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Ramy Youssef on His Creative Journey, Cultural Pride, and Career Milestones

Award-winning Egyptian American creator, actor, producer, director, and comedian, 32-year-old Ramy Youssef has taken the entertainment industry by storm.

Ramy-Youssef

Photo: Bertie Watson

From his work on the Peabody Award-winning comedy series Ramy, to his successful feature debut in the award-winning Poor Things, to his latest project, a nationwide comedy special tour titled More Feelings – coming out on March 23 — Youssef is undoubtedly a shining star. As he makes his return to the stage, the multi-hyphenate speaks to Vogue Arabia about his journey.

Rooted in his Egyptian American identity, Youssef’s journey into the entertainment’s universe goes back to his early fascination with cameras, particularly video cameras. He recalls his father capturing family moments, “When my father used to come home after a long day at work, the first thing he used to do was to take out the video camera to videotape us. He loved capturing those moments.” This early exposure sparked his interest in storytelling, eventually leading him to explore video editing, and then acting came up organically.

Expressing a deep connection to The Land of the Pharaohs, Youssef’s heritage plays an important role in shaping his identity and his creative genius. “I love Egypt; I love where my family’s from,” he expresses.  He especially highlights on the unique humor built in Egyptian culture, a particularity he carries proudly. “I think in terms of shaping my identity, it’s just a natural sense of humor that every Egyptian has,” he laughs. Attached to his roots, Youssef visits Umm Al-Dunya twice a year. His childhood memories are also imbibed of Egyptian movies, expressing how he was obsessed with watching Youssef Chahine. “His storytelling, what he did with not just actors, but with how he moved the camera and the way that he would tell a story changed the way that I viewed movies, very inspirational.”

Youssef’s commitment to authentic storytelling is evident in his projects, especially the Peabody Award-winning Hulu series Ramy. Inspired by his own experiences as a first-generation Egyptian American Muslim, Youssef wanted to portray a character navigating between humor and serious themes seamlessly blending comedy and drama, a reflection of his cultural background. Addressing the importance of cultural authenticity, “It’s always a priority for me that I’m creating real characters, I wanted to see somebody working through a spiritual experience or trying to have one in an environment that is not set up for one.” he says, “I try to find comedy in the middle of drama. To me, that’s very Egyptian,” he adds. This unique approach not only showcases Youssef’s comedic talent but also highlights the universal human experience of finding humor in even the most challenging situations.

Reflecting on the Golden Globe win for Ramy, Youssef states, “This was a beautiful moment. It was very unexpected, and it was nice to get up and to be able to just express that.” For Youssef, this achievement is always going to be his favorite “because it felt like the beginning of the journey that I get to be on”. The success of Ramy paved the way for Youssef and the show itself, bringing it to a global audience. “I’m grateful for it, even if I never win another award again, I don’t have to because that’s all you need from an award, is just to open some doors for people to watch the actual work.”

Ramy-Youssef

Photo: Bertie Watson

From this moment, the world will always remember Youssef’s spontaneous expression of gratitude, including the phrase “Allah Akbar,” an acclaimed moment that highlighted his embrace of his Muslim identity. “The first thing that I even thought of was that as I had no speech prepared. It was just able to say the first thing that came to my heart.”

Recently, Youssef has been part of the award-winning, and Oscar-nominated Poor Things. “It was exciting to be part of the cast, and winning the best picture at the Golden Globe was beautiful and then now there’s 11 Oscar nominations for the film. Emma Stone is unbelievable in the movie, she’s one of the best and funniest actors I’ve ever worked with, and Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo are legendary, and the director Yorgos Lanthimos is a genius. I’m very lucky to work with all of them”. The actor that he would also to act with: “Meryl Streep,” he says spontaneously.

Youssef’s artistic journey extends beyond acting and directing. As the co-creator and executive producer of Netflix’s Mo, a series inspired by Mohammed Amer’s life as a Palestinian refugee, Youssef continues to champion diverse narratives. “It was beautiful because working on that show is very exciting for me because it’s a very different show. Mo‘s story is the opposite of the story of the Ramy character. The Ramy character has the privilege of being an American and he struggles with his spiritual self. The Mo character doesn’t question his spiritual self, he struggles with trying to stay in America. It’s a total flip of the world and we look at the immigration system and then we very specifically look at what it means to be Palestinian and to not be able to have an understanding of home and where you belong. That’s a different source of pain and it’s a different source of comedy,” explains Youssef.

For television, Youssef recently directed the highly praised episode of FX’s Emmy-nominated series The Bear titled “Honeydew,” in which pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce) travels to Copenhagen on a journey of personal and professional discovery while interning at one of the world’s most renowned fine dining restaurants. Youssef is the first and only person to serve as a director on the series besides co-showrunners Christopher Storer and Joanna Calo. “With The Bear, it was nice to come to a show that’s not mine and to try something different. I felt it was a love letter to Copenhagen because I went and I spent, a little bit over a month there between everything and fell in love with the city and its dedicated people”.

Of all the feathers in his cap, Youssef finds it hard to pick a favorite. “I think I like doing what the project needs from me. With Poor Things to go and just act was perfect. The Bear to go and just direct was perfect. Then on Ramy, it felt very natural that I’m obviously in it and then getting to also direct it and write it, for me, it’s finding a balance. I enjoy doing all of them.” Youssef is also the founder of Cairo Cowboy which has a mission to develop original film and television content centered on important narratives and serve as an incubator of emerging Muslim talent.

Away from the spotlight, Youssef finds joy in simple yet profound moments with loved ones. “I try to spend time with my family visit them and travel with them. For stand-up, I travel a lot by myself. But anytime I have some off time, I try to travel with my family and see new places with them and to spend time together. It’s fun to do so between working on a bunch of things. I’ve gotten into also photography. I like taking photos for fun,” he says.

As Youssef’s career continues to ascend, he expresses a desire to venture into filmmaking. “I would like to make movies. I think that’s hopefully something I’ll get to do soon. I’ve been doing a lot of TV. I’m looking forward to making a film,” he reveals. This aspiration aligns with his commitment to exploring different aspects of storytelling and contributing to the evolving landscape of cinematic narratives.

On the eventuality to produce an Arabic series, Youssef admits that it’s something that he would love to explore and make shows in the Middle East. Watching the entertainment scene in the region, Youssef finds that there’s a great cinematic history in the Middle East and a great cinematic future that he is excited to see, and to be part of it in any way. “I’ve already started talking to some writers in the area, in Egypt and I am interested in writers who are in Saudi, in Dubai, in a lot of these places that have a lot of creative talent. I think that the world wants to hear from us and is ready to hear from us more in ways that are creative and I’m very excited about it. I think that making things is always the best way to know how your brain works, to know what style you like,” he concludes.

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