Ramy Youssef invites fans and critics for another peek into his stream of consciousness via his first stand-up comedy special Ramy Youssef: Feelings set to debut on HBO, Saturday, June 29. Shot just one week before his Hulu series Ramy was released, the native New Yorker continues busting open doors for Muslim-Americans in comedy — a group that is still underrepresented greatly in Hollywood and heavily stereotyped in a post 9/11 world.
On his hit Hulu series, Youssef goes beyond highlighting his struggles with identity but he also explores the challenges his immigrant parents face. While a bigger spotlight was on his mom, who had an entire episode dedicated to her character, the comedian focuses on his dad and his climb up the ladder while working at a Trump Hotel in New York City in the special. In an exclusive clip above, Youssef opens up about the presence the now president had in his home while growing up, where the controversial leader was considered “Uncle Donald Trump.”
“It’s always been such an interesting thing to me that you see him talk about immigrants in the abstract but when you are part of a family that was one of the people he employed, it just looks a little weird,” Youssef tells EW exclusively. “I don’t think any of it is an attack on Trump or anything like that, if anything I explain why I think people connect with him and like him.
It’s just kind of looking at the other side of it and trying to step it out of the normal rhetoric and kind of look at it from a human place, which is that a lot of the people he is talking about are people who make his things successful and make them profitable. I wanted to highlight that through something that is personable.”
Even though Youssef brings excessive laughter to the audience in Feelings with his unique opinions on current pop culture topics, it is the audience itself that the Egyptian-American hopes people notice the most. While holding court at the center of Chicago’s Cultural Center, he is surrounded by a diverse audience with many from his community showing their support.
“We really wanted to make the special really bright so that you can see the audience,” he explains. “I think it says a lot about how you don’t usually see this type of audience in comedy specials. We really wanted a space that would highlight it. Architecturally, the space almost feels like a mosque or something. We wanted it to feel very much like what a community conversation would look like. So having the people who were there was really important.
The imagery of women in headscarves and Muslim men just cracking up and laughing was just as important as anything I was saying.”
Youssef is using his time in the spotlight to counteract the negative stereotypes propagated even beyond Hollywood’s reach. It’s of utmost importance for Youssef to help other young Muslim-Americans feel seen through his struggles with identity and religion.
“The way our stories are being told have been so archaic and so steeped in negativity and inhuman portrayals, that I do feel like we not only need to bring it to a humanizing level but go even further and just afford ourselves the opportunity to be weird and inappropriate but still grounding it in something that is relatable,” he explains.
“The comedy, whether it be stand-up or on the show, the space that I really love to be in is what you believe in versus what you actually do and everything in the middle. That’s the conversation that is really exciting for me to have. I think a lot of the times, the conversation goes to questioning beliefs and goes to questioning culture and faith in a specific way. That’s not really the type of conversation I like to have as much as it’s questioning myself and where I fit into those things.”
Youssef is already back to work on season two of Ramy, after closing the 10-episode series with a trip to Egypt that left him feeling all sorts of ways—about life and his gorgeous cousin Amani (Rosaline Elbay).
“We’re in the writers’ room right now, we just started our second week,” he says. “It’s really exciting. I think we’re going to get to know these characters a lot more and it’s going to get really intimate with them. I am really excited to explore that. It’s a very cool place to be with season two as opposed to season one, because with season one you have to build the world so much and you’re starting from scratch. No one knows who I am and no one knows what the show is.
Now, we’ve established what we’re about, what our tone is, how we’re feeling about things. Now we really get to spread wings on a lot of things that are exciting for me to talk about. We’re gearing up now and hoping to release around the same time next year.”
He adds about when season two will pick-up after the finale, “Pretty soon. It’s not going to be right away, some time has passed but not much. We’re still very much digesting the decisions of the finale. He will most likely be back from Egypt, for the most part. You’ll just have to wait and see.”