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HomeentertainmentRamy Youssef Talks His Muslim Faith, Family and Hollywood Strikes

Ramy Youssef Talks His Muslim Faith, Family and Hollywood Strikes

During a panel discussion on faith and comedy at the Just For Laughs festival on Saturday, Ramy Youssef talked about his father foretelling the Hollywood actors strike when offering early career advice.

Youssef, who portrays his Muslim faith with both devotion and defiance in his Hulu series Ramy, told the comedy festival audience about his Egyptian-born father discouraging him early on from becoming an artist and entertainer because he’d have to provide for his family one day. “He was always like, ‘This is a beautiful hobby for you to have. Grow the hobby.’ But I remember him clearly saying, ‘One day, real life is going to start,’” he recounted.

The current industry shutdown as Hollywood actors on picket lines seek fair pay, including residuals from streamers, has that warning from his traditional accountant father ringing in his head. “Now we’re in the strike, and, well, here it is! The moment my father spoke of. My father told all of you this would happen. Enjoy the last Montreal,” Youssef told the ComedyPRO conference audience.

Just For Laughs comedian panels often have the feel of a collective therapy session. Youssef and fellow creator and comic Jasmeet Singh Raina – who is about to launch his Canadian comedy Late Bloomer, about a YouTube content creator balancing new-found Internet fame and dating with his devout Sikh parents and family – offered no exception.

On Hulu’s Ramy, which Youssef created, produces, directs and stars in, he plays a devout Muslim caught between his faith and a need to fit in as a 20-something in a politically divided New Jersey neighborhood. Youssef won a Golden Globe in 2020, and in the same year, he was nominated for two Emmy Awards for the second season of Ramy. He also won a Peabody Award for the series.

Youssef’s personal journey of devotion and defiance as seen in his writing and performance in Ramy has connected with TV audiences. In Montreal, Youssef got personal about growing up as a first-generation son of Egyptian immigrants and struggling to reconcile his family roots in the Muslim faith with the Hollywood fame he’s less comfortable with.

“I had this big thing when we were shooting the first season of the show, and we shot the scene where I was praying. I was like, should I be doing this? This is weird. This is what I do in my personal time. Did I just sell this to the Disney Corporation?” he recounted.

Just as Ramy was about to debut, Youssef recalled feeling acute guilt and shame, not least over his Muslim American community at a local Mosque likely feeling betrayed by his depiction of their faith in the Hulu sitcom. “I like going to the mosque. I love the community. And I knew a lot of people would not like Ramy and will I even be able to come back?” he recalled at one point asking himself.

That fear grew to a climax a month after Ramy debuted and Youssef was deep in prayer one day at his mosque. “I saw these two old Arab uncles in the back, and it’s in the middle of the service, and they’re looking at me, they’re pointing, and I see their anger. I see the way they’re looking. This is my nightmare! Now we finish a prayer, and I’m still on my knees, and they’re coming over! And I look up at these two guys, and they ask ‘Can we get a picture?’ And I was like, ‘What’s happening?’” Youssef recalled.

Putting his faith on TV as part of Ramy has had Youssef wrestling with the part of Islam that offers him solace and a sitcom success that underpins his comedic brand. For Raina, that branding part comes in part from the turban, or headdress, he wears as a member of the Sikh faith and which is a signature prop for his TV character in his upcoming Crave comedy.

“I can’t even not wear it anymore, because it’s just part of my brand. From a marketing perspective, it would be very unwise for me,” Raina joked. Also in TV, Youssef co-created and executive produces Netflix’s Mo, a series inspired by the life of a Palestinian refugee growing up in Houston.

On the feature front, Youssef will appear alongside Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo in Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things for Searchlight.



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