When Ramy Youssef set out to make Hulu’s Ramy—a scripted comedy that digs into his experiences as a Muslim-American living in New Jersey—he had a whole slew of his own stand-up material to bolster him.
“I started from stand-up,” Youssef said on stage at Deadline’s The Contenders Emmys on Sunday. He recalled doing stand-up while fasting during Ramadan and feeling exhausted, when someone asked him if he had to fast. “I said I wanted to do it,” he said. “And I remember the looks that I got. There was this specific tension like, ‘Why are you at this bar then?'”
Youssef set about giving onscreen voice to all the conversations he wanted to raise, exploring being part of a group of people that were not being fully acknowledged. “I really wanted to make something about a group that people don’t know, that is self-reflective instead of something that is trying to project an idea of what you should think of us.”
Youssef added that he felt other shows about first-generation immigrants often dealt with arguments between parents and their kids and ended with the protagonist saying ‘I could be white’. But in Ramy, Youssef wanted to look at what it’s like to be a person who wants their religion and inherited culture to stay in their life, while exploring other areas. “There’s what you do and there’s what you believe, and there’s the space in between,” he said. “I think it was kind of interesting to show characters struggling with that.”
And the show has had an immediate impact. “As people are starting to see it, I’ve been really surprised,” Youssef said. “Anyone who is trying to adhere to something that’s just different from what’s in front of them….trying to be both, and it was really exciting to try and build that world out and make it be hyper-specific.”
With encouragement from EP comedian Jerrod Carmichael, Youssef said he felt able to set aside the worry of what his parents would make of the show. And as for what Muslim people might think of the show, Youssef said that was not really the question, since his own personal experience can’t be that broad.
“This is really about Arab Muslims in New Jersey, so it’s really narrow,” Youssef said. “There’s a reason I called the show Ramy, because I didn’t want to call it Muslims.”