On Sunday, the 27-year-old Egyptian-American comic taped his first hour-long stand-up special for HBO in Chicago. This Friday, all 10 episodes of his deeply personal new dramedy series Ramy will start streaming on Hulu. You may not know his name yet, but hes about to be huge.
Youssef was opening for his friend and fellow stand-up Jerrod Carmichael on the road in 2016 when they started joking about how he should have his own multi-cam sitcom. Unlike The Carmichael Show, which told the story of a black family in North Carolina, his sitcom would follow a Muslim family in his native New Jersey.
In the end, Ramy ended up looking a lot more like Aziz Ansaris Master of None or even Lena Dunhams Girlsa comparison we discussed during the interviewwith Carmichael staying on as an executive producer. Its a remarkable achievement for a comedian whose biggest TV credits to date include a Nick at Nite sitcom starring Scott Baio and a three-episode guest spot on Mr. Robot.
Ramy closely mirrors the story of Youssefs family, who moved from New York to New Jersey when he was in the first grade, just a few years before the September 11th attacks. In one stand-out episode from the show that takes place entirely in flashback we see how an adolescent Youssef dealt with the trauma of those events as one of the only Muslim kids in his suburban school.
It just happened to coincide with him discovering himself, as Youssef puts it.
Why dramedies should never forget to be funny
We are in the era of dramedies, in a sense, and I knew that I liked the idea of it being grounded, but I also didnt want to forget that it should be funny. And so it was like, how do we create that vibe but not forget the jokes, and not shy away from the jokes? Its OK if something is just straight-up funny. I think a lot of the more dramatically set shows that come from comedians or have that perspectiveI always wish there were like one or two more straight-up comedy scenes in there.
On the importance of Muslim representation in comedy
It was super-important. This is an Arab Muslim family in New Jersey. So its pretty limited in terms of what its showing. One of the earliest conversations I had with Jerrod, because Jerrod and I were friends for years before we worked together, we would just talk about faith. He grew up Christian and believes in God and I grew up Muslim and believe in God and we were like, theres never anything that shows the way we think about God, where theres this guilt and you want to do the right thing but were really just everyday people.
On the unlikely comparisons between Ramy and Girls
I remember watching that pilot, I think its a really good pilot, and it was like watching people have conversations that you kind of knew they were having but now youre getting the real details of them. And I do feel like our show can do that. I want it to feel as tailored to my actual thought process as possible and I think thats whats amazing about a show like Girls, which is that only these girls could have written that. I can only write things that only somebodys whos me can write or only somebody from my community could write.
What his parents thought about his decision to pursue comedy
They knew I was making stuff and they were always really supportive. It was always like, Yeah, go do it, but also, what are you really going to do? It wasnt dont do it, it was, Ah, man, thats great. It sucks that youre going to have to stop doing it and make money. That was always the attitude. Do it as long as you can, but you have to figure out what youre really going to do.
On the episode of Ramy that combines 9/11 with his introduction to masturbation
9/11 and me jerking off for the first time happened in the same year. I was in fifth grade and then in sixth grade youre discovering yourself and you want a girlfriend all of a sudden and all these things happened at the same time. One of my first stand-up bits was, The name of the first World Trade Center bomber was Ramzi Yousef. Everyone thought we were related, including me. In this show, for 10 episodes, the only time we talk about terrorism is in that episode, because I was really only interested in exploring it from the vantage point of a kid. A big part of this show is trying to say, Hey, were humans. Because I think a lot of people only know us defined by our headlines. And so, what is the most human thing that could be happening under one of most devastating headlines? And what would it look like if those things happened at the same time?
How his father ended up working for Donald Trump
Yeah, my dad worked at one of his hotels. Its really interesting because my dad knew him, my dad knew his family. He saw the way that he did business and I think my dad enjoyed working for him. I dont know that my dad saw all of the things that we now see. My dad started working at that hotel very shortly after he got his citizenship. I know for a fact that this guys life is possible because of people like my dad, that immigrants are the backbone of his businesses. And though we dont know how much those businesses actually make, they are a big part of how hes gotten to where hes at. The people that he is trying to completely exclude from the conversation and dehumanize are the ones who have provided him with even the smallest shreds of dignity that he has.
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It host, Jon Lovett.