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Catch Him while you Can: Mohannad Elshieky, the Libyan-American Comedian will have you Laughing

posted on: Sep 18, 2019

Catch Him while you Can: Mohannad Elshieky, the Libyan-American Comedian Will Have you Laughing

By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer

Mohannad Elshieky started telling jokes on a radio station in Benghazi amid the Libyan civil war. Now, seven years later, he’s performing his stand-ups on Conan in front of millions of viewers.

When Elshieky began telling jokes on the radio show with his co-host, they were met with a lot of backlashes, specifically, when joking about the country’s future. In an interview with Willamette Week, he quotes “A lot of people didn’t like that because they were very anti-change. In their mind, it was like, ‘These are our traditions and our values, and you don’t f… with that.’ And we were like, ‘Nah, we’re going to talk about whatever the f… we want.” A couple of months later, however, the radio station was burned down and that’s when Elshiky decided it was time to leave.

He immigrated to the U.S. through a US Department of State program where he was initially supposed to stay for only 6 weeks, learning about conflict resolution. However, during those 6 weeks, a lot has changed in his hometown of Benghazi. He started to revive death threats, telling him if he returned to Libya they would kill him and his family.  Fearing for his life, he decided to stay in Portland, Oregon and apply for asylum. After getting situated in the US, he quickly discovered the world of stand up comedy.

It’s only been 2 years since Elshieky first started performing stand up and he has already accomplished so much. He was listed as one of Thrillist’s top 50 undiscovered comics and has toured with Pop Up magazine. Elshieky has also taught comedy workshops at a local art school, in addition to a regional TED talk.

His biggest success yet is the 5 min stand up performance he gave on Conan which was his national debut. He never expected to ever perform standup; his dream was to watch a live stand-up set, however, his accomplishments went above and beyond his wildest dreams. 

In his performances, Elshieky doesn’t shy away from hard, off-limit topics like war and ISIS but by the end, you’ll be surprised by how hard you’re laughing. He has an incredible ability to approach such difficult topics and speak from personal experiences by comparing his life in Benghazi to his life here, in Portland.

In his set during Conan, he brings up the topic of police brutality here in the united states and compares the situation to the political climate in Libya saying “here everyone’s like f…the police; in Libya, it’s more like where the f… is the police” which has the crowd roaring in laughter. He also isn’t afraid to outright callout the United State’s foreign involvement by joking about how his top worst boy band are the Jonas Brothers, 1 Direction, and ISIS. He goes on to say “I know what you’re thinking, one of them doesn’t belong. I know I’m not stupid, 1 Direction wasn’t America’s fault,” leaving the crowd nervously laughing. 

He brings a new perspective to Arab American comedy. Being an immigrant himself, Elshieky tries to understand and navigate the United State’s complicated political scene as well as understand his new identity in this country. He’s one of the first Libyan-Americans on the scene and is changing the way the media sheds light on his country and Arab Americans in general.

By taking these complicated topics and turning them into something that brings people together to laugh breaks down the barrier and stigma surrounding Arab identity politics. Elshieky’s career is just starting and he’s merely scratching the surface of his potential. We’re excited to see his future sets and how he’ll continue to challenge the boundaries of American stand-up comedy.