Anna Peterson ’25
On Feb. 2, comedian and writer Mohammed Amer performed a comedy routine and participated in a Q&A panel as the first Scripps Presents event of the semester. Recently renewed for a second season of his Netflix show Mo, Amer’s performances focus on his identity as a Palestinian refugee and his journey to American citizenship. He was raised in Houston as an Arab American, and his stories often center generational trauma and cultural displacement.
The event began with a brief acknowledgement that Scripps College is in the historical homeland of the Tongva people. Additionally, the speaker noted that Scripps College is aware of and recognizes “the painful history of genocide and colonization” in the area.
Following this announcement, the speaker invited Professor of Anthropology with a focus on Palestine, Lara Deeb, to the stage. As a first-generation U.S. citizen and Arab American, Deeb discussed her relationship to Amer’s work and the impact of positive Arab representation in popular media. Then, she described how Amer uses comedy to exhibit the harsh reality of discrimination and immigrant struggles. Concluding her opening statements, she invited Amer onto the stage.
The crowd erupted into applause as Amer made his way onto the platform. Once again, he introduced himself to the audience and addressed some central parts of his identity: refugee, Palestinian, and southern.
Amer began his stand-up with the framework of a post-9/11 America, where nationalism and anti-Arab efforts were at an all-time high. He affectionately joked about his family pushing him into the workforce at 15, where he worked at an Arab American owned flag store.
Following the attack on the twin towers, President Bush urged Americans to fly the U.S. flag and exhibit their unwavering patriotism. Amer laughed at the ironic aftermath of this call. The store sold over 10,000 U.S. flags after being flooded by America-loving Texans. Unknown to these customers, they purchased their flags from an Arab American-owned business.
When the original American flags ran out, Amer recalled selling 500 U.S. flags with the faces of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe plastered over them. When these flags eventually ran out too, the customers even began to buy the Liberian flag, which shares a similar design to that of the United States. At this point, Amer had the audience in tears with universal laughter.
Then, the tone of his performance shifted. Amer explained that the owner had reserved an American flag for a late customer. This inconvenience required Amer to wait an additional three hours for the customer to show up.
When he did, the customer noticed an Arabic prayer hanging behind Amer. He proceeded to call him a racial slur. The crowd was completely silent.
Amer described telling off the man, saying that the Arab American owner’s kindness is responsible for him reserving and selling the flag to him. Then, Amer broke the tension by offering the man a deal on the supposedly premium flag: $500. With this, he said he would throw in a beautiful wooden flag pole for only $300.
The man agreed to the price, and Amer described walking to the backroom to unscrew the mop handle. The entire room laughed hysterically.
The routine concluded after a mere 25 minutes and the Q&A panel began. Randy Lopez, a local figure in the Claremont community, sat with Amer to ask some general questions and those posed by students and fans.
Lopez inquired about Amer’s storytelling process and the path toward producing a show. Amer replied by describing how he imagined the scenes and listened to different songs until he found a perfect way to retell a specific memory.
He recounted writing the first episode of his show Mo after opening for Dave Chapelle. Chapelle prompted him to save the script for a television show instead of using it for his set.
Lopez then pulled a question from the community, asking Amer about political division in America. Amer replied by saying that he stands somewhere in the middle. He advocates for people to focus on our shared humanity rather than political beliefs.
As the panel came to a close around 8 p.m., a few audience members asked further questions about storytelling as an Arab-American, growing up with the Latinx community, and discrimination in the south. The event ended with a last question from the audience, and Amer thanked the audience for their time.
Image Source: Scripps Presents