Ramy Youssef opens up about portraying the titular protagonist in ‘Ramy’

‘He’s who I’m afraid of becoming’:

by Razmig Bedirian | The National

“Ramy is me without a passion, without perspective,” Ramy Youssef says as he ponders the differences between himself and the titular protagonist of his TV show Ramy. “He’s me with a family that talks less.”

The two share a first name, but the Egyptian-American still manages to maintain a healthy distance from the character he portrays. By the time you conclude the second season of the show – which was released regionally on OSN on Friday, May 29 – you’ll know why it’s a good thing that he keeps his character Ramy at arm’s length.

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Ramy makes some problematic choices this season that seem to directly contradict his aim of becoming a better person and a better Muslim. He hurts many of those around him with his self-centred ambling. By the last episode, he also manages to bring the magnetic and disciplined Sheikh Ali, played by Mahershala Ali, to tears.

“Ramy is kind of like a very … [egotistical] version of me. He’s who I’m afraid of becoming,” Youssef tells The National. “But in terms of people watching the show and thinking whether that’s me or not, that’s up to people being responsible television viewers and remembering that TV is TV.”

Before he began working on the second season, Youssef says he had a certain set of intentions for where he’d like to take the show. However, not every idea finds its way to the screen.

“Some crack open, others don’t,” he says from his home in Los Angeles. “It feels like detective work, where I have a list of things and I know I want to try and find this or that, and then there’s a bit of searching, and you get excited by how you find it.”

Youssef says that the character of Sheikh Ali was not going to be introduced to the show until the seventh episode of the second season. However, a conversation he had with the Oscar winner had him reconsider.

“I ended up having an organic conversation with [Mahershala Ali] and it became clear that he wanted to be on the show," Ramy Youssef says. OSN 
Mahershala Ali, left in season two of ‘Ramy’. OSN

“I ended up having an organic conversation with him and it became clear that he wanted to be on the show. So we decided to introduce the character in episode one instead,” Youssef says, adding that the team wanted to keep certain elements of the show the same in its latest season while also trying to switch things up.

“And I can’t think of a better way of switching things up than with Mahershala. He really afforded us such humanity in the character of the sheikh. We wanted an amazing portrayal of the sheikh that felt exciting and human. To get someone of his calibre perform – that was really, really exciting.”

Youssef is now looking to get some other big names for season three. The comedian says the team is still waiting to get the green light from Hulu for the next season, but he already knows who he’d like to approach.

We’re still trying to get Lindsay Lohan. We’d really like to have her on the show,” he says. “And Mo Salah. We’ve got to get the Egyptian legend on!”

Lindsay Lohan was invited to appear on season two of Ramy Youssef's comedy show. Getty Images
Lindsay Lohan was invited to appear on season two of Ramy Youssef’s comedy show. Getty Images

Looking back, Youssef says he had no idea that the show would be as far-reaching as it has turned out to be. So much of the show’s material, he says, is based on his stand-ups, which he’d perform in small intimate places with a few dozen audience members.

“With season one – even to a certain extent with season two – we were not fully conscious of the reach the show would have, which I think was to the benefit of the show. I don’t know what it would have done if I started thinking about a global audience. I don’t think it’s a fun place to write from.”

Ramy Youssef won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for his role in 'Ramy'. EPA/CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA
Ramy Youssef won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for his role in ‘Ramy’. EPA

Youssef also elaborates on how conversations with other cast members helped steer the show in a particular direction, sometimes even becoming the root of an entire episode.

“I had a lot of conversations with May [Calamawy], who plays Deena [Ramy’s sister] on the show. And we built an episode around her real-life experience of feeling like she had hasad [envy] on her, dealing with hair loss as a woman, trying to understand what that meant. So that’s a prime example of something that just came up in conversation,” he says.

Youssef says that some people who watch Ramy may have sensitivities to how certain things are portrayed, but he wants people to know that he has those sensitivities as well.

“I care about the faith. I care about the culture and the community. For me, there’s this element of knowing what I want to do as a comedian and knowing who I am even just as an audience member. So you’re always trying to close that gap.”

Youssef says, ultimately, he is trying to spark conversations within Arab and Muslim communities.

“A lot of people may get excited, or uncomfortable, [angry] or thrilled. The palette of all that, I really enjoy.”

Youssef is now teaming up with Steve Way – who plays Steve on Ramy and who was born with muscular dystrophy – to work on a series that explores the community of people with disabilities.

“I’ve known Steve since we were like 9 or 10,” Youssef says, which is another aspect that is reflected in the show’s storyline. “We’re writing the show together and Steve is going to star in it. It’s all about the disabled community and the people in it.”

It is still unclear when Hulu will give Ramy the green light for a third season, but Youssef says he already has plenty of ideas on where to take the show’s characters.

“It’s a weird feeling, to make 20 episodes and feel like we’re only just getting started,” he says.

Ramy is available on Hulu and OSN Streaming

Read from source The National