Ramy Creator Ramy Youssef on Zoom Parties, Wokeness, and Why He’s Grateful for Homeland

By
Photography Richie Davis

Published May 22, 2020

No one was more surprised than Ramy Youssef when, in early January, the actor and comedian accepted a Golden Globe for his role on the Hulu series Ramy. “Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” he said to the crowd from the podium. That may have been true then, but the win vaulted the New Jersey native into an upper echelon of TV stars who pull double duty as show creators. With the second season set to debut next week, anticipation is high to see where he takes his story of a young Arab American trying to juggle the demands of his religion and the pressures of millennial living. Here, he offers up his opinions on 18 topics chosen at semi-random.

———

ZOOM

“I had my birthday party on Zoom this year, and I couldn’t have imagined any other way in which my parents would have hung out with that many of my friends. Everyone changed their background to different embarrassing photos of me, so it turned into this photo collage of everything from me with terrible acne and braces to winning a Golden Globe, but photoshopped. My parents really got to see the ruthlessness of my friends.”

———

NEW JERSEY

“You could probably convince me that North Jersey and South Jersey should be two separate states. They’re just so different. North Jersey is one of the best places on earth. I love living there. I want to raise my kids there. It’s my favorite state in the country. I’ve been living in L.A. for years, but I’m a big defender of New Jersey.”

———

HOLLYWOOD HILLS

“I’ve never had a particularly good experience in the Hollywood Hills. I love Hollywood, but there’s something about the Hills where I’m just like, “I’m going to just stay at ground level.” I don’t know what it is, but it’s not where I hang. I’ll take Studio City any day over the Hollywood Hills.”

———

TWENTIES

“They’re about to be over. Sometimes I look at my 20s and I’m like, “Wow, that was like four different lives.” In the beginning of my 20s, I was sick with Bell’s palsy. I couldn’t move my face for, like, six months. That was from 19 into 20. That was the beginning of that decade. I was like, ‘Oh, man. Maybe this is what I’m going to look like my whole life, and I won’t even be able to act.’ Now I’m ending my 20s getting to do shit I couldn’t have even dreamed of had I known I’d be getting my full face back.”

———

THIRTIES

“What I would love for my 30s is to just not have expectations. I don’t want to assume anything about my 30s based on my 20s other than just keeping the lessons I’ve learned, but in terms of what I think should happen with those lessons, I don’t know.”

———

SOCIAL DISTANCING

“I had a dream about hanging out with some people at a restaurant, and I was like, ‘Man, those were the days.’ But I really think social distancing is creating a different kind of proximity, because I’m talking to people I haven’t talked to in years for longform conversations just because I might not be able to see them. There’s this element when you’re about to break up with somebody, and then they do it first, and you’re like, ‘I want to stay together.’ It’s that same energy where you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, I want to talk to this person,’ even though you were never going to talk to them before. It does something to you. I’m trying to learn more about myself during this time. You have to use it to get new data about yourself. I’m trying to find the unique scope here. It’s almost like we’ve discovered a new camera angle to our lives that we really didn’t know about. It’s like, ‘Let me remember this picture before we switch to the next one.’”

———

MAHERSHALA ALI

“He’s in the new season of my show. We really made something that we couldn’t have made without him. He challenges you, and not in an overt way, but he’s so inspiring that you want to be better around him—not even just a better actor. I’m also like, ‘I want to donate to a food shelter after hanging out with you for 30 minutes.’ He just has that energy.”

———

HECKLERS

“I get them all the time. I try to engage in some sort of conversation for a second. Sometimes people just want to hear their own voice, but I try not to roast them. I’ve gotten some of my best bits from conversations with hecklers. It’s never funny during the show that they heckled at, but a conversation can come out of it that then becomes a bit. I had this bit in my first special about what’s wrong with being attracted to your cousin. Then someone started heckling me, and I started arguing with them as to why it’s okay. The room was very weirded out. Then I ended up working it into what became one of the closing bits in my hour. All that being said, people should not do it.”

PERFORMATIVE WOKENESS

“It’s a losing battle because you’re never going to be awake enough. For an artist to be performatively woke is a disservice, because art inherently should be messy. You should not be making something that’s foolproof. You should be making something that can be picked apart, but because it’s messy, the truth that’s in there is going to be a lot more clear. If you just try to be woke, you’re going to create a bland representation that actually feels more like sci-fi than reality.”

———

BACKWARDS HATS

“For whatever reason, since I was a kid, I’ve had a backwards hat on. A big plot twist in season two is that sometimes I wear it forward, which shows a real evolution of my character. A lot of times, if you’re wearing your hat forward and then when you go to pray, you have to put it backwards so that you can get down and the brim doesn’t hit the floor. It’s kind of a trademark of being at a mosque for people my age. When the call for prayer goes off, you see a bunch of hats flip around. It’s one of my favorite images.”

———

INSTAGRAM LIVE

“I’m figuring it out. I think the probability of me doing Instagram Live is tied to the length of the quarantine. At a certain point, I’ll probably just be like, ‘Well, fuck it.’ I wish I could go live without people getting the notification. I don’t want to contribute to notification pollution.”

———

MILLENNIALS

“I don’t know when it became a slur. I think we’re doing the best we can with what we got.”

———

45

“You know how in Harry Potter they never say ‘Voldemort,’ so they just say ‘He-Who-Shall-Not Be-Named?’ 45 became that. All I can say is, I hope 46 is soon.” 

———

HOMELAND

“I’m forever grateful to Homeland because I got to sell my show by saying, ‘You can’t let Homeland be the only thing that exists about Muslims.’ I actually think season one of Homeland is amazing television. They did a really good job of dehumanizing Muslims, and they did it with really good writing and really good production value. It is a top-notch production at making us look like animals. So, kudos.”

———

RICKY GERVAIS

“The comedian in me loved how poised he was during the Globes. It was just so pro. He didn’t flinch once, and I thought his jokes were really well-written, and I thought he really did a great job. But I find his dialogue about being an atheist boring. I haven’t really heard an interesting take from him as to why he’s atheist. He just kind of says it to get shock value. I think it’s kind of outdated. But the original The Office is one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”

———

PUBLIC PRAYER

“I was walking in New York, and I saw that there was this couple waiting for a cab. They saw the driver praying in it, but they didn’t know it was prayer. So they were like, ‘Oh my god, don’t get in that cab. Something’s going on with that guy.’ They walked away kind of afraid because he was praying onto his steering wheel. I knew he was praying, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is amazing. This is a primetime spot for a cab. I’m about to get this cab. I’m just going to wait.’ I knew what part of the prayer he was in. I was like, ‘He’s about to be done. These people don’t even know. They’re totally missing out.’ I was very happy to get that cab.”