Last Friday, comedian Mo Amer shared jokes with a packed audience in Peirce Pub. Friday’s event was organized by Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP) and co-sponsored by A Medio Camino and Fools on the Hill.
Amer, an American comedian of Palestinian descent, is best known for The Vagabond, the Netflix special he released last year.
Amer’s routine was casual and improvised, the comedian seamlessly jumping from one bit to the next.
Abdul Aziz, a fellow comedian and friend of Amer, gave a 15-minute opener, starting with the icebreaker: “ISIS is in the house.” He then joked about Kenyon’s rural location, referring to Peirce Pub as a “basement in the woods.”
Amer, who is of Palestinian descent, came to the United States from Kuwait at the age of nine as a refugee during the Gulf War.
Much of Amer’s comedy centers around his identity as a Muslim-American from the Middle East. He spun the prejudice he experienced in the United States into jokes about the irony of American racism.
Amer also recalled a period in his life just after 9/11 when he sold American flags for a living, as well as a later experience, when police officers arrested and interrogated him without a warrant after one of his shows in Oklahoma.
Chris Sewell ’21 said he was impressed by the way in which Amer integrated politics into his comedy: His political message was present at times, Sewell said, but it was never over-the-top.
“Especially now, when it comes to comedy and the politics around doing certain accents or certain jokes, I think he handled that well for the most part,” Sewell said. “There were some moments where he said something and I wasn’t particularly offended, but I was like looking around the room for facial expressions, anyone going, ‘Hmmm.’”
Sonya Marx ’21 said that what Amer did — injecting humor into painful situations — can help breach racial and cultural barriers.
“I think that it’s important for marginalized people and people in certain positions to get the chance to speak about their experience, and I think humor can be a good way to get people to listen to that,” she said. “I think activism definitely has an intersection with comedy and with other forms of entertainment.”
Another component of Amer’s show was audience participation. This included questioning Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel and Professor of Mathematics Noah Aydin, both of whom were sitting in the front row. According to Marx, this enhanced casual atmosphere at the show.
“I feel like if it had been a larger event at a bigger school or something, or like in a bigger space … it would have been less tailored to the audience,” she said. “There was a lot of audience involvement, which was fun.”
Sewell found questioning professors about their employment and identity a little offputting, but felt that the tactic of engaging the audience generally enhanced Amer’s act.
“[Questioning professors] was like a microcosm of the act: really, really good for the most part, dragged on for a little bit, got a little bit tiring towards the end,” Sewell said. “But solid execution for the most part.”
Tommy Johnson contributed reporting.