Ramy Youssef is Ready For Some Hard Conversations

I guess it’s hard to view it that way, in a sense. On one level, I just want there to be more touch points for people. I’ve always felt really bad for some of the communities I’m in, when my show or my work has been marketed to them as, “Hey, Muslims, here’s something for you,” right? Because what I do is incredibly specific. And so I think if I wasn’t making it and I didn’t fit the profile of who would like the show, I’d be like, “What the hell are you talking about? This has nothing to do with me,” you know?

So, do I think about it that way? I guess sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t think I think about it that way when I’m creating the work, but I do try to figure out, “Hey. Okay. There might be some people who do care about what I say, and I do want to be thoughtful and try to be supportive in a way that I can.”

We’re around the same age. Entering this stage of life, I’m starting to really recognize cycles, which is interesting. You talk to older people as you’re growing up, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah—these same things happened in the ’80s,” or whatever. But now I’m of an age where I’m starting to realize that in America, everybody who’s not white gets their turn at being the enemy of the moment. It could be Black people for a year, then it could be Latino people, crossing the border for six months, and then it could be Muslim people.

It could be Asian people.

Yeah. It could be anybody. It’s almost like recognizing this place has a personality. It’s a country, but it has attributes that start to be predictable.

Wow. That’s such a great way of putting it.

It’s like, OK, well, I know what I’m dealing with. Now, how do I figure out ways of maneuvering around it without driving myself nuts?

I think that’s actually something that my dad used to say—along the lines of, “It’s our turn,” you know? I think when my dad showed up in the ’80s, a lot of that was actually being done to Russians in movies, in cinema. That accent is associated with fear, espionage. There’s something merciful about that framing, of, “Oh, it’s just our turn.”

It’s bleak as fuck, but…

No, yeah. But it supposes that [you shouldn’t] take it personally, which for better or for worse, was helpful for me. But then I think that there’s times when it’s okay to be angry, and you should be, but what do you do with that? How do you take those feelings and make it something that could be an offering, you know?

Your family, and the complexities of navigating those relationships with family, is obviously a huge part of your work. There’s a bit in the special about going to Olive Garden with your father, and he breaks down to the waiter that Youssef is not your family’s real last name, and you’re finding that out in that moment.

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