Ramy Youssef’s New Self Titled Hulu Comedy Is a Candid Conversation About Islam That America Sorely Needs
RAMY’s gentle approach to the big questions.
The IB’s exclusive look into the new Hulu series
On April 18th Hulu will release RAMY a 10 episode series based on the comedy of Ramy Youssef. Youssef distinguished himself as a new voice in comedy when in 2015 he did a lean set on Late Night with Stephen Colbert where he spoke candidly about being a Muslim in Trump era America. A joke about getting a Hogwarts letter from Isis was endearing and shocking and could not be denied.
The show is produced by Jerrod Carmichael and centers around Ramy Hassan: a millennial Egyptian muslim living in suburban New Jersey, who is in deep contemplation on Islam’s place and purpose in his life. As a comedian’s television’s project RAMY belongs to a category genre defying shows that are far more evolved than the laugh track network sitcom. This show is the candid conversation North American audiences have needed about Islam for a while. This cast is perfectly suited for the job.
Palestinian comedian Mo Amer is on board. His Netflix special The Vagabond was excellent, and well matched to the candid tone of “Ramy”. Amer plays Ramy’s friend “Mo” a gregarious man who wears tracksuits to the mosque and who’s personal interpretation of the Quran leaves room for the occasional hip cocktail.
Dave Merheje fresh off his Juno win for his album Good Friend Bad Grammar plays “Ahmed”, Ramy’s uptight friend who is a doctor and decidedly more traditional Muslim. Merheje’s character is a departure from his stand up persona; this character is a quiet man who delivers huge laughs when he breaks up many a tense scene.
Also on board is Steve Way who plays “Steve” Ramy’s strong headed fouled mouthed friend who is also dealing with a degenerative disease. A disabled character played by a disabled actor. The complexities of Steve and Ramy’s friendship are subtle and voyeuristic. In a scene where high on edibles Ramy waxes eloquent about Steve’s mortality in front of his mother we are reminded the gravitas of words that just come out wrong.
The show depicts situations that are unique to being Muslim in a way that feels no need to answer to the white gaze. English and Arabic are spoken and interchanged throughout the series. In episodes, Ramy is scolded for improper feet washing, goes on chaperoned dates, is set up at a Mosque with a woman who deems him unfit for marriage because he reads the Quran in English. Somewhat serious situations dealt with using space and levity that spotlight parallels to the lives of non-Muslims. We have all gone on awkward dates, phoned in steps in our hygiene routine and been someone’s deal breaker.
RAMY depicts Islam with the truth of experience and application to daily life that demystifies beliefs and acknowledges pressure. For example, in scene where he is alone with a woman from his mosque she takes off her head scarf and says “Would you judge me if I didn’t put this back on?”
An episode entitled “Do the Ramadan” is dedicated to the very demanding act of devotion. It’s a long overdue statement in defiance of a media landscape that has oversimplified and vilified the complex subject of practices in Islam.
RAMY’s examination of Islam goes beyond an examination of religion, taking on the question of prayer and scrutiny of ritual. When Ramy is awkwardly asked to pray for a acquaintance’s dying mother and later discovers (via Facebook) that his prayers were not answered, the show takes on a philosophical complexity beyond finite atheism.
The theme of identifying with American and Egyptian culture creates some of the most poignant moments in the series. Ramy looks at American culture as a seductive elusive, imposing and juxtaposing force and is the type of compelling programming that people are left better for watching. Episode 4 is a origin story that will not be ruined in this review but is unlike any other.
The whole series has a slow-burning intimacy that creates a calm but conscious tone and goes beyond Ramy’s own narrative at times exploring through the perspective of his sister who decides to lose her virginity at 25, and begins a relationship with a white boy barista. Or his mother who becomes a Lyft driver and goes on adventure of self discovery. In these episodes the effect is at it’s most powerful.This intimacy allows RAMY to feel more like a long movie than a T.V episodic. The reflection of American Identity in Ramy brings out the examination of all spaces we inhabit and our identity within them. RAMY is groundbreaking and important not because it is trying to be but simply because it is. Watch and decipher your own meaning in this complex and distinctive show.