“We were writing in the writers room for about a month and then someone at Hulu called me and said, ‘Hey, Mahershala Ali loves your show and wants to talk with you on the phone,’” star and co-creator Ramy Youssef said during a panel at Deadline’s Contenders Television virtual event. The conversation resulted in the two-time Oscar winner joining the series playing a mentoring sheikh at the spiritually struggling title character’s new mosque.
“The thing we really wanted to do with this character that we ended up calling Sheikh Ali is really just showing someone who just feels like a real leader of a mosque,” Youssef said of the 10-episode second season of Ramy, which dropped on the Disney-controlled streamer May 29. “His complications aren’t caricature-ish, it’s just the complications you would have in trying to run a place like that,” the comedian said.
“It was an idea that I wanted to do towards the end of Season 2, into Season 3, but then you get someone like Mahershala on the line and then you realize, oh this is totally meant to be to happen like right now,” Youssef said of the pivot the hilarious and sometimes haunting series took when opportunity came knocking.
Debuting on April 19, 2019 and one of my Top 10 new shows of that year, the minutely crafted dramedy focuses on the journey, spiritual and otherwise, of a twentysomething, first-generation Egyptian-American from New Jersey – and yet Ramy is distinctly not niche.
“I think this Sheikh relationship helped us as a show be able to really put Ramy in some tangible spiritual spaces with some real situations and real things that he has to do, as opposed to the ethereal I want to find myself, which we did in Season 1,” Youssef said of the second season of TV’s only Muslim-American comedy and Ali’s addition.
Written and executive produced by Youssef, the A24-produced Ramy is EP’d by Jerrod Carmichael, Ravi Nandan, showrunner Bridget Bedard and co-creators Ari Katcher and Ryan Welch.
Refreshingly unique not only in its approach and depiction of Muslim-Americans but also of family and faith, Ramy led Youssef to win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Series – Musical or Comedy earlier this year. Less than two weeks ago, Season 1 of Ramy received a prestigious Peabody Award for delivering one of 30 show that are “the most compelling and empowering stories released in broadcasting and digital media” over the last year, to quote the organization’s citation. Sounds about right.
Check out the panel video above.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.