If you watch Late Night with Stephen Colbert, you would have seen his stand up routine or you’ve seen him on Mr. Robot as Samar Swailem, now Ramy Youssef is getting his own Hulu comedy – Ramy and it’s not to be missed.
I sat down with Ramy recently in Hollywood to talk about how Hulu has provided a platform for him to bring his show about a young Muslim American Egyptian man who works at a startup company, is trying to date, and hangs with his bros. He lives at home still so we get to meet his family and his sister and his ultra-racist uncle. And we meet his friends. Ramy is a hilarious comedy where representation matters. It’s the chance for positive reinforcements that show his struggles are relatable, while he tries to stay true to his faith because his religion is important to him.
We talk about the show and his comedy and how Ramy’s best friend also appears in the show and is quite the scene stealer. Read our chat below :
Do you recall the first thing that really made you laugh?
I always remember my uncle showing me George Carlin when I was 10. It was way too early, but also perfect timing. That was the first time I thought, “Aw man, this is amazing.”
The first time I really started laughing was hearing my dad and my uncles in a room together, just between the three of them, they were non-stop. It’s funny because I do stand-up now and I hang out with comedians and when you hang out with comedians, someone will say a joke and then someone says another one and it heightens into this amazing thing and that’s the same feeling when I’m hanging out with my family. We just have a good time.
Was there a time when you realized you were really funny?
I just started doing it professionally and then the family would come out and see it and they were surprised.
I probably first started making things in High School, we had this amazing TV program. I’d write scripts and we’d shoot things and that turned into on-stage performances. I probably started doing comedy on stage when I was 17. I started by writing classic jokes and I wasn’t amazing at that, it wasn’t exactly my lane, but then a few years in, I started talking about what’s going on with me.
That’s when I felt it was coming from a clearer place for me and it was more fun.
What was the point where you realized the routine could be a show?
I always knew I wanted to make something that showed Arabs and Muslims in a different light. I think there’s always been a big problem with how we’re perceived. I remember moving to LA and I was shooting at Paramount Pictures and I prayed and I thought, “has anyone done this?” I know someone had done it. I knew there had been Muslims there, but I didn’t know any of them. No one has talked about it. I knew early on that I wanted to do something that talked about that and that there could be some sort of connection. I didn’t know what form it would take.
Over the years, it became clear it should be a show.
What about the material in terms of do you ever think about how far you can push it without offending people or do you just go for it?
I care very much. I care about the community. I think at the same time, we have to challenge things and talk about things we’re not talking about. The point of a TV show is not to be polite. The point of a TV show is to bring up conversations and things that are harder in real life. If you’re going to take the time to make a TV show, it should be, “What are we achieving here, that is difficult to do in real life?”
It was very clear that we pushed some boundaries, but I didn’t want to disrespect the faith. We don’t question the faith or attack it in any way, there are enough forces doing that. It’s more about me looking at my own intentions. That’s been the line.
I’d be in the writer’s room and then test it on stage. I could feel some things be a bit too far for people I can feel what it’s like in the room, or I can see it connect.
The family dynamic adds such a great realism.
Showing the sister and highlighting the family. We really dig into that in the later episodes. We have an episode that’s all with my sister and one with my mom. To me, it’s really important to see what’s going on within the whole unit. You have to see what’s going on with everybody else to get the full picture. That dynamic and that ability for them to all be in the same house. It’s a cultural thing. It’s an economic thing and some of my friends are still living at home and are 28. We just don’t have the money to get out. What does it look like when that tension is there? It’s a fun dynamic.
Steve is brilliant. What an addition to the show. He’s also your best friend with no acting experience and from watching, you absolutely can not tell that. He’s a real pro. Talk about casting Steve because it feels like we should know all about him.
It’s so exciting. He should be in so many things. He’s so good. What’s so important for me – a lot of people in his position are treated a certain way – it was important to show the dynamic where we treat him like anybody else. We just have to help him pee. He annoys us. We annoy him and to me, that’s what makes someone humanizing. That’s the whole point of the show, to humanize people who are misunderstood. It’s the same thing for people in the disabled community, the leading thought is how do we give them a handout? They can don’t anything without us and they need our help? But what’s the other layer? what are their desires? Do I agree with that? Seeing the nuances with someone like him is so exciting. It was a fun conversation with Hulu because they asked, what had he acted in? I said, “Nothing, just know we’re writing for him the whole season.” At the end of the sessions, they asked to meet him and we did an on-camera audition and they were immediately excited.
His comic-timing is brilliant. He’s trouble.
Is there a difference in doing comedy for stand-up and comedy TV?
There’s less of a difference than I thought. I was really able to workshop stuff on stage that made it into the show. A lot of the show is my standup. It’s still a show – it’s almost like you tell a joke and you hear the laugh a year later. There’s this gap. It’s different in terms of immediate reaction and there are pros and cons to how it feels. There’s something really cool about episode that feels different.
In standup, I can have an idea at breakfast and know that it works by night. In TV, it’s years of experimenting and it comes out all at once.
Do you think about the second season and exploring where to grow with him?
There’s a lot. There are so many types of characters in his world that we didn’t get into in season one, so there’s so much more to explore. I have big hopes for the family and what they can reflect to us.
You bring so much to the show with Ramy and all he has to offer, what do you hope audiences take from it?
I hope it humanizes us and it shows a lot of problems that we have and terrorism isn’t on top of that list. We have personal dynamics. We’re trying to adhere to our beliefs and those are the real things we’re going through. Portraying us as humans is the best thing we can do.
Does Hulu give you the creative freedom or do they step in and say, “No, that joke won’t fly?”
I don’t think I could have landed this show at a more creatively open place. This is my show. Sometimes, someone will put something out and the network will make them do that. This is my show. Everything that’s there is what I wanted to be there. I have no one to blame, they let us make what we wanted to make.
What is the outtake reel like?
It’s funny. There’s a lot, especially when it’s Me, Mo and Dave. It’s really fun.
You’re going on tour with this?
Yes, we are. Dave and I are going to a few cities and Steve will be there on one day.
Oh my gosh.
It’s going to be so much fun.
All ten episodes air on April 19