The Egyptian-American comedian is the first to admit his win over longtime comedic titans Michael Douglas, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, and Ben Platt for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy is a surprise at the backstage press room. “This is very exciting and very unexpected.” Upon hearing his name being called in a room brimming with the who’s who of Hollywood, Youssef joked, “I was just happy they pronounced it right.”
“I would like to thank my God. Allahu Akbar; thank you, God,” said Youssef on stage after accepting the award from presenters Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon for his eponymous show Ramy. After poking fun at the likely fact most of the people in attendance hadn’t seen his comedy-drama series, the Arab actor explained the impact this award has because of the show’s premise: “We made a very specific show about an Arab, Muslim family living in New Jersey and this means a lot to be recognized on this level.”
The 28-year-old jack-of-all-trades not only stars in the award-winning Hulu Original but is also the creator, producer, writer, and occasional director. In an industry that often typecasts Arab actors and pigeon-holes them in stereotypical villains or taxi drivers, Youssef is a breath of much-needed fresh air of a male lead without the Muslim asterisk defining his role.
Not only is Youssef increasing representation of the Middle East in mainstream Hollywood, but he’s also doing so in a way that normalizes without assimilating the region’s rich and varied experiences.
“This show is called Ramy. Part of why we picked that is because…we didn’t want to call it something that would blanket a group of a billion people,” explained Youssef in the press room. “It’s a really specific story. It’s one Egyptian family in North Jersey and so for something this specific in an industry where a lot of networks feel like ‘oh, we need something that we can sell like toothpaste that everyone would relate to’, I think getting something like this kind of shows that you can really relate to people with something that feels really granular, but it symbolically hopefully allows people to make more stories…so there’s not just one show for one group.”
Although Ramy takes inspiration from Youssef’s own first-generation American upbringing, it magnifies the issues many young Arabs all around the world grapple with as they navigate shifting definitions of identity in modern-day society. From understanding multi-generational family life, balancing differing perspectives of religion, and dealing with ignorance firsthand, the 10-episode sitcom shares a uniquely singular life of one man who has experiences easily relatable to not only Arabs and/or Muslims but to people from all different religions and cultures.
While this may be the show that puts Youssef on everyone’s radar and will continue to do so as it has already been renewed for a second season starring Golden Globe winner Mahershala Ali, the relative newcomer previously appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and alongside fellow Egyptian actor Rami Malek in a recurring role in Mr. Robot.
One thing is for sure: No matter how successful Youssef becomes, we can always count on his family to keep him grounded.