The 24-year-old TV personality, vlogger, actor and rapper, is best know for humorous videos like these, mixing skits, pranks, songs and stand-up, much of it focused on his experiences as an American Muslim living in the US.
What began as an antidote to teenage boredom in 2012 has since become a successful career. Today he has over 2 million subscribers to his YouTube channel as well as 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
Much of his audience, Saleh says, is Arab, but his humor has a universal appeal. “Initially, I did YouTube videos for fun, to make my family laugh, but then more people started watching and people recognized me as I walked in the street,” he said.
Building on his budding fanbase, Saleh decided to raise awareness of issues he felt were overlooked in the media. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat at his manager’s home in North London, Saleh, who is of Yemeni descent, described his early experiences of discrimination and bullying at schooI in New York, where, he said, racism was rife in lower-income neighborhoods.
Saleh comes from a close-knit family. “In the beginning, you know how Arab parents are, they said you should be a doctor, a lawyer, or a judge, because my grandpa was a judge but my parents ended up supporting me.”
Saleh’s aim, he has said, is to dispel misconceptions around his faith and many of his vlogs feature incidences highlighting issues surrounding racism. For each comedy, skit, or inspirational talk, “there’s always a theme, a lesson,” Saleh said. “No matter what country you’re from, we’re all one, we’re all human. Show love to one another.”
His career has not been without controversy. In a widely publicized incident in December last year, the YouTube star was removed from a Delta Airlines flight after passengers reportedly complained.
Saleh said he was speaking to his mother on the phone in Arabic and tweeted afterwards: “Yes, we’re pranksters and it sounds like the boy who cried wolf but today you can clearly see it’s as real as it gets.”
Last year, Saleh performed in 40 cities around the world and says he is keen to add destinations in Saudi Arabia, where he has a large following. “The Arabic will forever live with me,” he said. “I want people to be proud of where they’re from and never let anyone bring them down.”
Saleh spent two years studying law at NYU before quitting to appear on The Ellen Show. “I took the risk and did it. I have no regrets,” he said. “I love doing what I do, filming, making music, being out there doing what I do and making people smile.”
Always on camera in one medium or another, Saleh is shortly due to release one of his latest projects, a 14-track album filmed in Dubai, out on Oct. 29. After that, he’ll be doing a Netflix documentary in which he explores anti-Arab sentiment across America and selects six of his interviewees to travel with him to Egypt in an effort to tackle prejudice and change their views.
“The Arab culture is a beautiful culture and I always want to show it through my videos and vlogs,” he said.
A version of this article was originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat