you talk about real Palestinians as Palestinians.” It’s not that I’m another ethnicity pretending to be Palestinian. I am not. That has never happened. There has never been a Palestinian creator of a show.

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The show is funny at times and also explores really serious traumatic issues, so I wanted to ask you how important it was for you to focus on some of the sacrifices immigrant parents make and the traumatic life events that you chose to focus on. in the program?

I mean, it’s extremely important to be as real as possible, even in a comedy. So it wasn’t just the sacrifices that were also important, like hats off to your elders and what they’ve done for you to have a better life and the sacrifices they made to get you to America or to get you to Sweden or to get you to wherever you are in the world.

And naturally, it will leak into the drama. It’s going to seep into really sad things that happen with war and displacement and statelessness in our case. There is going to be a lot of trauma. There is also going to be a generational trauma. That’s why it was important for me to highlight the Iraq War, which is true in my story where we had to flee there.

We will return to comedy: every comedy has a dramatic relief and every drama has a comic relief. And I feel like it’s, especially on my show, that it was important to just sit on it whenever we felt it.

How did your family receive the show?

They love. My mom, she recently stopped crying when she sees it. You know what I want to say? It took her a minute to stop getting teary-eyed every time she sees him.

She didn’t know what stand-up comedy was when I started, so. And she told me recently while we were out for dinner, spontaneously as I was driving, she said, “Remember those years ago when you were 18, you’d come home at three in the morning and I’d start yelling at you like, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ And this and that after coming home from open mics and this and that.”

I was like, “Yeah.” And she says, “All the time, you were laughing at me. You had this whole dream and this whole vision that no one understood.” And she was like, “I’m so glad you didn’t listen to me.”

So everyone is overwhelmed by it. They are super proud of it. There are Netflix celebrities and WhatsApp celebrities. And being famous on WhatsApp is much bigger than being famous on Netflix. When your mom gets messages from people who don’t even know I’m her kid, that’s crazy.

You are in a different radius of aunts.

Yes, exactly. I’m in group chats on WhatsApp bro. We did it.

The musical direction on the show is very varied, and I know it taps into all those parts of your background, Palestinian, Houstonian, Arab. And so, how was the sound direction process for you? And what did you want to contribute to that?

Well, there was a really solid understanding of what we needed to do from a stylistic point of view. We didn’t know what was going to happen exactly. But like you said, I’m Palestinian, so I’m a bit of folk music. I am a little Palestinian people. I’m in Houston, Texas, I’m a little bit hip hop, a little bit chopped, fucked up, a little bit jazz. You know what I want to say? I’m a bit country. I love the narrative aspect. So how do we find that balance and bring it to the hail to make sure we manage, watch and stay tuned?

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I’m sitting there with the editors going through everything. And there are so many elements to think about when you’re doing post production. I made sure that Suhel Nafar was with me to support the vision, make recommendations, oversee things and try to get us these songs like “Yamo”. And then I brought in Common to come along with Kareem Riggins to help dial in the show. We had a nine-piece band playing, and I would fly to New York and sit in the studio with Common and they would have a scene playing and start riffing with her as a unit. And Common and I would look at everyone, at Kareem and me, and say, “Yeah, take this back. Let’s try this. Let’s try that.”

So every part, every second of the show was thought of. Whether we should have music or not have music, when to bring it, when not to bring it. And everything was completely original, aside from the licensed tracks, but everything was completely original.

In episode four, you hear a waltz because I thought of it like, “Man, you go from scene to scene and it’s so different. Mo’s in a serious situation that could cost him his life, and then you have the other side where Maria is in this $6 million mansion. How do we connect them? I was like, “It’s almost like a waltz.”

They’re like, “Yeah, let’s play a waltz. Let’s see how it works.” And we’re like, “Okay, no problem. Waltz.” They are virtuosos, they just play and we play and see how it works.

That is incredible. And I wanted to ask you, have you seen the American perception of Palestine and Palestinian rights change, especially in the last five to 10 years? Have you felt a change around that?

It’s hard because there’s so much to catch up on. It definitely seems like people are more informed or have seen something different than what you always see on mainstream TV, which is a good thing. So I would say yes, overall there is definitely a difference.

I think what it does to people is to excite them and feel seen, and I think that definitely helps to motivate Palestinians and people to learn more, to see more and to relate to us, to at least sympathize with this family and relate and empathize with the difficult. And not just Palestinians, man, I’m talking about immigrants, refugees and more. People struggling to make ends meet, someone who works multiple jobs to barely pay bills and take care of their family. You can see yourself in this show. This is not just an immigrant show.

I mean, well, if it was coming up now, if I was just being introduced to stand-up comedy now, and I’m a 10-year-old little kid, a Palestinian kid who just moved here, and I see a version of me on TV, It would scare me. I would absolutely lose my mind. And then right away he was like, “Oh, it’s doable.”

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