Abdo Al Rayyis ’22 has always thrived in front of an audience.
“In high school, I was probably the only weird kid who wanted to do presentations,” Al Rayyis said.
This enthusiasm was what led Al Rayyis, a sixteen-year-old who had recently immigrated from Iraq, to start hosting a live show focusing on Middle Eastern affairs at his new high school, the United World College of the American West (UWC-USA) located in Montezuma, New Mexico. He characterized the initial tone of his show as “very serious and kind of intense,” but he later pivoted to more of a late-night comic-news format after his classmates praised him for his sense of humor, which was inspired by his favorite comedian, Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef.
Al Rayyis, who is half Arab and half Kurdish, was born in Baghdad, Iraq not long before the events of Sept. 11, 2001. After the U.S. invasion of the region in 2003 decimated Baghdad, Al Rayyis’ family moved to Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, which was relatively undamaged by the war. After spending time in the U.S. during a high school exchange program, Al Rayyis won a scholarship to the prestigious UWC-USA for his junior and senior years. He was the only Iraqi student on campus.
All these years later, after bringing his show to Lewis & Clark and having to face an 18-month pandemic-induced hiatus, “Abdo’s Late Show” is still going strong. The newest season began on Tuesday, Oct. 12, with a show at 7:30 pm in the Council Chamber. Al Rayyis wants these shows to occur on a roughly monthly basis and be under an hour, but also says the show tends to run longer than an hour no matter what he does.
While previous episodes of “Abdo’s Late Show” have limited documentation online, Al Rayyis says he plans to fix this. He has at least six episodes taped from the 2019-20 season and intends to edit and upload the footage to his YouTube account.
As of now, there is a single episode of “Abdo’s Late Show” on YouTube, recorded on Feb. 24, 2020. In the episode, Al Rayyis interviews several international students from Bosnia, monologues about his first American girlfriend and plays satirical videos of himself interviewing random Portland residents about a fictional African country suffering from an “essential oils crisis.” Musical accompaniment was provided by Queen Shit and the Island Turd Jazz Band.
The Oct. 12 show consisted of a performance by LC band Mr. Beautiful followed by Al Rayyis’ humorous opening monologue on Lebanon, his own health struggles, LC meme pages and white guilt. Free pizza was also served to the audience during the show. Al Rayyis’ friend Rocco Weyer ’22 performed a stand-up routine, after which Al Rayyis and Weyer performed a skit lampooning Middle Eastern stereotypes. Al Rayyis then introduced the night’s main topic: the ongoing political crisis in Afghanistan. After a break, Al Rayyis interviewed a refugee from Afghanistan over Zoom. Another song by Mr. Beautiful closed out the evening.
Al Rayyis says that the administration at LC has been very supportive and helpful in bringing his dream of running a late-night satire show to life. The road to becoming a star on campus has not been without hiccups, however.
“When I did my very first episode I didn’t know what I was doing, and I still don’t know what I’m doing,” Al Rayyis said. “But I can work it out.”