When Ramy Youssef was a young goof-off growing up in New Jersey, he never dreamed of a career in Hollywood. In fact, he never dreamed about much of anything when it came to his future.
“I was in school for a little bit at Rutgers for political science, but it was very loose,” Youssef, 28, says of life before getting into comedy, spending three seasons on Scott Baio’s Nick at Nite sitcom See Dad Run, and playing security analyst Samar Swailem on USA’s Mr. Robot. “I got a camera at a very young age, but I always kind of thought of it as a hobby. I never really did figure out anything else I could do, so this really was out of a lack of options.”
His unique perspective as an Egyptian-American millennial — even one lacking in ambition — was enough to fuel his early stand-up and inspire his new comedy series, Ramy, on which he stars as a first-generation Muslim-American who is trying to find his way.
“I knew I wanted to make something about Arab Muslims,” says Youssef, whose twentysomething character works at a start-up and still lives with his parents in New Jersey. “I try to be as specific as possible when saying ‘Arab Muslims’ because there are a lot of different Muslims. I’ve never really seen stories about us in America, at least where you had versions of our characters that weren’t framed by violence.”
So he set out to tell stories about a kid from an immigrant family who wants to hold on to his culture. In one Ramy episode, Ramy struggles to observe Ramadan (a holiday during which devout Muslims fast and refrain from sex from dawn to sunset) while trying to keep a girlfriend.
“It’s a lot about personal responsibility,” says Youssef, who insists the real Ramy is not quite as “stripped and confused” as the fictitious one. But he couldn’t imagine naming his comedy anything else. “I never wanted the expectation that this represents all Muslims,” he says. “That, by nature, is offensive. I [named] it Ramy because it’s my point of view. That’s really all the show claims to cover.”
To see Youssef in the pages of Entertainment Weekly pick up the Avengers: Endgame issue of the magazine. You can buy all six covers, or purchase your individual favorites: Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Hulk, and Ronin. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.