Starring Youssef’s Ramy co-star Steve Way, the untitled project will center on the latter actor’s experiences as a disabled individual, looking also at the experiences of his family.
“We’re really excited to [offer] an intimate look at his life, his point of view, [because] those things are really untapped. We’ve only ever really seen disabled characters as side characters, and we’re really going to be able to step into that with him,” Youssef tells Deadline today. “Obviously, he plays my best friend on my show, but we’re not even close to tapping into what he can do. I’m probably more excited about that than Ramy half the time, but very grateful to be able to do both.”
This morning, Youssef also hinted at what’s to come in Ramy’s recently announced third season, discussing the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the series, on both creative and logistical levels. “Story-wise, yeah, I feel like we’re just beginning. There’s so many things that we’re really excited to dig into, and we’re also excited [about] figuring out, how much of what’s happening in the world right now do we want to put in?” he says. “Because obviously, everything’s changing super quickly.”
On a separate note, Youssef notes that he intends to be conservative, as far as bringing the show back before cameras. “We want to, as a show, lead by being slow in deciding, when are we really going to get people back together? So, we’re figuring out creative ways to write,” he says. “We’re taking our time, in terms of when we’re going to get near cameras rolling, just to make sure that everybody’s safe.”
Created by Ari Katcher, Ryan Welch and Youssef—who also directs and stars in the series, based on his own experiences—Ramy centers on a first-generation American Muslim and the spiritual journey he undertakes within his politically divided New Jersey community.
Earning a Golden Globe earlier this year for his turn in the series, Youssef has seen it garner consistent acclaim and increasing attention since its debut last year. Today, Youssef was met with nominations for Lead Actor and Directing, with an additional nod for Season 2 supporting actor Mahershala Ali.
For Youssef, Ramy’s Emmys breakthrough is meaningful on a number of levels. “You know, this s**t’s so crazy. It’s like half of it is all work, and then the other half is the random simulation,” he jokes. “It means a lot, obviously, for us individually, [but] I really view our acting nominations are show nominations. I don’t know if that’s the case on every show, but this show, from the bottom to the top, it’s just like everyone makes it possible.”
Ramy’s cast and crew aside, Youssef is well aware of what this moment means for the Muslim American community, and for all those who aren’t used to seeing their lives depicted on screen. “I always am like, ‘Man, this is a show about an Arab Muslim guy from New Jersey who jerks off too much, and we just got three Emmy nominations.’ Like, every network should pick up a Muslim show today, for the amount of other experiences that happen under the umbrella of being a Muslim, the amount of different communities, and groups, and characters that my show doesn’t even get close to covering,” he says. “This, to me, means something for people who are like, ‘Oh, well, we’re not sure if we can do this show, because that person’s not famous.’ You know, we got Mahershala, but we got Mahershala after [a season with no name stars]. We’re not a show built on names. We’re only built on how specific the story is. So, to be here with three Emmys means a lot, for I hope a lot of people that aren’t even me.”
From the Ramy triple-threat’s perspective, the reason the comedy has resonated widely, with both critics and viewers, in clear. “I think people are sick of seeing the same s**t, and they want to see something that feels like it’s talking to us. I like shows, I like characters that are ugly, and that are messy, and that look like me, and this is what was so dope about when Bong [Joon-ho] was talking about Parasite, where I remember early notes from networks being like, ‘Ah, there’s a lot of subtitles on this episode,’” Youssef says. “Like, we’re so beyond old frames of thinking, where people think a show only speaks to its own population.
“You know, the merits of a show being made, you don’t match them up to the census and say, ‘Oh cool, we have X amount of Asian Americans. So I guess we’ll have one.’ That’s not how it works. These are universal stories, and I think that what’s awesome about getting to do it with this palette, that people haven’t gotten to experience, is you realize that there’s a real hunger, a curiosity for what we don’t know,” he adds. “And what’s even more exciting is when we realize what we don’t know is actually really familiar to us, too—because obviously, we’re just looking at human problems.”
Reflecting on Ramy two seasons in, Youssef notes the change that has occurred within entertainment, in terms of representation, both above and below the line, and the kinds of stories that are now being told. “When I tried to talk about this show, in 2014, 2015, any person who was anywhere near the industry told me to make [Ramy and his family] Arab neighbors, or make it just one character and put him with a white friend, or adopted. You know, random s**,” he says. “And now, we get to be doing this.”
At the same time, even in a year with a diverse set of Emmy nominations, there are still huge strides to be made, when it comes to representation. “I think that obviously, these are really cool early steps, but we’ve got to flatten the curve, dude. We’ve got to keep going,” Youssef says. “I think there’s a bit of a narrative that Hollywood pushes social challenge. But I really do think that social change is what pushes Hollywood. Hollywood is just like any other corporation, and so we can’t really let up.”
From Youssef’s perspective, it will be important to keep fighting the good fight for good stories, in the years to come. “It doesn’t matter who they come from,” he says, “but we want to make sure that everyone’s getting a chance to talk.”
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