It’s disappointing but perhaps not surprising that Ramy Youssef’s career didn’t really take off until he took matters into his own hands. For one thing, as the shaggily likeable comedian told Seth Meyers, auditioning for available roles in Hollywood meant going out for stereotypical terrorist parts. Not that the Ramy star didn’t want them. “The sad part,” explained Youssef on Monday’s Late Night, “is that, it wasn’t like I got them.” Confessing that he would have liked to be one of those stand-up Muslim actors who tell their agents not to send him up for insultingly one-dimensional parts, Youssef told Meyers that he never even got the chance to “sell out my people,” with casting directors constantly responding skeptically to his earnest efforts at racist villainy. (“We don’t believe it when you say ‘death to America.’ Your face . . . we just feel like you want America to live,” joked Youssef.)
Luckily for us, Youssef (whose first HBO special Ramy Youssef: Feelings premieres on June 29), taking the path forged by Ramy executive producer Jerrod Carmichael, has chosen to make the roles for himself and other Muslim actors that he wants to see on the screen. The engagingly funny and thoughtful Ramy has already been renewed for a second season by Hulu (and scored a coveted “Best TV Of 2019 So Far” slot), giving plenty of space for Youssef to explore his autobiographical counterpart’s wryly funny struggles to make it as a faithful but questioning millennial Muslim in America. Telling Meyers that Ramy is his attempt to portray his personal experience “and not take everything else on,” Youssef yet explained the universality of, say, being a young, hip Muslim in Los Angeles. “Islam and L.A. dieting trends have caught up,” joked Youssef, noting that his juice bar barista treats Ramadan fasting like Coachella. (“Yeah, I’m gonna do the second weekend.”) He also explained the hidden benefits of having a diverse crowd at comedy clubs, noting that, while, a roomful of abstemious Muslims might cut into the bar tab, they’ll more than make up for it with mozzarella sticks.
As is the case with Ramy, Ramy treats the very real pressures and issues of being young and faithful in this country with thoughtfully funny amiability, something that even the liberal Meyers found challenging to talk about at one point. Apologizing for asking his guest what the reaction to Ramy has been “in the Muslim community,” Meyers confessed that he’s never once asked a white sitcom star how their show is being received among white people. Youssef—again amiably—corrected the implied idea that there is a monolithic American Muslim community (“What is this guy complaining about?,” asked Youssef of himself in the voice of the country’s majority black Muslims, “We have a lot more going on.”) But Youssef took issue most with the term “moderate Muslim” casually applied to him and his series, joking that that suggests “if you were fully Muslim there’d be a problem,” and refuting the further implication that Muslims wake up every day asking themselves, “Hmm, ISIS or breakfast?”