Earlier, Google apologised for “inaccuracies” in historical depictions that it was creating
Amr Maskoun was 13 years old when he had to leave Syria and seek asylum in Turkey and France. Growing up, he discovered in comedy a space to observe and articulate his sharp takes on various aspects of life. Something that has now helped him earn close to 3.7 million followers on Instagram and 3.97 million subscribers on YouTube. Recently, the 23-year-old architecture graduate also won the Middle Eastern Social Media Star 2021 by E! People’s Choice Awards. In a conversation with wknd., Maskoun talks about the idea behind creating different family personas that reflect on the daily Middle Eastern life.
You were recently voted Middle Eastern Social Media Star of 2021 at this year’s People’s Choice Awards. What does this recognition mean to you?
Honestly, it means so much to me to be recognised as this year’s Middle Eastern Social Media Star. I never imagined that I would get nominated for something like this, let alone win and I’m extremely proud that people like my content enough to vote for me. I’ve been creating content on social media as a passion, as a hobby, and as something that sits alongside my professional life and education. Receiving this award makes me remember the days when I lost faith and felt that I couldn’t achieve my ambitions in life. When I actually won the award, I just said to myself, “Wow, this can’t be possible.” I was very emotional to be recognised for such a well-known global award. I’m completely self-made on social media, it’s just me and my followers. I don’t have any production companies, or teams or anything like that. So, it really means so much to me to be the first Middle Eastern social media influencer to win a People’s Choice Award.
Your journey from being a Syrian refugee to one of the Arab world’s largest and most popular content creators is an inspiring story. You had to leave your native place in order to seek refuge in France and Turkey. How do you remember your formative years growing up in Aleppo and what were some of the learnings?
I spent my first 13 years in Aleppo, Syria, and I was that nerdy kid who didn’t have many friends. I would just go to school, and head back home and study. I just remember my days in Aleppo as being quite awesome. I have an amazing connection and bond with my family and I’m so proud to come from Syria and from the city of love and happiness, which is Aleppo.
I then spent my teenage years between Turkey and France, so I learned a lot of things there, and to be honest, I truly appreciated my home country and city after I left it. When I was in Aleppo, I was just a child and didn’t get the chance to really discover the city I was from. But after leaving, I started to open my eyes and realised how special Syria is to me. As I lived between Turkey and France, I really started to appreciate and value Syrian traditions, culture and language, and the way we live.
I also learned a lot during my asylum years. One of the greatest lessons was not to take anything for granted because we are given a lot of things in life. God gave us a lot of blessings, but we tend to focus on the negative instead of expressing gratitude for all the great and beautiful things that we have.
You are a recent university graduate with a degree in architecture. What drew you to comedy?
I graduated this summer with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from ENSA Paris Belleville Architecture College. Architecture was something I’ve dreamt about doing since childhood. In Aleppo, I remember that during my free time I would go out and buy cartons, papers and other items to create models of buildings and houses. I also remember asking my mom to go visit a carpenter and tell him that I wanted to work with him for a day. I remember being addicted to these little things since childhood and I really wanted to become an architect since then. Whenever someone asks me today, I always tell them that I fought for this because I’ve been through Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, UAE and then France, and wherever I went, I just wanted to be an architect and when I got accepted to one of the best schools in France, I just thanked God for being able to achieve this milestone.
Comedy was just a place for me that allowed me to escape. Back in 2016 during my asylum period, I was in Istanbul while my mother, sister and father were stuck in Syria and my brothers were in France (one in the North and the other in the South). So, my family was separated, and it was about four years before we were able to see each other again. It was a dark period of my life as I started thinking that something was wrong with me because I had no friends, no family, and my life just became about going to school and then working to get money for my family.
During my first year in Istanbul, I was quite depressed and refused to meet people. So, comedy was the means to let out all my emotions; this is how I expressed myself. I remember sharing my first video on Instagram, and leaving my iPad at home. When I came back, I looked at the screen and saw that my Instagram followers jumped from 43 followers to 10K just like that... this is how it all started!
What was the inspiration behind creating your widely acclaimed character of Umm Suzan, a persona that has gained popularity?
I think one of the main reasons I created the character of Umm Suzan was that I missed the family atmosphere. Because I was separated from my family back then, I really just wanted to highlight this part of my life and bring back the energy I received from my family. So, I started creating these family comedy sketches to make up for the fact that I wasn’t able to see my family for five years. Another reason was that in my teenage years, I spent a lot of time with my mother, and learned so much from her and shared countless beautiful and fun moments that I really wanted to share them. So, I just wanted to share that for everyone to enjoy and remember the beautiful moments that exist with our families, within our traditions.
A lot of your characters in the skits are women. What’s the reason behind this?
At first, I remember doing the mother, daughter and mother-in-law personas because I was more comfortable with these characters in terms of coming up with funny ideas. After that I started adding a lot of male characters, including the father, the young child, and then the father-in-law. So yes, I did start off with the three main female characters and I highlighted them at the beginning because whenever I brainstormed, most of my ideas were made for these personas. But after that I thought to myself, “Let’s add the rest of the family members to highlight all aspects of a typical household. “So, I included the male personas as well.
I now have a series on YouTube called Sabe’ Jiran, which means seven neighbours in Arabic, where I play more than 22 characters, including women, men, boys and girls.
Social media can be a great tool for exposure and has attracted millions of fans from all over the region and world to your profile. That said, it can also expose you to negative and unwarranted commentary. How do you deal with that?
Social media can be a double-edged sword in that it can be both positive and negative. And this is just how life is. It all depends on how you choose to look at it, what you choose to focus on, and how you want to deal with negativity.
When I first started creating videos on social media, the first two years were quite difficult because I was still a high school student, and it was tough when I received criticism on my platform. If someone said they didn’t like my videos, or style, or hair, it was quite tough because I was exposing myself to a lot of people. But after some time, I learned to focus on all the positives that also exist on my platform. I asked myself, “Why am I not appreciating the hundreds and thousands of positive and beautiful comments, and worrying about the small number of negative comments?” I’m doing this because I love it, I’m passionate about it and I have a message to remind people that even if you’re going through a lot in life, you have to keep dreaming.
According to a previous interview, you are a person who likes to talk to himself. Is that true? If so, why?
I mean honestly, who doesn’t talk to himself or herself? I don’t know if it’s just my thing or if others do the same, but I actually love having conversations with myself. In Paris, for example, I remember having a mirror in my bathroom and stood there for hours just venting and talking about everything. To be honest, I treat myself as my own therapist, and I just love doing this. I also love to practise the languages I know (Arabic, English, French and Turkish), and I love brainstorming with myself this way. A lot of my ideas come when I talk to myself and when I imagine scenarios, and then ask myself, “Do you like this?”. If I do, I share it with everyone else.
I enjoy doing this because at one point, I had no one to speak to, except my family. I remember seeing my mom really sad in Turkey when my family was separated, and I didn’t want to make life any harder for her. So, instead of telling her how bad I was feeling I would just wait until everyone was asleep and I would go and vent in front of the mirror. In a way, it’s therapeutic and it’s a way for me to escape again. It makes me feel comfortable, confident and happy.
Earlier, Google apologised for “inaccuracies” in historical depictions that it was creating
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