How Mo Amer’s Netflix Series Tells His Palestinian Refugee Story In A Way His Standup Comedy Couldn’t

Mo Amer in a car in Netflix's Mo
(Image credit: Netflix/A24)

The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and Seinfeld are all TV shows where its stars have put their name in front of a title to play a fictionalized version of themselves and speak to some funny truths of everyday life. With Netflix’s Mo, Mo Amer is the latest of many comedians to do so, except it’s the first time a series has ever highlighted a Palestinian-American family. And with Mo, the standup didn’t hold back in taking advantage of a medium he’d never used to tell his story before. 

During CinemaBlend’s interview with Mo Amer, the comedian shared with me that Mo started when he wrote the story of his mother fleeing the war to come to America with hopes to film it for one of his comedy specials. However, his colleagues in the business suggested he wait and make it part of a series. That’s exactly what he did, and It became the flashback in Mo's seventh episode. With that, he had the chance to tell an honest story based on his own life experiences. In his words: 

I've just been banking all these great stories – hard, painful stories that have happened to me throughout my life and fictionalizing them to make a series like we have, they're all inspired by it. My mother, my ancestors, my brother to all have inspired this great story to tell. Yes, it's like a Palestinian refugee immigrant story of working on the table, fish-out-of-water, trying to fit in and be seen and be accepted. But it's also like a story for everyone. It's something that everyone can relate to. Everyone has felt insecure about where they are in the world either socially or what have you, or living even paycheck to paycheck and struggling to try to take care of their family. All of that is highly relatable. So that's something that was very deliberate in writing a series and putting it together.

The series will serve as rare representation of a Muslim character on TV, specially drawing from his life growing up in Houston, Texas as a Palestinian refugee. However, as he shares, his story is really a universal one that can bring together a lot more than Muslim and Palestinian communities. 

Prior to making Mo, Amer was well known for his standup over the years. As he shared during our interview, the Netflix series allowed him to tell his story in ways standing on a stage couldn’t illustrate. As he continued: 

They're very different art forms. Right? And it wasn't just being an actor on set. It was so much more complex in that everyone was looking at you to make decisions. You're the creator of the show, every single page that went out, whether it credited or not, I rewrote and worked on and had a big part to do with it, to guide the story through cause in the end it was my family story that was fictionalized in this world. And so it wasn't just that it was highly painful to go through. And, a massive undertaking, and also very cathartic because you're sharing really intimate things or creating scenarios from your very private library of life. You know what I mean? Like it just took a lot of intestinal fortitude to get through some of those things.

While not every element of Mo comes from his life – such as being grazed by a bullet at a grocery store in the first episode – Mo Amer drew from a lot of his own memories to tell the show’s story. He created the series alongside Ramy creator Ramy Youssef, a show he has had a supporting role on for its two seasons. Amer also said this: 

I found it to be really rewarding, not only artistically, but in life personally that I needed to go through this artistic expression so I can be better for it as a human being. It was really tense, but in the end, like stand up comedy, you're up there by yourself, right? Telling a story it's self deprecating sometimes, observational and it's constructed within this hour. There's 60 minutes that you wanna put together and put 10 people on a ride where for this, you're talking about a visual, where you want people to see. Houston, wanted to be a character in the show. It's never, there's never been a narrative show out of Houston ever. Like that's insane.

In recent months alone, the Muslim community has seen representation with Ms. Marvel becoming the first superhero of the religion. Ms. Marvel tackled Muslim culture along with its own story about Pakistani characters. Mo marks another first in the Muslim community, this time with a Palestinian-American story at the forefront. The first season of Mo is now streaming with a Netflix subscription

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.