Award-winning comedian Ramy Youssef discusses hit show “Ramy” in A&O event

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Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu/TNS

Ramy Youssef in an episode of his eponymous Hulu series, “Ramy.” Youssef discussed his hit show and more with journalist Maytha Alhassan in an A&O event Thursday.

Assem Belhadj, Reporter

Award-winning comedian Ramy Youssef discussed the Muslim American experience and spirituality in his hit show “Ramy” at a Thursday virtual event.

The event, co-hosted by A&O Productions and Muslim-cultural Students Association, took place Thursday night over Zoom. Journalist and “Ramy” staff writer Maytha Alhassen moderated the conversation. 

Youssef answered questions from audience members and delved into his experience producing “Ramy.” The show, which is streaming on Hulu, narrates the experiences of a Muslim-American family in New Jersey. The main character Ramy is based on Youssef’s life.

“I wanted to see a different kind of first-generation (or) second-generation (immigrant) story where it felt closer to my own life,” Youssef said. “I’m not trying to step away from my faith or my culture. I’m trying to synthesize, I’m trying to figure out… how do you wear spirituality, and your lineage, and your tradition, and your beliefs that are always going to be a part of you in the contemporary moment.”

The idea for the show is based off of  his stand-up comedy sets, he said. He started the show in collaboration with other stand up artists. Youssef said the show was an effort to show the nuances of Muslim American communities, which he said he has not seen before in media.

Alhassan said that the scarcity of Muslim stories on television contributed to how the show was received in Muslim and Arab American communities. Although the show cannot capture all Muslim American stories, many Muslim Americans resonated with the characters of the show, Alhassan added.

“There was clearly something very special about what you presented for folks,” Alhassan said. “Another element that sometimes gets lost is the depth of the spiritual questions you ask.”

When he pitched “Ramy,” Youssef said he at first did not incorporate spiritual themes the show would eventually portray. The concept of the “culture clash,” Youssef said, is a theme that the show was initially pitched to explore. However, it evolved into nuanced depictions of contemporary spirituality, he said. 

The show’s exploration of spiritual themes is exemplified in the character Ramy’s involvement with Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. 

Bienen sophomore Aalia Hanif was interested in Youssef’s discussion of Sufism and asked a question about it.

“I’m from a really small town in Tennessee (with a) very limited Muslim community,” Hanif said. “I’m really interested in Sufism myself but with (the COVID-19 pandemic) I can’t just go to a Sufi center right now.”

Hanif then asked Youssef about how he became involved in Sufism. Youssef began speaking about his initial perceptions to Sufism and said that the spiritual elements of the Sufi tradition are what interested him.

Youssef said he faced the challenge of portraying the Muslim experience in an understandable way for his non-Muslim audience. Alhassan asked Youssef how he filters through both the Muslim gaze and non-Muslim gaze.

“Genuine expression is being aware of who’s going to watch it,” Youssef said. “I’m aware of the audience, and I know I want to communicate something through but the message… (and) how it’s shaped is very personal.”

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