Mo Amer – Enduring a Long Road to U.S. Citizenship in “The Vagabond” | The Daily Show


-Welcome to the show.
-Oh, thank you for having me. Uh, you know, a lot of the time,
they say that, uh, the best comedy comes
from the biggest tragedies, and in many ways, your life
could be considered by some as being a rolling series
of tragedies that you’ve turned into comedy
and you’ve turned into success. A little bit of your story would
shock most people out there. You are someone who came
to America as a refugee. -Correct.
-From Kuwait, correct? -I was born in Kuwait.
-Right. -I left Kuwait after
the first Gulf War. -Right. Which I like
to call the prequel. Uh… -(laughter)
-I… I went to a really nice private
British English school in Kuwait, and then, uh,
we migrated to Houston, Texas. -And, uh…
-That’s a culture shock. It’s a culture shock. And they put me in ESL class, which is, English
as a second language class, and I was the first… only guy
that spoke English in the class. (laughter) I walk in.
All the kids are, like… Hola.
(speaking Spanish) I’m like… Had a hint
of a British accent. I’m like, “Sorry.
What language are you speaking?” All of a sudden, this other dude
just rolls up out of nowhere. He’s like… (with accent):
“You’re weird, dude! Why do you talk like that, eh?” And that was my teacher. It was
a very weird… situation. (laughter, applause) This… Like,
here-here’s the thing. A lot of the time when,
you know… when we have these conversations
in America about about, like,
immigrant, refugee, etcetera, -it’s always, like a…
like a sad story. -Yeah. It’s always, like,
you know, these people who need this place as a refuge. But-but you-you really
have an interesting story about how your mom
was the driving force behind getting your family
to the U.S. -and starting up a new life.
-Yup. Just from your perspective,
like, how would you try to explain
to somebody what it is like to be a refugee,
and how hard it is to come into the United States? Um, it’s really difficult
to explain or put into words the excruciating process
of getting your citizenship. -Right.
-It took me 20 years… -Wow.
-to get my citizenship. I traveled all over the world doing standup comedy
without a passport. Wait. How do you… how do you
travel without a passport? They give you
a United States travel document that’s only good for, like,
a year, and then, you have… You know, most countries need
more your validity -on your passport to even enter
the country. -Right. It’s incredibly complicated. Most case,
I’m not even allowed to go, but I just would go and see
what would happen, anyway. -(laughter)
-Uh… I would get questioned
in a lot of different countries. -Uh, you know…
-So, let me understand this. -Yeah.
-You are a, uh… Palestinian-Kuwaiti Muslim traveling the world with
no passport, and you were like, “Yeah, I want to try
to do this in more countries.” -Yeah.
-(laughter) How many times…
how many times did you get… how many times
did you get stopped? -Like, how many times were…
-Every time. No, it was every time.
To the point to when I became a citizen
and I was reentering America, and he was like,
“Okay, go ahead,” and I was like, “No, you sure?
I think there’s another… “there’s something else
that needs to happen here. I feel awkward. Can we just talk
for a little while and…” -(laughter)
-I’m serious. I did. It’s a… -(applause)
-I was like, “What’s going on?” I was like, “No…” I was like, “No,
we need to chat a little bit.” Like, Japan was my favorite
interrogation I ever had. It was just an hour
of them trying to figure out what I did for a living. Uh, the entire hour,
for real, consisted of, “So, what is your occupation?” I was like,
“Oh, I’m a comedian.” He’s like, “Comedian?”
I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I do standup comedy.”
“Standup a-comed-ah?” I’m like, “Yeah. I’m a… -I do comedy.”
-“Comed-ah?” “Yeah, I do…
I’m a comedian.” -“Comedian?” -I’m like,
“Am I being roasted right now? -What’s happening?”
-(laughter) Finally, his buddy walks in,
his partner, he’s like, (imitates speaking Japanese):
…comedian-ah.” And he goes, “Oh, yeah,
he’s like Bill Cosby!” (laughter, gasps) And that’s what got me off,
was Bill Cosby. I mean, not literally,
not literally. (laughter) I figure that’s what got… So, now, um, you-you have
this really interesting journey. Growing up in America, takes
20 years to become a resident. -Um…
-Citizen. A citizen. Citizen. Yeah, sorry.
Citizen, right? And-and here’s the thing
that I’ve always wondered, from your perspective. You know, do you ever find
yourself in a space where, because you speak about things
that are happening in the U.S., people are like, “Hey,
you should just be grateful “to be in the U.S.–
don’t talk about anything “that might be going wrong
in the U.S., because the U.S.
has welcomed you in”? Yeah. Um, nah.
(laughs) I mean, look,
as an Arab American, uh, Muslim,
Palestinian on top of it, you know,
someone who’s fled war– I was nine years old,
so I didn’t really know… It’s not like, “Hey, Mom,
are you sure about Houston?” -You just had to go,
you know what I mean? -Right. And I’m a very proud Houstonian,
and I grew up in Alief, which is a really
multicultural neighborhood, but the thing is, is,
like, growing up that way, I was always, you know, told
to not talk about politics, not say anything, ’cause
they’re gonna send us back. -Wow.
-That was the whole thing. “Shh. Don’t say anything.
They’re gonna send you back.” You know? “Make sure
you don’t talk about pol…” I was like, you know,
all this stuff that’s been festering inside
for so many years… That’s why,
when I started standup comedy, it was the perfect outlet for me
to allow me to express everything that
was happening to me. And also, you know,
releasing the special and seeing the reaction
from so many different people that can relate
to the same story, that have refugee…
that are refugees, that went through a similar
process, that are, you know, dealing with the immigration
system right now. They talk about
“extreme vetting.” I mean, my God,
it took us 20 years. How much more extreme
could it be? Well, they want it
to take forever. (laughs):
Yeah. That’s the point. And so it’s very,
very frustrating. But at this point in time,
I’m an American citizen, so in your face, bitch,
I say whatever I want! (cheering, whooping, applause) You… you become
really confident -once you get that passport.
-(laughter) Once I had a passport,
like, “Whatcha gonna do now?!” They-they can take it
away from you. -Can they? Oh, shit.
-(laughter) That’s what… that’s…
that was one of the things that, like, you know, people
were talking about with Trump. They said, like, “Oh, you
never know what he’s gonna do. You never know…” You know,
Trump was floating ideas, like: are citizenships real,
have people lied about being… et cetera, et cetera. And a lot of people
who are, uh, refugees or maybe came to the U.S.
as immigrants had this connection with Trump
where they were worried. You had a different connection
with Trump, which is one of the reasons
you-you came into prominence. Really insane story, where
you found yourself on a plane, seated next to Eric Trump. That’s… Yeah. Um, you know… being a frequent
flier helped sometimes to… I didn’t know
this was gonna happen. -Like, I was upgrading
to first class, -Right. and I ended up sitting
next to Eric Trump. I didn’t even know
I was gonna get upgraded, ’cause I put my name
on the list way too late. You know, comedians are…
you know, -the best procrastinators
in the business, -Yep, yep, yep. and, uh, and I didn’t know
I was gonna get upgraded, much less sit next to Eric,
but I do know one thing– the lady that upgraded me
is probably a Clinton supporter. You know? Let’s be real.
She was probably sitting there like, “Oh, Eric Trump
is on my flight? Okay. Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” I don’t why she has a mustache,
but, “Okay. Mm-hmm. “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. “Oh, there’s a empty seat
next to Eric? “Let me take a look
at this upgrade list, “see who’s standing by
patiently here. “Oh, Mohammed Mustafa Amer? -Upgrade!” You know?
-(laughter) (cheering) Oh, dude. Could I tell you, man, I’ve
seen your standup on the road. Uh, you were amazing opening
for Dave Chappelle. The special is truly phenomenal. I tell everyone
to go out and watch it. Thanks so much
for coming on the show. -Thank you so much for having
me. -I hope to see you again. The Vagabond is
currently available on Netflix. Please go and watch it.
Mo Amer, everybody.

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