Teresa Ruiz and Mo Amer in Mo
Mo Amer has toured the globe doing stand-up, costarred with Ramy Youssef in Ramy and will make his film debut with Dwayne Johnson in the forthcoming Black Adam. Now he can add show creator, executive producer and leading man to his résumé, thanks to Mo, a series that premieres on Netflix August 24.
The show is based on Amer's own life, growing up as a Palestinian refugee in Houston. His character, Mo Najjar, juggles complex family relationships with off-the-books odd jobs while waiting to earn his United States citizenship.
However emotional the stories become, Amer always infuses them with humor. "It's really important to always see the comedy in things, but also be really in tune with the dramatic," he says. I've always made comedy out of everything. The most depressing situations I've gone through, I've immediately started joking about [them]."
He says his mentor, Dave Chappelle — for whom he's opened more than 2,000 shows — initially inspired the series. "I was opening for Dave in December 2014, and he suggested I do a short film in front of my stand-up special," he recalls, referring to Mo Amer: The Vagabond, which came to Netflix in 2018.
"I ended up writing it and putting it together and Dave was like, 'Save it for a TV show because it's genius.'" Amer looped in Youssef, who became a cocreator and executive producer as they developed the series. Amer calls it a true passion project: "It's like a tip of the hat to my ancestors."
And, he says, the series is filling a void. "I've never seen a Palestinian on television talking about their own experiences. And I've never seen a show telling a true refugee story that takes a comedic side."
Amer hopes Mo will humanize the refugee experience for viewers. "In so many cases, refugees feel like no one is talking to them, or no one's talking about them or speaking about their experience. Being able to do that got me excited every morning," he says, "and I never took my foot off the gas. That's the approach that I took for the show."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #8, 2022, under the title, "Another Country."