Mo Amer made headlines shortly after the election when he received a seat upgrade on a flight that landed him right next to Eric Trump (an inside job, he suspects, on the part of a Clinton supporter working for the airline), and tweeted about sharing his refugee background with him. Amer’s recent Netflix stand-up special, The Vagabond, revolves around misadventures and close shaves he’s had traveling around the globe. With another comedian and in another time, this might be a thin basis for an entire comedy special, but, unfortunately, this is the year 2018.
Amer walks you through the impossibly infuriating process of getting around the world with the first name Mohammed, weaving through bureaucratic red tape and international double standards, whether that’s in England, a country that’s particularly paranoid about travelers from foreign countries (“they’ve fucked the whole world,” Amer says, “so they feel scared that shit’s gonna come back to them”) or Germany, where one agent told him to secure a proper passport for himself by making Palestine a state, as if he hadn’t been paying attention for the last 70 years.
These stories are both fascinating and depressing, though the resilience of Amer’s mother in one story gets an extremely touching coda when he addresses her directly in the audience. That’s a main thematic throughline for The Vagabaond: respect for the xenophobic bullshit your parents had to put up with in the face of renewed xenophobic bullshit the world over.
Amer has the ability to flesh out any of these instances into a full story. Sometimes, however, you wind up at a bit worse than a narrative dead end, as when a story about some miscommunications Amer had with airline workers in Japan goes exactly where you hope it won’t and then ends on a Bill Cosby joke you wish hadn’t been around the corner. By the time the special is wrapping up you’re glad to see Amer returning to more nuanced examinations of the intersections of race and nationality, outlining exactly how dangerous it is for people to try and get where they need to go at the moment, and insisting that they be treated with more respect.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.