On April 18, Union Board hosted its annual Big Show for the first time since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Comedian Zaniab Johnson opened the show while comedian and actor Mo Amer headlined.
The performance was held in Goodrich Chapel and was open to students, staff and faculty members. Johnson opened the show and went over her allotted time slot, but was encouraged by the audience to finish her set.
With the crowd warmed up, Amer took the stage to a standing ovation. Over the next hour, he chose to engage with the audience, often calling on members of the crowd to interact with and accepting questions.
Following the show, Amer hosted an exclusive questions and answers session with members of Union Board. The Pleiad was welcomed to sit in on this session.
Union Board member: Where is your favorite place to perform?
Mo Amer: My favorite place to perform as a venue is Royal Albert Hall in London. Easily one of the most prestigious halls, I’ve been lucky enough to perform there five times. It was amazing. I did it in 2007, 2008, and then I told (fellow comedian Dave) Chapelle about it relentlessly, I was, “Book that spot, it’s one of the best places on earth.” And he was like, “Better than radio city?” Because we did Radio City together. And I was like, look, Radio City is dope, it’s incredible, one of the best places in the world, but Royal Albert Hall is just like old and the acoustics are just unbelievable. Literally a place where I walked on stage and it took my breath away. It was really, really just a unique place.
UB: You’re stranded on an island, and you can only have three things with you and it can’t be anything electronic. What do you bring?
MA: Definitely need an axe of some sort. I want some flint, and probably like a mosquito net. I’ve watched way, way too many survival shows. All those tools seem really good, they work really well together and I hate mosquitoes so much. But if I’ve got my net, I’m good to go. My ax, flint, I can make fire, winning.
UB: If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?
MA: I wanna say lion because I do have this tenacity to me. I also wanna say elephant. I wanna say lion, that’s like my energy. I feel like I’m alone all the time, I’m wandering by myself all the time, but I also feel like an elephant in the way there’s this presence and I have a really good memory, too, it’s like photographic, it’s kind of weird. I remember every part I’ve ever been to. I don’t know which one I would pick.
UB: What can you tell us about Black Adam?
MA: I can just tell you it’s a really well written film. I can tell you I had a great time doing it. But, you know, it’s a superhero movie. Use your imagination. Some sh-t goes wrong. This thing in the past he has to deal with. Maybe, maybe not.
UB: What was your trip like for your show in Kuwait in 2009?
MA: I’m Palestinian, but I was born in Kuwait so it was a wildly emotional experience. They built a theater for me, they built a venue for me, and they do that regularly in the Middle East where they build them on different grounds because there’s not that many theaters in certain spots, particularly in Kuwait. They built it to fit the people who want to be there.
It was wildly emotional. I got to visit the house that we fled from. I got to see my aunt, my aunt has Alzheimer’s, it was early on-set at that time. She remembered me and she sat with me and I just sat with her. It was like emotionally gut wrenching to leave her side. I literally walked on stage like an hour and a half later after her begging me to stay. And I knew that would probably be the last time she’d remember me. So that was really tough, man. It was an incredible experience. Mind blowing to know we fled war there when I was nine years old and to come back, and now they’re building theaters for me. I feel that way every day of my life. Came from nothing, man. Believe in yourself and you build and you build and you build and you go through so much shit and it’s overwhelming.
I just did my series for Netflix, I recreated these memories of fleeing war. It was wildly cathartic. It was so crazy. It was December 2015 and we were at the House of Blues. Dave watched me do my set and he walks up like, “Mo, your story is so dope. We should do your special, we should do a special for you and then we should like a short film on top and if we do it right, man, you could win an Emmy.”
It hits me like that. I was like, “Wait, Dave Chapelle is telling me this? That’s crazy.” I couldn’t shake it. I stayed up for 4 days straight. I couldn’t go to sleep. I didn’t take anything to help me stay up. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I wrote it, and I put it together, and I was like, “Yo, I think this is amazing.”
I see him three months later, we’re on tour on the tour bus. I kept telling him, “I figured out the short film, I figured out the short film.” I know what he’s thinking, he’s like, “I just inspired this guy, what if it sucks? I don’t want to hear it.”
So I cornered him on the bus, I grabbed a speaker, put the speaker down, and played the song, and I acted it out, what the short film would be. He stopped, he’s smoking a cigarette, he goes, “That’s genius. You should do that. But not for your special, you should save it and do it for your TV show.” I was like, “TV show?” And then I started accumulating stories and I did it. That’s crazy. It’s gonna be on Netflix. I ended up making it as authentic as possible, as real as possible to my own experience.
UB: If there’s one thing you could leave us with, what would it be?
MA: I would say travel, travel as much as you can. Don’t just depend on your phone, don’t depend on regular news outlets. I would really encourage you to be as open and as global as possible in your mind.
Exercise a lot of patience. The patience thing is probably the toughest thing to do, it’s getting tougher and tougher with everything so easy and accessible. Patience is really important. Be nimble. Travel, patience, and be able to adjust to whatever is thrown at you.
The whole time that I was doing my series, the one thing I kept hearing from my producers and everyone I worked with was, “Man, you really take whatever is left and you make something out of it.” That comes with being agile, and being able to shift. Don’t be scared of not having enough or getting more, this is not real. You can literally do anything. It requires patience and unrelenting tenacity and belief in yourself.
If you’re wrong, it’s okay, shift gears. That’s what I mean, be open and be receptive. Get new ideas and try. It’s gonna take you all your life to not be defensive when something comes up and to understand how to process and filter information that you might get emotional about. You’re creating this emotion yourself, it’s not real.
Just tell yourself that and just hear information as best as you can. Because if you get emotional about things, you don’t really hear what logic may be. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. It’s all about having a conversation and creating a real dialogue. This is something I have a real problem with cancel culture because it’s so dismissive. It doesn’t allow for forgiveness, it doesn’t allow for progress, it doesn’t allow for dialogue.
I’m a believer, too, so having faith is a good part. You can’t just not have faith in my position. When I say I believe in God, I believe in the divine, goodness, energy, and it’s over everything. It’s not a man in the sky for me. I don’t understand it, and I’m not supposed to.
Memorize as much as you can now. Just be a sponge. This is the time, you’re in your youth, it’s very important to exercise memory. Memory and young age, it’s like etching in stone. Memory and old age is like painting on water. It’s really powerful. Just get as much information as you can. Just keep absorbing it and working it. Try to memorize certain things on a regular basis, whether it be a quote, Greek philosophers said this, whatever, work on that. It will be wildly helpful for you in the future to recall whatever you want, go into your bank at any time. You’re going to be way ahead, all the time.