Funny/Not Funny

Q&A: Comedian Mohanad Elshieky On Suing the Feds

The Libyan refugee and stand up will perform at Pop Up Magazine tonight and tomorrow.

By Marty Patail May 13, 2019

Pop-Up Magazine is back with its spring "issue." 

This year, the popular live-format storytelling event—known for bringing magazine stories to life on stage with images, video, and compelling storytelling—has invited Portland comedian Mohanad Elshieky on stage. The Libyan-born comic, who was granted asylum here in 2018, made headlines last month when he launched a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security for detaining him during a Greyhound bus ride from Seattle to Portland. (You can read more about Elshieky's journey from being a front line interpreter in Libya to one of Portland's funniest comedians here.) 

We caught up with Elshieky before his appearance. While he wasn't able to discuss the specifics of the lawsuit—the government has yet to respond, he says—we asked him how the experience affected him. And then he made us laugh. Of course. (Note: You can still buy tickets to tonight and tomorrow's shows at Revolution Hall here.)

What will your performance be at Pop Up Magazine? It is going to be a mix between stand up and storytelling. The main difference between it and [my usual] stand up [routine] is the fact that I have graphics that are going to be playing behind me. I'll have cues and stuff. But it's going to be told exactly like how I do my standup usually.

Has the incident worked its way into your standup routine? Oh yeah, absolutely. I already have a long bit about it.

What's your, um, preferred transportation method now?  I always drive or fly. The only reason I even took a Greyhound bus, was because I was traveling in January and I live in Portland. I don't have snow tires so I was like, "I'll take the bus because I'm not going to risk it." But I drive everywhere. That's my preferred method. I rarely take buses.

Has your opinion of being in the United States changed since this happened? Has it soured you at all on the idea of American freedom?  No, I mean I came here knowing what I was getting myself into. Yeah, this is a great place to live and all of that. But like every other place it has its issues—some issues are very unique to the United States. Any country I would have gone to, I would have faced different type of issues. So is this an okay thing? No, it's not. That's why people should work on change. But I wasn't really duped into the American dream and [the idea that] everything is going to be great. I came here knowing some of it will be fucking terrible that I would just have to deal with it. I'm very fluid when it comes to that. Like, shit hit the fan and I'm still gonna find a way to fight. It made me want to stay more because I'm now I'm just like, "I'm just saying here out of spite just because they don't want me here."

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