First generation Egyptian-American Ramy Youssef is the creator and star of Hulu’s new comedy “Ramy.” The twenty-eight-year-old comedian and actor has made a 10-episode series depicting the spiritual and identity journey of a Muslim-American millennial in North Jersey.
“It shows someone engaging with their faith in an honest way. I felt like a lot of narratives I saw with first-generation children of immigrants or anyone from a strong faith background was watching them kind of try to erase where they come from and distance themselves from the tension of their parents and the culture that they come from,” Youssef said. “I wanted to make something that reflected my experience, which was trying to honestly engage with my background and actually identify with it while questioning myself within that.
With a 97% rate on Rotten Tomatoes, the show stars Youssef as Ramy Hassan, a Muslim who is unsure what type of Muslim he is or ought to be. The show breaks stigmas and barriers in the Muslim community by addressing topics like sex and dating in Islam as well as post 9/11 feels.
We had the opportunity to speak with Youseff on his new series ‘Ramy‘ and Muslim representation in the media. He told us about his character and spoke of the importance of diverse and authentic representation in the entertainment industry.
The show’s trailer premiered in March and since then has had over 5.6 million views on Youtube. Muslims, in particular, have reacted in various ways with many feeling represented while others critical of the portrayal of American Muslims, many criticizing the lack of representation of Muslim women.
But Youssef acknowledges this and admits that the show does not represent all Muslims, it’s “simple just one piece of the puzzle.”
“We take a burden on to try to represent everybody and that’s not fair, that’s not something other creators have to do in the same way. It’s important to tell the most specific story to you, don’t worry about any of the feedback or blowback because your job is to actually make something that you can grow from.”
He spoke to The Tempest on the importance of representation and on inaccurate, harsh portrayals of Muslims in the media. As an Arab-Muslim, he represented the identity he could best depict.
“This is just one piece of representation. This is a small slice of an Arab Muslim family, most Muslims in America don’t even fall under that category,” Youssef said. “Most Muslims in America are Black, many are South Asian. So this isn’t an antidote to a 24-hour news cycle or years of propaganda and war literature on Muslims. It’s simply just one piece of the puzzle.”
According to Youssef, there are a lot of differences between the Ramy he plays and his real life. He spoke about the family in the show as compared to his own and described how in real life he has a creative outlet to express himself, whereas Ramy, the character, does not.
“This character, this family talks a little less to each other and this character has less of an outlet so he’s more stuck. But the thing that I really love about this character and something that really resonates with me in real life is that when he has a problem or when he’s trying to figure himself out or get the best version of himself he prays,” Youssef said. “He turns to God. That is where he goes, that is how he feels comfortable expressing himself and trying to figure himself out. This was something that was really important for me to put out there and that I wanted to have seen,” he added.
Youssef aims to depict the reality of Muslims in his show. He wants the audience to see that Muslims have the same problems, values and desires other Americans do.
“I want the audience to see that Muslims have vulnerabilities. I want them [the audience] to take a look at the types of problems that this family and character face and understand that our problems are very much like anybody else problems.”
Through this show, Youssef hopes to recontextualize words and spaces, while also demystifying the tropes about how Muslims are and operate.
“When you hear ‘Allahu Akhbar’ in America it means something violent, but when you watch this show, you realize that is something people say when they are looking to find a calm moment- when they are looking to reflect, just an act of worship that is tied to being a human.”
“Dehumanization here is what’s most important. Anything else is just very specific to this story and not really indicative of anything more than that,” he added.
When asked about the advice he would give to fellow American-Muslims, who wish to follow in his career path, Youssef spoke of the importance of taking risks.
“Take risks, don’t be worried about the feedback that you may or not get. Just you know, if you’re young and want to be something, you just have to be as authentic as you can and be yourself,” Youseff said. “Try to pray and drink a lot of water,” he added.
The first season of ‘Ramy’ is available on Hulu. Earlier this month, the television network announced it is renewing for a second season.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.