Mo Amer: The Vagabond (2018) – Full Transcript

Arab-American comedian Mo Amer recounts his life as a refugee comic, from traveling with the name Mohammed to his long path to citizenship.


[audience chanting] Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! Mo! [chanting speeds up] [man] Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Texas’ own… Mo Amer! [cheering]

Thank you. Thank you, thank you. What’s up, Austin? Have a seat. Austin, Texas. Man! Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wow! Well, can I… [chuckles] All right, well… All right, guys. Jesus, good to see everybody, man. Uh, Austin, man, it’s beautiful. Home state of Texas, uh… It’s a good time. Yes, I am Mo, guys. You know, Mo is actually short for Mohammed. Surprise, bitches! Today is the day! Your cell phones are locked up. It’s too late for you, motherfuckers! Get the door, Aziz! No, I’m just kidding. Okay. I get all kinds of different reactions. Uh… I was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Everything is goin’ great. I say I’m an Arab-American. The whole room gets quiet, and one guy in the back goes… [Southern accent] “Oh, hell, no!” There was one black couple that actually got up and left. Like, “Mm-mm! We seen this shit before. Come on, baby,” and they just took off. It was frustrating. Mohammed is the most popular name in the world, but I can’t find one key chain with my name on it anywhere. Not one person has shared a Coca-Cola with me in America, not a single fucking person. I’ll be honest, though. I didn’t even know how popular the name was until I watched the Egyptian soccer team. Uh… They were showing a play-by-play and the commentator comes on and he’s like, “Mohammed has the ball. Mohammed pass the ball to Mohammed. Mohammed to Ahmed. Ahmed to Hamed. Aaah! Hamed to Mohammed. Mohammed to Mohammed. Mohammed to Mohammed. Mohammed! Mohammed! Mohammed! Gooooalll!” “This weed is too strong, Jeffrey. I think there’s just one guy on the team passin’ the ball to himself, bro. I’m freaking out, man!” [chuckles]

Oh, man! It’s a weird time to be Mohammed, you know? It’s a weird time. It’s also weirder with Trump in office and the thing that happened with me and Eric Trump, my God, we went viral all over the place and all that happened was I got upgraded to first class. I end up sitting next to Eric Trump and then shit went super-viral! I didn’t know I was gonna get upgraded to first class, much less sittin’ next to Eric Trump, but I do know one thing. The lady that upgraded me is probably a Clinton supporter. Let’s be real. I’m just sayin’. She was probably sittin’ there like, “Oh, oh. oh,  Eric Trump is on my flight? Okay. Okay. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” I don’t know why she has a mustache. “Okay. Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Mm-hm.” [laughs] “Oh, there’s an empty seat next to Eric? Okay. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Let me take a look at this upgrade list, uh, see who’s standing by patiently here. Oh, Mohammed Mustafa Amer! Upgrade this motherfucker immediately!” That’s probably what happened. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m, like, 99% sure ’cause I’ve never been greeted with such enthusiasm prior to boarding an aircraft. With the name Mohammed, flying out of New York, it’s just never happened. I show up, I scan my boarding pass. She’s like, “Guess who’s been upgraded? Boom, byeow, byeow, byeow, byeow!” I was like, “Oh, shit, you have an air horn? I didn’t know.” I was so dumb, though. I was like, “Yeah, it’s all these years and dedication to this airline. I’m finally gettin’ the respect that I deserve.” I’m just walking in there like, “Yeah, Million Mile Club, bitch!” You know, like… Uh… it wasn’t the case. I turned the corner, I was like, “Holy shit! Is that Eric Trump?” I was like, “Nah.” I didn’t believe it, so I put up my bag, took a second look and I saw his name on his sweater. So… no further investigation necessary. I mean, that’s what you do with the slow kid in your family when you go to a theme park… so when they get lost, they know how to identify themselves. I just… I just sat down next to him and I was like, “Salaam alaikum, Eric! How’s it goin’, man?” He was like, “Uh, everything’s cool?” I was like, “I’m just messin’ with you, man. Listen, my name’s Mohammed. I’m a Muslim, I’m Arab and a comedian, so I had to mess with you a little bit and I also came here as a refugee. Too late, bitch! I made it!” You know, it was nice. Then I shifted gears on him. He didn’t see it comin’. I was like, “Hey, you tell your dad to build all the damn walls he wants.” He was like, “What?” I was like, “That’s right. Tell your dad to build all the walls he wants. My family flew in, you know what I mean? There is no problem. One $9 Spirit Airlines flight and I’ll be back in business.”

It’s just weird. I was actually born in Kuwait, right? I left Kuwait after the first Gulf War. I was nine years old. I went to a nice private British English school in Kuwait. I wore a little vest and a bow tie to school. I was an adorable Arab kid with a hint of a British accent. I was like, “‘Ello, Mum. Yeah, going to school I am, Mummy. Yeah, all right, yeah.” Then I ended up in Houston, Texas. Very proud… I’m a very proud Houstonian. Super-proud Houstonian from Alief. I’m for real. But hold on, hold on. When I got there, they put me in ESL class… which is English as a second language class, and I was the only guy that spoke English in this fuckin’ class. And my family sends me to school with a vest and a bow tie, thinking, “That’s how you go to school.” No, that’s how you get your ass whooped at school in America. I walk in, all the kids are looking at me like, “Hola. Amigo… [speaking Spanish] I was like… “Sorry? What language are you speaking?” All of a sudden, this other dude just comes up out of nowhere. He’s like, “You’re weird, dude. Golly, man! Why do you talk like that, eh?” And that was my teacher.

You know, it was fucked up. My family did no research. Not one person thought of, like, “Hey, what neighborhood should we move into in Houston? Let’s just fucking go to a bunch of gang violence. That’ll make sense.” It was very tough. I didn’t know what to do. I was caught in the middle of this gang battle. There was a lot of Mexican gangs, a lot of black gangs, and they were fighting each other. And the Mexican gangs wanted to recruit me ’cause they thought I was Mexican. And there was a lot of black gangs. They wanted… They wanted to beat me up ’cause they thought I was Mexican. Really tough high school years. I’m, like, walkin’ to school, and I see these Latino gangs hangin’ out, and, obviously, this guy has seen me before and he’d just had it. He just approaches me. He was like, “Say, vato! You walk by here every day. You don’t say nothin’, don’t do nothin’. What? You ashamed of your own peoples, bro? You ashamed of your own people? This is your familia, bro! Your la raza, bro! You ashamed of your own peoples, bro? Andale, bro. You going to get broke today, bro. What’s your name, bro? Andale, what’s your name?” I was like, “Oh, man, my name is Mohammed.” He’s like, “What? For real, bro? You look exactly like Hector! I swear to God, bro.” He was like, “Hector, Hector, come check it out, dude! Check it out, bro! We found your doppelganger. Te lo juro, bro! Te lo juro!” And the fucked-up part is Hector came out. I was like, “Holy shit, I do look like Hector!” Started high-fivin’ and shit. I was like, “Oh, yeah, we all look alike! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” And then I saw some guns stickin’ out. I was like, “Oh, shit, I need to get the hell out of this situation.” And I did and I had a decent day. I really did. And then, uh, I’m going home and I see the black gangs hangin’ out and I was like, “Please. Please, not today. I’m not emotionally prepared to deal with this today. Please, just not today!” And, of course, they smelled that fear from a mile away. For real! And this guy comes up to me, he was like, “Say, Jose! You in the wrong motherfuckin’ neighborhood, Jose. You done fucked up today, Jose! Where your crew at, Jose?” I’m lookin’ around for Jose. I’m like, “Who the hell is Jose?” I was like, “Come on, man. My name is Mohammed.” He goes, “Ah, man! Salaam alaikum, brother, shit, my bad!” You know? I ended up selling all the gang members fake Rolexes. I’m not gonna lie. I was that Arab connect, that’s what I was.

It was really rough, man. I had some rough times. That’s why you’ve gotta think of, like, backup plans and exit strategies. It’s important. I learned from being a refugee, you’ve gotta have plan B and C and D. That’s why I learned Spanish. Just in case some shit breaks out, I can camouflage at any moment in time. It’s gettin’ rough, man. They start hunting Arabs and Muslims, I don’t know what’ll happen. They’ll be like, chh-chh! “Hey, boy! Hey, boy, you one of them A-rabs, huh? You one of them Muslims, huh?” I’d be like, “No, vato, come on…” [mutters in Spanish] “Sí. Yo regreso a mi país, Mexico!” And just get the fuck out of there. Jump over that unfinished fence, you know what I mean? I’ve thought about it. I’ll just start selling falafel tacos, and… Start a Halal Hermanos truck in Ciudad de Mexico and shit. Just be sitting there yelling, “Ay, salsa verde con tahini sauce, puto, andale!” [chuckles] Shakin’ her head. It’s all right! She was like, “That doesn’t sound delicious at all.”

Immigration is tough, you know. They talk about this extreme vetting and everything happening. Look, it took me 20 years to get my citizenship. It took my mom almost 21 years. Outrageously long. 20 years! Like, I didn’t have a… For ten of those 20 years, I travelled the world doing stand-up comedy without a passport. Really difficult to pull off, by the way. I had what they call a refugee travel document and on the front of this document, it says, “Department of Homeland Security.” All right? On the inside, in all caps, it says, “This is not a US passport.” Confuses everybody that I interact with, including the kiosk machine checkin’ in, right? Like, you get a passport, you scan your passport, you get your boardin’ pass and you out. “Aah! Party! We’re leavin’!” Right? Well, my shit doesn’t scan, so I have to show up and be like, “Um… Excuse me. Uh… Excuse me, ma’am. Can you please help me check in?” She’s like, “Sir, please scan your passport.” “Yeah, I don’t know why you’re yellin’ at me. I just got here. [sighs] Yeah, I was here a week ago and, uh, it didn’t scan, so I was just… Can you please help me check in?” “Sir, did you try it today?” “That’s a really good observation. I didn’t think about it today. Maybe today, it works.” I scan my travel document. A huge exclamation point comes up. “Please seek help from representative.” “Excuse me, ma’am. The Check Engine light just came on on this damn thing. It’s about to explode. Can you please help me check in?” She shows up. She’s like, “Sir, just give me your passport.” “Oh, God.” So I give it to her, she’s like, “Okay. Uh, sir, this is not a passport.” I was like, “Yeah, I know. I’ve been trying to talk to you since I got here. See, it’s a… it’s a travel document, so I can travel with it, because there’s visas issued from the countries that I’m visiting so obviously I can travel with it.” She’s like, “Sir… this… is not… a passport.” I was like, “I speak English perfectly, ma’am. I don’t know why you’re talkin’ to me this way. See, in 1948, the United Nations was founded and in 1951, they had a Geneva Convention and they created a Geneva passport that allows refugees and asylees to travel while they’re seeking asylum from their respective countries. But you know what? I’m just gonna blow up this whole fuckin’ airport, that’s what I’m gonna do! I mean, my God, you’re just makin’ it really difficult for me to maintain my ethics in this situation, like… I just wanna fucking go nuts, like… Why are you making it so difficult for me to be an ethical person? Like, it’s just all these fuckin’ roadblocks.” This is the beginning of a 20-hour journey. Can you imagine? This is just checkin’ in, all right? This is just checkin’… Next… “Uh, you need a passport… Uhh…” Next… “Uh, you need a passport…” “Uh, 1949, uh, muh, uh…” Boom! And then you get to the country, you finally get there and you think you’re free and they go, “Uh, your questioning.” Every fucking… Every place, there’s questioning, interrogation. Japan, by far my favorite interrogation I’ve ever had in my life. It was just an hour of them trying to figure out what I did for a living. The entire hour… The entire hour consisted of, “So, what is your occupation?” I was like, “Oh, I’m a comedian.” “Comedian?” “Yeah, yeah, I do stand-up comedy.” “Stand-up-a comed-ah?” I was like, “Yeah, man, I do comedy.” “Comed-ah?” “Yeah, I do stand-up comedy.” “Stand-up-a comed-ah?” “Yeah, I… I’m a comedian.” “Comedian?” “Am I being roasted right now? What’s happening?” “Like, what is going…” Finally, his friend walks in. I was so relieved somebody else walked in. And he goes, “Hey. Hari-san-ye. Ha-da-da. Comedian-uh.” He goes, “Oh, yeah, comedian! He’s like-uh Bill Cosby!” And that’s what got me off, was Bill Cosby. I mean, not literally, not literally. But figuratively, I swear to God. Yes!

It’s exhausting. I went to England. England is probably one of the toughest countries to travel to if you don’t have a passport. Like, they’ve fucked the whole world so they feel scared that the shit’s gonna come back to them. So they are really protective of everything. Like, seriously, check this out, all right? Before you get a visa, you gotta get fingerprints. Get your visa, gotta get confirmation of fingerprints. Then you land in London and they’re like, “Ohhh. Ohhh. Ohhh. “Oh, hello, Mohammed, yeah. Ohhh. Oh, we need your fumprints, yeah, just one more time, your fumprints, oh.” I was like, “Oh, you mean thumbprints?” He was like, “That’s what I said, yeah? Fumprints. Don’t correct my English. I speak the Queen’s English.” I was like, “Well, if that’s the case, why do you end sentences with a question mark? It’s really frustrating.” I remember I was lost in London, my phone was dead. I was like, “Excuse me, sir, can you please tell me how to get to the Holiday Inn?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, you just walk down this street, yeah? You make the first left, yeah? Second right, yeah? And then the hotel’s gonna be on the left-hand side, innit?” I’m like, “I don’t know! Is it, motherfucker? I’m lost!”

I love touring in England, right? So I’m in Birmingham, UK, right? I’m in Birmingham, UK. I asked a guy in the front row, I was like, “What part of England are you from?” Being friendly. And he lost his shit! He was like, “I’m not British! I’m Australian! “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” And all these Australians popped up like little fuckin’ Minions. “Oi, oi, oi, oi, oi!” I was like, “Oh, shit! Whoa! Hey, time out!” Why is this so offensive? I mean… I was like, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was offensive to mistake an Australian for being British.” I was like, “My God, man, the British flag is inside of your flag! It’s in the top left-hand corner, FaceTiming your flag.” “Aaaah… “

Flags are really fascinating. No, they are. Flags are really,  really fascinating, ’cause if you look at them… Just, like, you know, travelling the world as a refugee free agent, I’ve just… Just trying to decide which country I’m gonna commit to, you know, uh… I was just like, “Man, flags are, like, very tribal, you know? So tribal and… Almost like gang colors, you know?” It seemed like, just an observation, initially. Red, white and blue was intended for white gangs. Just an observation, initially. ‘Cause if you really look at it, England is all red, white and blue stripes. Just X’d out, stripes all over it, X’d out. Come to America, they’re like, “Straighten up them damn stripes! Pah, pah, pah, pah, pah! Put 50 stars on that sumbitch! Pah, pah, pah, pah, pah, pah, pah, pah! America!” You know what I mean? You go to Australia, they’ve got the British flag inside of their flags. They threw some stars in there to let America know, “Don’t hit me, OK? Do not beat me up. I’m with you.” New Zealand followed suit ’cause they had no choice. And Scandinavia’s all red, white and blue or variations of those colors. Except Sweden. Sweden’s like, “We’ll take ze blue, but ve also vant ze yellow, okay? Ve vant ze German yellow!” “All right, give them the German yellow. Jeez! Shut the fuck up, Sweden,” you know? France is red, white and blue. Holland is red, white and blue. I mean, my God, it just keeps going. So is Russia. Russia was red, white and blue, is today, but for a while, they were like the rogue white people. They were like the really rogue white people. They were like, “No! No! Fuck you! We will… We will not be red, white and blue anymore, okay? We will be Communist USSR Russia, okay? We will take over surrounding countries and we will be most powerful superpower. Fuck you, okay? Vodka!” You know what I mean? And then… And then… [chuckles] And then they had to submit at some point and they were like, “Okay, okay, okay. No more red flag with yellow hammer sickle, okay. Okay, we will give back independence to surrounding countries, okay. Every once in a while, I will fuck Ukraine! That’s the deal. That’s the deal. We will go back to red, white and blue, okay, okay. We will be democratic as well. Win elections by 99%, but no one is counting, okay? But in, like, 30 years, we will infiltrate your electoral system and give you the shittiest, weirdest presidential experience you’ve ever had! And don’t forget about our secret weapon, Kanye West.” It’s weird. I can see Kanye West in KGB meetings. ♪ She give me money…♪ “Do that one, Kanye, come on! Do that one. I like that one! ♪ Give me money! ♪ I like that, it was good.” [chuckling] [sighs]

I remember I was being questioned in London, right? I’m waiting for him to come in and question me, right? And I’m sitting there and I notice there’s a poster on the wall and there’s a dog on this poster and the dog has a passport around his neck. And the headline of the poster says, “Get your pet citizenship today.” I was like, “This bitch can get her citizenship in a day?” And she was smiling at me, like, “Hey, I got a passport!” Just dangling there. I was like… It was really wildly insulting. I said to myself, “You know what? When I get back to Houston, I’m gonna call Immigration, I’m gonna use my super-white voice.” ‘Cause that’s how I get shit done over the phone. I use a super-white voice on the phone to get late checkouts and whatever I want. That’s what I do. I’m serious! So I call up Immigration and the lady answers the phone with an attitude right out of the gate. She was like, “Hi! Hi, INS. What can I do for you today?” I was like, “Hi, um… Yes, hi. Uh… I’ve been in the States, I don’t know, about, uh, 17 years at this point and, uh, I’m trying to see if I can speed up my citizenship process.” She goes, “Okay, baby. Let me look up your file here. Uh… What’s your last name?” I was like, “Oh, oh, oh, my last name? My last name is Amer.” “Huh?” “A-M-E-R. It’s almost like America without the ‘ica.’ Ah-ha-ha-ha! [guffawing] “Oh, that’s cute, baby. That’s real cute. Uh, but what’s your first name?” “My… my first name? Uh, my first name is Mohammed.” [chuckles] “Oh, quit playin’, baby! No, really, what’s your first name?” I’m like, “That is my first name!” She’s like, “Oh, you ain’t gonna get your citizenship, baby. Mm-mm! Mm-mm, mm-mm Mm! Mm! Mm! Please hold.” I was like, “What the fuck just happened to me?” This lady puts me on hold and the hold music was… ♪ Never gon’ get it Never gon’ get it, never gon’… ♪ And then she picked up the phone real quick and goes, “Whoo-whoo-whoo!” And hangs up. I was like, “Oh, shit!”

Immigration’s tough. When it comes… When it comes down to it, like, towards the end of the immigration process, it’s very easy. You just have to take an American history exam, okay? It’s really, really easy. The thing is, I didn’t see it come together like this. Check this out. The lady who’s giving this exam… [sighs] She’s originally Chinese, which is fine, but she had a really thick Chinese accent. Which is fine, also. I just didn’t see it coming together like this at the end. She was more excited for me than I was for myself. I turned the corner and she was like, “Oh! Oh! Today big day! Today big day!” I was like… “Um… Is this the American citizenship office?” She’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you in the right place. Come in, come in, come in, sit down, sit down, sit down!” [sighs] Wow! She goes, “Okay, fuh question.” I was like, “What? Did you just say, ‘Fuck question’?” She didn’t even stutter. She was like, “Yeah, fuh question.” She goes, “OK, who the fuh president of the United States?” I was like… I was like, “Bush.” She was like, “Correct-ah!” Says, “Come on, I know you praying. I look at your file. You been waiting here 20 year. Here’s a Mohammed key chain. Congratulation! Get out of here.” I was like, “Oh!” [chuckles] It was dope. It was that fast. It was like, “Oh, my God, this is so easy,” and then she goes, “No, no, you have to go to interview.” And it’s just like one more interrogation for old times’ sake, you know? Standing out there, I got to know this guy named Javier. We became really close. We were both nervous together.I’m like… [in Spanish] “Hi, Javier, you doing good, my friend?” “Yes, I’m well, but I’m really nervous.” “Yeah. Me too, my friend, me too.” “I’ve been waiting here two hours. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m nervous.” “I am too, I am too.” [chuckles] All of a sudden, the door opens up. [squeals] “Come on in.” “Uh… Me or Javier?” “You, sir. Please, come on in.” “He’s pointing at me, Javier.” “Be careful.” “Sit down.” “Okay.” “Please answer yes or no to the following questions.” “Okay. I mean yes. No. Whatever. I’m just nervous.” ” ‘Fuck’ question. Have you or anybody else you know been involved with or given funds to from the time period of 1933 to 1945 with the Nazi Party?” I was like, “What?” I was like, “Oh! Oh, you’re kidding! I thought you were serious, man. You had me so nervous.” “Please answer yes or no.” “No, I was not involved with the Nazi Party whatsoever, man. I wasn’t even born. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Next question. Have you or anybody else you know been involved with or given funds to any terrorist organizations, Mr. Mohammed?” Super-racist! I was like, “No, of course not. And I have to ask you a question. Who the hell says yes?” Okay? Seriously, it baffles my mind. Is this an effective method of capturing terrorists worldwide? I mean, did you catch somebody off-guard at some point? What the fuck are you talkin’ about? Have you been sittin’ there like, ‘Have you or anybody else you know been involved with any terrorist–‘ ‘You got me! Ohhh! Ohhh! You are so tricky, you know? Two more minutes, I was gonna kill all you mother-bitches, you know? Here’s the bomb. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh! All right, all right, all right, take it, take it, all right.” [sighs] “Hey, cut the green wire, okay? I’m just kidding. The blue wire, all right?” [chuckles] “I don’t know!’ Huh?”

Germany was probably the most interesting without my passport, you know. Such a relief to have it now, but, man, Germany was, like, I get there and the guy’s like, “Ja, ja, velcome to Germany. Can I… Can I please have your passport, please?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure. Here you go.” He’s like, “Ja, is good, ja. I look very special, ja? Oh, noooo! Oh, nooo! I say, ‘Can I have your passport, please?’ ” I’m like, “Hey, man, that is my passport.” “Vell, it cannot be your passport.” “Well, it is my passport.” “Vell, it cannot be your passport.” “Well, it is my passport.” “Vell, it cannot be your passport.” “Well, it is my passport!” “Vell, it says here it’s not a passport, ja? Hm? Hm? Hm? Hm? Hm? Hm? It shows here you are born in Kuwait, ja? Can I please have your Kuwaiti passport?” I was like, “Man, I don’t have a Kuwaiti passport.” He’s like “Vy don’t you have a Kuwaiti passport!” I was like, “Relax, okay? In Kuwait, it doesn’t matter if you’re born there. It matters where your parents come from.” He goes, “Ja. Well, vere do your parents come from?” I was like, “My parents are Palestinian.” He goes, “Vell, give me your Palestinian passport.” I was like, “Bro, I don’t have a Palestinian passport!” “Well, vy don’t you have a Palestinian passport?” I was like, ” ‘Cause Palestine’s not a state!” He goes, “Well, vy don’t you make it a state? “I was like, “What? Have you not read the news the last 70 years? And by the way, I’m in Germany. This is all your fucking fault to begin with!” I thought I was gonna go to jail, I really did. His reaction shocked me. He goes, “Ja, it’s true, ja,” and just stamps my shit. I was like, “Thank you!” The most incredible experience. So nice for somebody to admit that they’re wrong immediately, you know? Germany was fine. It was easy, I got through, it was great. But you’d think the Middle East would be easier on me, but it’s much worse, you know. It’s ’cause I have family there. That’s the thing about Arabs. You’ve gotta come back with, like, 15 suitcases. It’s like this Arab protocol that your mom sends, like, a telegram or whatever they still send to each other. I’m serious. They send something, you just walk in and your aunt’s just packing everything for you, right? It’s just terrible. And there’s this one thing top of the list. It’s called mulukhiyah. It’s like spinach, but it’s not spinach. It’s better than spinach and Arabs love this stuff, okay? And I walk in and my aunt is putting it in clear plastic bags and then taping it. I’m like… I’m like, “This is… What are you doing? I’m… What are you doing?” “I’m taping it so it stays fresh.” I was like, “Yeah, I know, I know, I know. But it looks like weed, Auntie! This is terrible!” Straight up looks like bricks of marijuana. I’m like, “This is not good for me, all right?” She goes, “Don’t worry, we’ll pray for you. You’ll get there.” I was like… “I mean, I’ll take it.” And then my uncle walks in with olive oil, okay? Olive oil is the second most important thing on the list, maybe the first. But olive oil, phew, you gotta… It’s illegal. I can’t… I can’t take it back. My uncle’s walkin’ in with, like, so many bottles of olive oil. I’m like, “What are you doing?” He goes, “You’re gonna take it back with you.” I was like, “Yeah, I see what you’re doing, but I can’t take it back. It’s illegal to take olive oil back to America.” He goes, “Don’t worry. We will take off the label and we will write ‘olive juice.’ ” This is his strategy. I’m traveling back to America with what looks like three suitcases of marijuana and olive juice and God knows what other spices and goods are in my bag. I didn’t even know. I somehow make it out of Tel Aviv into New York City, all right? I get to New York, and you know how you wanna beat everybody in Immigration to get to be the first guy out, you know? And I was like, “Yeah, I’m the first guy!” And there was four Immigration officers. “You, come here.” I was like, “I’ve heard this voice before.” You know? I was still being naive. I was like, “Maybe… Maybe this is random. Maybe…” I really did. I was like, “Maybe it’s random,” and then they opened up a piece of paper with my picture on it. I was like, “This is definitely not random! Some real shit!” It was horribly embarrassing. I’m the first guy off and they’re waiting for everybody to get off. So everybody’s walkin’ off, like, “Ooh! Ooh! “Oooh! Oh. Oh!” I’m like, “Fuck you! You uhhh! Uhhh! “I didn’t do shit.” You know what I mean? And then they separate me from everybody, finally, and then take me to a whole nother room, and they were waitin’ for my bags. All my bags are sittin’ out, and I was like, “Oh, man, here we go.” And the Immigration officer comes to open up one of the bags. I was like, “Please, just don’t let it be the mulukhiyah, just please!” And of course it is. He opens it up, he almost faints. He’s like… [gasps] Like that. And he goes, “Bring the dog!” Like this. And, uh, first of all, Arabs don’t do well with dogs, okay? Number one. Number two, this is the most legit dog I have ever seen in my life. This fucking dog had a bulletproof vest, a badge and a passport around its fucking neck! I’m sick of these dogs! The dog was cocky and arrogant. He was just like, “Yeah.” He was so cocky, I attached a voice to him. All I could hear was Eddie Murphy’s voice as the donkey in Shrek. Now, he was… I’m for real! He was walking by like, “Yeah, yeah, you going to jail today, Mohammed! Yeah! If we don’t find nothing, we’ll probably put something in there for your ass.” Right? He just walks up. I was horrified. I didn’t pack this myself. I know it’s mulukhiyah, but maybe not. What the fuck are they gonna do? And the dog gets to my bag. He’s the most confident dog, and within a matter of seconds, he becomes the most confused dog. He’s sitting there, like… [chuckling] [sniffing deeply] “I don’t know, man! It looks like weed, but it’s not weed. I don’t know what to do! You wanna sniff it, Doug? I don’t know.” He just keeps scratching. Finally, he stops, urinates on my bag… and then walks away. I was like, “Oh, my God, I just witnessed a dog quit its job, man!” Amazing! I got in with everything. My uncle misspelled “olive juice.” I swear, the Immigration officer read it like, “I love Jews.” And I just went right through. I’m serious. Went right through. And, look, the olive oil we make and we bring over, we don’t just consume it. Yeah, we… we bathe in it, you know? That’s what Arabs do, man. We just use it for everything. It’s funny, ’cause my mom always wanted me to be a doctor. But it’s very difficult to get her to go to the doctor. And I figured it out. It’s because our medicine is olive oil, that’s why, and we diagnose ourselves. The diagnosis is always called lafhet hawa, OK? If you don’t know what this is, it translates to “a brisk wind,” all right? It literally translates to “a brisk wind.” You have lafhet hawa, “a brisk wind,” that’s why you got sick and then you just bathe in olive oil and take a shot of it, that’s the… that’s the protocol. So one morning, I wake up with something called Bell’s palsy, okay? Exactly. If you don’t know what this is, this is when one half of your face quits working. I just woke up one morning, trying to brush my teeth and one half of my face is not cooperating. I’m sitting there like, “Huh… “Oh, no. Huh…” [lisping] I was like, “Mama? Mama, thomething ith really wrong.” She goes, “What’s wrong, habibi?” I’m like, ” ‘What’s wrong, habibi?’ Are you theriouth? Half of my fathe ith not working, Mom.” She goes, “Don’t worry, it’s just lafhet hawa.” I’m like, “A brithk wind did thith to my fathe? I wath in bed all night, Mom. There’s no wind in my room. I thaid there’s no wind in my room.” She goes, “Don’t worry.” She grabs some olive oil, smacks my face, and goes… says a prayer, and she goes, “You’re healed!” I’m like, “I’m not healed, Mom. I’m a greasy freak, that’s all! I just…” My entire family thought I was overreacting. “You’re overreacting!” “I’m overreacting? Half of my fucking fathe is not working, I’m being a pussy? Is that what you’re thaying? I’m the pussy. Is that what you’re thaying?” They’re like, “Yeah.” I had to drive myself to the emergency room. ‘Cause we’re so gangsta. I get to the emergency room, the guy looks at me, goes, “Can I help you?” I’m like, “I hope tho.” Then he goes, “What’s the problem?” I’m like, “What’s the problem? Are you theriouth right now? You talk to my mom or thomething? What the hell do you mean, ‘What’s the problem?’ No, you know what? I woke up this morning and I thaid to mythelf, ‘You know what would be really cool? You know what’s gonna make me thtand out from the cwowd? If I could just try to talk with one half of my face!’ ” He goes, “Oh, my God, man, half of your face is not working. It could be a stroke. Walk back and forth.” I was like, “Stroke? Okay! Okay! Is it a stroke?” He goes, “I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.” I was like, “What? Take me to a doctor, you asshole!” He takes me back there. I’m so scared. I’m sittin’ there, the doctor comes in. He’s like, “Can I help you?” I’m like, “What do you mean? Nobody talked to you already? We’re in Houston, the most pwogwessive healthcare thystem in the entire world, nobody communicates with anybody here? Hey, fella, half of my face is not working, OK?” He goes, “Oh, my God, man! It could be a stroke. Walk back and forth.” I’m like, “You’d better be a doctor, I thwear to God. I’ll blow up this whole fucking hospital! I’ll do it!” He’s like, “You’re fine, man. It’s not a stroke.” I’m like, “How can you say I’m fine? Thank you for confirming it’s not a stroke, but half of my fathe is not working, tho what is it?” He goes, “I have no idea. I’ll be back in 15 minutes.” Finally, the doctor comes back in. He’s like, “Mohammed… Mohammed, we’ve diagnosed it.” I was like, “Okay, Doctor. Don’t be scared, Doctor. Just tell me what it is. Don’t be scared!” He’s like, “Mohammed, we’ve diagnosed it as Bell’s palsy.” “Oh, my God…” [gasps] “I have Bell’s palsy? What the hell is Bell’s palsy?” He goes, “Bell’s palsy is when one half of your face quits working.” I’m like, “I know what happened! But why? Why does it happen?” He goes, “A brisk wind, that’s why.” I’m like, “Are you theriouth?” Oh, my family made fun of me for a while. It was great. My family is fun, though. I mean, my family is great. They’re everything to me and, you know, we have the worst luck. We really do. We have the worst luck. Check this out. I have a brother, Omar, who happened to become a pilot. I’m like, “Solid career choice, Omar! Solid career choice!” No, he’s doing great. The FBI came over our house. We squared everything up. Everything’s fine. No, they really did. The FBI came to our house, or as my uncle calls them, the “Fibby,” no joke. Looked me with a straight face. He goes, “Hey! The Fibby’s coming!” I’m like, “Who?” He’s like, “The Fibby! The Fibby!” I’m like, “What are you saying?” He starts to act it out. “The Fibby, you know? The Fibby!” I’m like… We figured it out eventually. He’s the same uncle that can’t say “pharmacy.” He says “paharmacy” 100% of the time. The most brilliant man I know. He’s like, “I have a chest infection. Take me to the ‘parhamacy.’ ” I was like, “Oh. Oh, you mean ‘pharmacy.’ ” He’s like, “You’re so stupid, okay? There’s a P in front of the ‘harmacy!’ ” I was like, “Yeah, that’s… that’s true.” And I have a nephew named Osama, okay? I mean, what this poor kid had to endure! I hate that fact. There’s so many terrorist acts done by white people, not a single person is changing their kid’s name from being Timothy, right? It’s fucking insane! This poor kid! This kid has to deal with so much, I can only imagine. Like, his ninth birthday was an obstacle. I walked up to him after the party was over. I saw he had a new Xbox, only one game. We’re in Houston. I was like, “Hey, buddy, let’s go to Walmart. I’ll buy you all the games you want.” He was like, “Yeah!” When we get to Walmart, man, he’s nine years old. He’s running away. I can’t call him. I’m sitting there like, “Hey, Osa… Pssssssst! Pssssst! “Sammy!” That’s a good one. “Hey, Sammy, come here!” And whatever he was goin’ through just bubbled up to the surface. He was like, “No! My name’s Osamaaaaa!” I’m like, “Shut up!” You know? [speaking Spanish] I just got the fuck out of there. [chuckles] [laughs] I mean, you gotta have backup plans, you know? You’ve gotta be ready. It was tough, you know? You know, I did a lot of shows for US troops, like a lot of entertainers do. I did over, like, 100 military bases worldwide. I wanted to experience it for myself and I wanted to go just… just see it for myself. I wanted to show them a new perspective. I’m sure no Arab comedian’s ever done it before. So I… Especially a refugee. I wasn’t even a citizen yet. I was out there doing ’em, and then they asked me, uh… they asked me to go to Kuwait and Iraq and I was like, “Um… Huh? I’m like, “That’s where my family fled from. You want me to go back, voluntarily, into a war zone that we fled from 20 years previous? I’ll do it.” And… These psychological wounds needed to get dealt with, you know? I wanted to go see things for myself, ’cause, look, when we left… when we left Kuwait, it was quite abrupt. My father, God rest in peace, he… he was doing very well. He was in telecommunications, he did very well, and when the war happened, all the money was gone. Phwoo! Everything disappeared. Phwoo! Lives changed forever. Bam! Erased. Everybody’s panicked, but the only person that wasn’t panicked was my mom. We’re like, “Why? We don’t have any money. Why aren’t you panicked, Mom?” She’s like, “We have money.” We’re like, “What? Well, like, how much money?” “I don’t know, maybe thousands. I don’t know, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe. Give or take, thousands.” I was like, “Give or take, thousands?” My mom had her own exit strategy just in case some shit went wrong with Dad, apparently. [laughs] But she had to get my sister and myself out and the plan was we were gonna take whatever money that my mom had and we were gonna get on a bus and this bus was gonna take us to Baghdad, Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, and then a few weeks later, we were gonna fly to Houston, Texas. But it’s not that simple, okay? We found out that if they found anything valuable on you, okay, they were just gonna take it from you. So my mom grabs a razor, opens up her purse… I’ll never forget this. She cuts a perfect line behind each zipper and puts equal amounts of money on each side and then sews it up perfectly like nothin’ happened. I was like, “My God, my mother is a gangsta!” And then… And then she made two custom money belts, one for herself and one for my sister, ’cause the odds of searching women are very, very low. Then we started leaving. We get on this bus and my mom finds a little money. She’s like, “What am I gonna do? She puts it in the lining of this suitcase. It’s a little lazy, but she does it. And then… It’s too late, it’s true. She’ll tell you. We get on the bus, we start leaving. Life is changing forever. This is a really traumatic moment in my life. We started leaving. We get to Baghdad and we’re looking out the window and they’re just breaking the suitcases. They’re just ripping ’em apart, slashing them, going for it. They were hip to shit. My mom looks out the window. She goes, “They’re gonna find that money.” And then we look at my sister. She has zero gangsta skills. She is sweating profusely. She’s about to sell everybody the fuck out for sure, okay? I’m telling you, if anybody walked up to her, “Is there something we need to know, little lady?” “We have money!” She was about to… God love her. She was so scared. And my mom palms her head like she wants to crush a watermelon, but she loves her. You know, like, “Aww.” “Awww! Aww! “Aw, aw, aw! She goes, “Listen, okay? Grab your brother and get the hell away from me, okay? ‘Cause if they see your face, they’ll know immediately, all right?” So we’re like, “Whatever,” letting my mom do her thing, right? We walk off the bus, and my mom opens the suitcase, a little bit of money, she messes up all the clothes and she throws some orange peels all over it, some trash all over it, and we just walk out the bus and we’re waiting. Some time goes by, and we start walking back on the bus. Well, an Iraqi soldier sees my mother. He was like, “Hey, lady, I don’t think you ever got off the bus. What the hell absolves you from getting searched?” And he starts berating my mother, saying some really horrible shit to her, and then his superior officer sees him. He gets upset with him. He grabs him, puts him up against a wall. He’s like, “What’s wrong with you? How could you talk to this woman this way? Look at her bag, you dummy! It’s in shambles. It’s obviously been searched already. And look at this woman’s face. This is not a face of a liar.” And then he grabs him, kicks him off the bus, and then he apologized to my mother. And all I could think of is, “Damn! My mother is a gangsta!” I love you, Mama. I love you, Mama. That’s Mama right there. That’s gangsta right there. Yeah. This is all for you. I love you. I love you. That’s it. And that’s how we got here. There’s so many people with these stories. Everybody just wants a future and something to look forward to and be good about it and try to create something special for themselves. And now I had to go back to Kuwait and Iraq to revisit this entire thing. I’m staying in Saddam Hussein’s palace, using his bidet, who kicked us out to begin with. This is such a weird-ass experience! It was really so much to handle. And it’s so weird. You just get on this chopper, you land at some undisclosed location. You get out with two other comedians and they’re like, “Dance, bitch!” You’re like, “What’s goin’ on, everybody?” It’s crazy! It’s crazy! It’s really weird. It’s really weird. This one particular base was a lot more dangerous than the rest. We heard gunshots in the distance and I was like, “Hey, guys, uh, are we still doing a show?” They’re like, “Yep, in front of that bomb shelter.” I was like, “Okay.” [exhales] “Good location, I guess. Uh…” And I was closing out this show, and the two other comedians go up before me, and they hated ’em. I was like, “My God, these guys are hilarious!\ What the hell is gonna happen to me?” So I started giving myself a pep talk. I was like, “Hey, man.” [sighs] “You need to go up there and just be real, okay? Just be in their grill and be real, be yourself!” I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, that’s a good strategy!” So they introduce me, I go onstage. I was like, “Hey, guys, I know they introduced me as Mo, but it’s actually short for Mohammed! Surprise, bitches! Today’s the day!” “Aaaaaah!” [laughs] It was a horrible strategy. It was a really bad strategy. Uh… [chuckles] I’m not gonna lie. Everything… I have this filmed, right? I have this on tape. Everybody laughed. I cracked them. “Ha-ha-ha!” They started laughing, lost their shit, except one guy. He grabs his M16 so fast, he’s like, whoo! “What the hell’s goin’ on, man?” Like that, I swear. And then he had an Alabama flag tattooed on his arm. Underneath it, it says, “The South will rise again.” I was like, “My God, this guy thinks he’s fighting in the Civil War? What the fuck is goin’ on?” So being from Texas, being from the South, I wanted to give him something relatable. I was like, “Hey, man! Hey, man! Relax, baby! Relax, baby! I’m from the South too, man! Hey, hey, hey!” ♪ Boot scootin’ boogie ♪ Unh! “Hey, man, barbecue!” I don’t even know why I said it. I just panicked like a little bitch. I had nothing else to say. I just kept repeating the same damn thing. I was like, “Hey, hey, barbecue, man! Hey!” And it hypnotized him and it neutralized the entire situation. I’m not even kidding. It was great. I had a very… It was a great, great show. The other comedians were like, “That was solid.” I was like, “Yeah!” And then we started walking off the base and the sergeant looks at me and the two other comedians and he goes, “Hey, fellas, uh… Make sure to remove your name tags… ’cause we don’t want you to get kidnapped.” I was like, “Oh, shit! We could get kidnapped?” I started to freak out again. I was like, “What am I doing here?” I started sweating again. And I was like, “Hold on, Mo. You’re in Iraq. You look like everybody else there. If anybody’s gonna get kidnapped, it’s probably these two very white comedians I’m working with.” [laughs] If some terrorist were to left field us and just hop out of a van like, “Hey! Hey, this is a kidnapping! Get your asses in the van,” I’d be like, “Habibi!” [speaking Arabic] “I’m sorry, guys!” ♪ A-woo-woo-woo ♪ No, I’m just kidding. [chuckles] I would never! I like white people laughing at that. It’s great. It’s always the best. It takes the edge off. You know, I’ve just been maneuvering the system so long and workin’ through so many different things for so long that I just get out of predicaments naturally at this point. At this… Look, check this out. So I’m in Houston. I’m driving on this two-lane highway. It’s the middle of the night. I can’t see a damn thing. I miss the exit so I start making this illegal U-turn in the middle of the highway. I know. An Arab move, I get it. I am who I am, all right? I start driving up. Houston’s got a lot of ditches. I was like, “There’s a ditch!” So I put the car in reverse. As I’m doing so, I see this car speeding. Just coming up out of nowhere. I was like, “Holy shit!” And the guy barely misses me and skids off and crashes into a ditch. Chhhh! I was like, “Oh, my God, I almost got killed! That was so stupid!” I was like, “My God, Mo, this guy is still in a ditch. Hopefully he’s OK.” And then he drives out of the ditch and he parks behind me. I was so damn relieved. And then he turns on his police lights! Okay? I’m Mohammed in Texas with a substantial amount of marijuana in my possession. This is a very bad situation for me. The cop comes up to me, cursing furiously. He’s like, “What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re an idiot!” I was like, “Yes, sir. Hard to disagree, sir. That was really, really stupid. I’m an idiot.” “Yeah, you’re right it was stupid. It was real stupid. What the hell were you thinkin’?” I was like, “Sir, sir, obviously I was not thinking. I was not thinking. I’m so sorry. I was not thinking.” And then he knew he was speeding, he knew he was, like, double the damn speed limit so he started feeling guilty himself. He was like, “Oh, man. Oh,man, I could have fucking killed you!” Like, “Oh, my God, I could have really killed you!” Like, “I don’t know how… I don’t know how I didn’t kill you!” I was like, “I know how. It’s ’cause of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ, that’s why.” And he goes, “You right, son. You right, son. Praise Jesus!” I was like, “Praise Jesus!” He’s like, “Praise Jesus!” I was like, “Praaaaise Jesus! ♪ Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm ♪ [speaking Arabic] “Praise Jesus!” And then he goes, “Can I have your driver’s license, please, son, so I can make sure that everything’s okay?” I was like, “Oh, no. I was like, “Dear Jesus… please blur this man’s eyes… so he can’t read that my name is Mohammed Mustafa Amer, please.” And he grabs my driver’s license and he goes, “You know what, son? I just feel so blessed that you and I are not severely injured this evening. Why don’t you take your license and get out of here?” And I was like, “Hamdulillah!” And I just drove away. Thank you so much, Austin. Thank you.

♪ Yo, Texas raised and Gaza made ♪ ♪ With the PLO brigade Behind a barricade ♪ ♪ Extraordinary comedic range Forged in flame ♪ ♪ Brother Mohammed The world’s most popular name ♪ ♪ Are you not entertained? ♪ ♪ Ain’t no stoppin’ the train ♪ ♪ A new king is finally approachin’ But not gonna reign ♪ ♪ So let’s thank This native son of the West Bank ♪ ♪ Even though his point of embarkation Was left blank ♪ ♪ You asked for the new champion Of the laugh sport ♪ ♪ It took him, like, 20 years To get a passport ♪ ♪ So welcome to the nomadic ground We travel on ♪ ♪ Just take a peek Into the mind of a vagabond ♪


So my name is Mo. I’m gonna tell you a bit about myself, all right? Take it easy. You guys ready? Mo is actually short for Mohammed. Surprise, bitches! No, I’m kidding. Hey! Put the gun down, fucker. I got rocks, bitch. I’m good at those.


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