Commissioned for Refugee Week 2020 as part of the PopChange Library of New Narratives — a curated collection from popular culture offering new perspectives on migration and displacement.
Stand-up comedian Mo Omar lists his favourite stand-up comics that we should all be laughing with.
In the comedy scene, especially in Britain, you rarely get to meet other comics with a similar cultural background to you. Normally you’re the only ‘person of colour’ in the whole bill. So, when you do meet someone who you might have a shared cultural experience with, it’s not something that you easily forget. I’ve had the pleasure of picking five comics who I feel offer great representations of the multiple perspectives that can come from being a third culture kid, all either 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. Based mainly in the UK or US, these comedians span the world, and the world being what it is, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and laughing with all of them. I think they’ll bring you joy, too.
Having a refugee background is simply one of the frames of reference I have — I also grew up in Wales and let me tell you, THAT was a hoot and a half.
Comedy is a personal thing and people don’t all process things in the same way. When I’m doing an act, I don’t much care about having some kind of message. I focus on the stories I want to talk about — I could easily be talking about washing machines! Having a message can feel constricting and comedy is more about simply reframing your experiences to hopefully get a laugh. And having a refugee background is simply one of the frames of reference I have — I also grew up in Wales and let me tell you, THAT was a hoot and a half.
What makes these comedians great — whether they’re talking about gentrification, football or asylum — is it’s framed from their unique cultural life experiences, but you don’t need to have shared them to find them funny.
I first heard of Mo Amer when an organizer of a show asked me to perform Mo’s routine about flying next to Eric Trump. Thankfully, it was all due to a wrongly entered Google search and they had actually intended to book me. Now, when you search for “Mo Omar comedian,” Google no long writes “did you mean Mo Amer…” (I think so anyway, I haven’t checked). But Mo (Amer) is also hilarious and will have you in stitches. My favourite clip is him on the Stephen Colbert Show talking about Egyptian football and all the players being called, ‘Mohammed’. It’s so silly! But it’s something I’ve seen my whole life also. It’s really hard to do observational comedy when the audience isn’t from the same background as you, but he pulls it off well.
Hoodo Hersi is from Canada but I actually met her at a regular open mic in London a few years ago where she had just dropped in on a visit. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength and her infectious energy alone will keep you watching. She has an attitude that I don’t feel I could ever have — it’s much more American style and in-your-face than British type of comedy. Hoodo is also the only female Somali comic I’ve met so far and there are so few voices like hers so it’s great that she’s getting popular.
A Kurdish stand-up comedian whose family settled in Brixton as refugees, Kae Kurd does my favourite bit about gentrification. He’s had an amazing year doing Live at the Apollo and releasing his own stand-up special that blew up — “Kurd Your Enthusiasm”. His Instagram has some of the most original videos I’ve seen, and it kicked up a notch during the lockdown, which has been a very difficult time to stay creative. There’s this amazing sketch about everyone working from home that is definitely worth checking out.
An Australian of Bangladeshi descent, Aamer is politically and socially-minded, and you see this in the subjects he tackles, such as the asylum process, reflections on his home country of Bangladesh and his daily experiences of racism. He’s erudite, engaging and, of course, really funny.
Omar is a human Duracell battery. I’ve seen him perform while fasting and it only seems to bring him down to the normal speed of the rest of us. Like me, Omar is from Cardiff, and he uses his experiences of being ‘other’ to find commonalities, bouncing around the walls while doing so.
PopChange recommends checking out Mo‘s comedy when you next get a chance. He’s a fast-rising Somali-Welsh stand-up comedian with a natural approach that will make you feel you’re having a laugh in the pub together. Mo has headlined two shows for No Direction Home during Refugee Week 2020, and we hope to bring him back for more.
Follow on Twitter @mokultra