Most news coverage centers on his identity as a Muslim refugee, which heavily informs his comedy, but Amer is also a true Texan. After cutting his teeth in his hometown of Houston, he’s skyrocketed to success, and now has a 2018 Netflix comedy special The Vagabondas well as a starring role in Hulu series Ramy under his belt.
This fall, he’s balancing a North American stand-up tour with the filming schedule for season two of Ramy, which will release sometime in 2020. We caught up with Amer prior to his weekend-long stint at LOL Comedy Club in early October to chat about identity, politics and returning home to perform.
Last year, you told Texas Monthly that in the aftermath of 9/11 you were initially afraid to be honest about yourself onstage, but now you center your identity as a Muslim refugee in your act. How long did it take to be able to truly own your identity onstage?
It was directly after 9/11. That was obviously a very difficult time — we didn’t know what was going to happen, right? We didn’t know what was going on, fully, and people were upset. It just was a few short months before I started to share again, because I was sharing before. You would hear horror stories of things that were happening, just out of ignorance or anger. People were gonna do something or the show dynamic, I just didn’t know. You gotta remember I was 19 years old as well, so it was a lot for me to deal with. It just lasted a few short months, but obviously to have the ability to fully articulate what you’ve been through onstage, that takes a lifetime.
In 2016, you went viral after sitting next to Eric Trump on a plane, which provided serious comedic gold. Unfortunately, with the elder Trump in office, that font of absurd cruelty seems to be unending. What are your thoughts on the current political climate, and the damage the Trump administration has done to immigrants and minorities?
I mean, it’s such a complex issue. How do you slice it and dice it in a matter of a minute? Unfortunately, the damage is not only towards refugees and immigrants — and obviously that is a grotesque thing to do, to separate families. And children are dying, and it’s an obviously terrible thing for me to even have to articulate that. It’s a terrible thing, it’s just stupid to me, but unfortunately what I feel like the greater effect is is what it’s done to society as a whole. It’s just almost like utter chaos. It feels like the way he talks, the way he speaks, is the way of a bully. And to see the separation between people and the fact that there’s all these race dynamics back in play — it’s like he freed all these racists or something. And he hides behind so many lies. It’s really just mind-blowing to see how it’s happening. What do I have to say about it? It’s just disgusting. It shows how when you don’t have any control over Congress, or the people lose control over Congress and the Senate and are completely out of touch, that greed just runs rampant, and it’s never enough power. It’s a really disgusting display, what’s happening. That’s how I feel. I feel like it’s just a complete and utter joke. The whole thing feels like a complete joke.
I mean, I don’t know if I answered that fully, because it’s gonna just take me forever. Like, yeah, it’s a terrible thing, you know? I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t even who to trust, and who’s pulling the strings. He already said he’ll murder someone in cold blood on 5th Avenue and still got elected. How does that happen?
I don’t understand how that happens. Yeah, everybody’s like, “Oh, he said ‘grab ‘em by the pussy.’” OK, yeah, he said that. That’s obviously sexual assault. But he just talked about cold blooded murder and nobody’s gonna do anything? What are you talking about? Nothing else is shocking anymore. We’ve completely lost touch, if that’s who you’re going to put into power. It’s horrible. I don’t even know what to say anymore. So, if you want me to talk politics, yeah, OK, sure. You want me to talk about this thing that’s obviously completely corrupted and has been ripped away from the people and everybody is just working hard to pay their bills and nobody can even protest. If they can and if they do, they’ll lose their houses, they’ll lose their credit. You know what I mean? They can’t miss a day of work. They make it to a point that you can’t miss work. It’s just a really, really sad time for me to witness it. I’ve kind of felt it for a long time, but just to see it. It’s a disgusting display of greed. That’s what I see.
Simultaneously, it seems like it’s easy to make comedy about it, like John Mulaney’s “Horse in a Hospital” bit, but on the flip side it’s just so awful.
Right, absolutely, absolutely. And to even give him time onstage, other than Eric Trump, because it was something that actually happened to me. So, I like to do something founded in truth and based on real stories that I’ve experienced. That being said, I have social commentary of course, but I don’t want to give him any more than he already gets, and it feels like comedians and people — everybody’s starting to sound the same, right? So, it’s really, really important for me to be conscious of it. If I do mention his name or I do refer to politics it’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time, because it’s like it’s the same joke over and over. Nothing has changed. He’s a child. Like, who’s tweeting for him? He’s not sitting there tweeting this stuff, he’s just reviewing it while it’s being done. This is a complete tactic that’s working fantastically, unfortunately.
You’ve been working in comedy since the late ’90s, but things have really kicked into high gear more recently, from you being tapped by Dave Chappelle to producing your first stand-up special The Vagabond and co-starring in Hulu series Ramy. Do you have anything particularly new or exciting on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?
I do, but I can’t talk about it right now. But you’ll be the first to know! I can definitely tell you that I’m working on my next special for Netflix, and that’s what I’m touring right now, is the new material. I’m honing that and bringing that to different cities around the world, and that’s what I’m focusing on now. But I do have some very exciting news coming up — very, very exciting.
So, the material right now is new and geared toward a new special.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s completely new. It varies how much I do per night, because sometimes you do two shows a night, so you have to keep the first one at 60 minutes. But it goes anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. But yeah, absolutely, it’s stuff that I’m working towards that, and the next time I come through it’ll be different material as well, and by the time I film the special it’ll be a fusion of those hours I’ve accumulated.
Your fall tour is taking you all over the U.S. and Canada, but you’ve worked in a bunch of dates in Texas, including hitting your hometown of Houston. How does it feel whenever come back to your home turf and perform?
You know, I’ve toured all over the world. I did a European tour, Middle East tour and I’m about to embark on an Australian tour later on this year, early 2020. I’ve performed at Radio City Music Hall with legends and performed at Shoreline Amphitheater with Nas and Lauryn Hill and Dave Chappelle. I have done some incredible shows with Jon Stewart and Chappelle and Royal Albert Hall. But coming home is always way more intimidating than anything else, because you have to be so on point, you know? You have to be so put together. It’s hometown — you have people that pop up out of nowhere at these shows, and although there’s thousands of people coming you know you’ve had these relationships for a long time, and it’s really important to be put together. But it’s also very joyful and it’s wonderful to reconnect. It’s invigorating and it’s definitely reenergizing to see all these great places that you grew up with, and new fans – all these fans, either ones that have known me when I first started to the ones that I’ve picked up after my special release and being on TV. It’s a really, really wonderful to experience. Hometown is like, it’s magic.
$20-$40, 8 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, October 4, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, October 5, LOL Comedy Club, 618 N.W. Loop 410, (210) 541-8805, improvtx.com/sanantonio
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