OPINION: When comedian Mo Amer took the stage, he left me sick to my stomach

On February 2nd, the Scripps community gathered in the Garrison Theatre to see famed Palestinian comedian Mo Amer take the stage in his standup set “Laughing Matters! Featuring Mo Amer.” Then he said the N-word. (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

Last week, I watched students, community members and professors around me settle into their seats in the Garrison Theatre at the sold out, first-part comedy series held by Scripps Presents, “Laughing Matters! Featuring Mo Amer.” But within Amer’s first joke, I realized he was the comedian, and my Blackness was the punchline.

Mo Amer is a Palestinian refugee. His recent fame offers more representation for a community of people that have yet to be seen on TV with a positive narrative, while simultaneously making people laugh with his standup comedy. 

The 5C community had the chance to see his standup in action, and it left many in the audience laughing until the point of tears. But by the time I left his set, I wasn’t laughing. I was just angry and confused. Why? 

Well, it started with a story about a time Amer was selling American flags after Sept. 11, 2001. The joke was building as flags were being distributed, and suddenly Amer took a moment to address the audience. He asked if the Garrison stage was a “safe space.” My stomach dropped.

After an initial, questionable, communal “yeah!”Amer asked for a more enthusiastic response, and the audience felt obliged: “YEAH!”

I was on the edge of my seat and was fearing the worst.

The story continued. Sprinkling in little hints describing how racism is deeply embedded in American culture, Amer said the one word that no “safe space” ever deems as okay: the N-word. 

Amer said the slur quickly. The room fell silent. It was a shock to everyone in the audience, but Amer moved on with the joke. He brushed past it and claimed he was using someone else’s words. But he still said it. 

So why did it leave me utterly shocked, uncomfortable and scared?

As a young Black woman, hearing the slur took me out of the show. That moment immediately brought me back over 400 years to when my ancestors had heard that word in the past and back to the reasons why non-black people said the slur in the first place.

The Washington Post described that, “At its core, the word has always been about power: the power whites held over blacks for centuries.” 

Beginning in 1619, when the first slave ship met American land, the N-word was used to insult and berate black bodies while they were enslaved. It was used to describe black people as less than human — bodies to be bought and sold. With all of this history, it makes sense why hearing this word in what was supposed to be a comedy show caused my shock and fear. He was telling a mediocre joke, while I was reliving over 400 years of Black trauma.

A safe space for Amer didn’t mean a safe space for everyone. It meant freedom to say cruel, dehumanizing words without repercussions. It meant Amer covertly asking for a N-word pass with the disguise of a “safe space,” on stages across the globe. 

Amer and many other comedians walk a fine line between telling jokes about race and telling racist jokes. Comedians are known for pushing societal boundaries through their comedy, but there are some lines that should never be crossed. Why? Because those jokes aren’t humorous. They’re hurtful.

Comedians have a responsibility to their audience to cultivate a space of humor, but the experience of real people needs to be prioritized, especially those of marginalized groups. When their jokes include racist slurs or reflect ignorance and cruelty like Amer’s, they invite others to do the same — and comedians need to be held accountable.

It’s true that Amer’s actions don’t erase the fact he is paving the way for unprecedented representation in Hollywood of Arab American and Palestinian voices. This is not an easy feat.

Prior to Amer’s arrival on campus, Pomona College Professor of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies Joanne Nucho and Scripps College Professor Lara Deeb were especially excited to host him.

“I think it’s also a really important thing for Arab Americans to have positive representations countering decades of really terrible depictions in the media,” Nucho said. 

Initially, Amer’s show and Hollywood presence has been this counter. Following 9/11, rising xenophobia and hatred of Arab and/or Muslim Americans created a myriad of Hollywood portrayals that paint these Americans as villains. 

Deeb explained that as an Arab American, “I grew up with either complete lack of representation or only negative representation.

Any positive representation could begin to break down these decade-long stereotypes, and the release of his show on Netflix, “Mo,” has created a spotlight for stories of generational trauma from those seeking asylum in the United States. 

I still believe his story is valuable, and Scripps’ decision to host his experience is, hopefully, a promising hint to a future of more representation on campuses. 

The issue, rather, is that Amer is completely misusing his platform. 

Through his show and standup, Amer has created a big following and is a role model to many. As somebody masses of Americans admire, Amer has the opportunity to harness his power to influence and help finally change the narrative — but he’s failing to see the big picture. 

 If he continues his set as is, he will begin to normalize the cruelty that these “jokes” cause.

Jada Shavers SC ‘26 is a first-year at Scripps College. 

Facebook Comments

One thought on “OPINION: When comedian Mo Amer took the stage, he left me sick to my stomach

Comments are closed.