‘Mo’ helped its star Mo Amer heal after his brother’s death
The comedian and co-creator of the Netflix series tells EW about how he wasn’t even thinking about reaction to the show because of his family’s loss.
Yes, the Netflix comedy Mo is inspired by the life of its co-creator and star Mo Amer, but two things that happen to his character, Amer is quick to clarify, were absolutely fictional.
“I was never shot. I don’t have an addiction to codeine,” the comedian tells EW on the latest episode of The Awardist podcast.
On his Peabody Award-nominated series, Amer plays Mo Najjar, who — like real Mo — was a Palestinian refugee whose family settled in Houston. It’s also true that Amer’s father was tortured prior to arriving in the States, something that was hidden from Amer until he made the discovery — just like TV Mo — while preparing to see an immigration judge…who, yes, decades earlier was a lawyer who just so happened to represent Amer’s father.
Amer, like so many who tell their own story, found making the series therapeutic — “cathartic,” he specifically says — a chance to finally mourn, decades later, his father’s death. He especially found some peace thanks to an episode 3 scene where he, a Muslim, goes to confession at his Catholic girlfriend’s church after learning about his father’s torture.
“After we filmed the scene, everybody was just so moved by it and was calm and almost hard to make eye contact with me,” Amer recalls, talking to The Awardist while on lunch break from the writers’ room for what will be the second and last season of the show. “I’ve never been so vulnerable on camera like that before, ever. And I just remember one of my mentors telling me, ‘Be so honest in your comedy that it’s hard to make eye contact with you.’ And I never had that experience until I filmed that [scene].”
MO. Mo Amer as Mo in episode 103 of MO. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Mo Amer on ‘Mo’
| Credit: Netflix
For all of the therapy he got while making the show — which has also received honors from AFI (winner, TV Program of the Year), the Gotham Awards (winner, Breakthrough Series), and the Spirit Awards (nominee, Best Lead Performance in a New Scripted Series) — it was also cleansing in unexpected ways when it debuted in Aug. 2022, a month after Amer’s brother died.
“I was just in a completely different mindset,” Amer says of the show’s debut while mourning his family’s loss. “So I wasn’t thinking about the show, to be honest. Of course, I was excited about it, but I was more thinking about how to be grounded around my friends and my family and be present for that.”
A few weeks later he got firsthand reaction to the series when he and his girlfriend went to an Andy Ruiz Jr. boxing match, where he says the “predominantly Latino audience there were just losing their minds” at seeing him. “The real audience that matters to me is the reaction that I get on the street,” he says. “People feel seen, more than anything else. Netflix is a really, really crowded space and it has a lot of things coming out at different times. Naturally, some people get more air than others and you would hope that — our story is so different, the show is done so well — that it receives the time and advertising that it deserves. You make something special and let the people speak for themselves.”
MO. (L to R) Mo Amer as Mo, Farah Bsieso as Yusra in episode 102 of MO. Cr. Rebecca Brenneman/Netflix © 2022
Mo Amer and Farah Bsieso on ‘Mo’
| Credit: Rebecca Brenneman/Netflix
That reaction, and the timing of the show’s debut, helped him get through his grief over his brother.
“My art has always been a form of healing. Standup comedy has always been this outlet for me to speak about things that are very personal to me, that in turn creates comedy, that brings laughter. And that’s really the main focus, right? You can’t be a standup comedian without making people laugh, but being a great standup comedian is making ’em laugh, but also making ’em think. And it’s always been that source for me when I discovered standup comedy as an art form in being an indigenous art form to America, one of three — jazz and hip hop [being] the two. I’ve never heard of it coming here as a nine-year-old kid to America; that never dawned on me as an art form. So when I saw it, I immediately embraced it, and it’s been a huge release for me for sure.”
You can listen to our full interview with Amer below, on the latest episode of The Awardist, where we also break down the highly competitive Comedy Series race and ponder what to do about distinguishing true comedy series from dramedies. We also make the case for why sketch comedy performers should have their own category.
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I have been writing professionally for over 20 years and have a deep understanding of the psychological and emotional elements that affect people. I’m an experienced ghostwriter and editor, as well as an award-winning author of five novels.