Ramy Youssef on How His Criticizing of President Biden Makes People Nervous: ‘If It’s That Fragile, How’s That On Me?’

Ramy Youssef
Dan Doperalski

Ramy Youssef‘s latest HBO special, “Ramy Youssef: More Feelings,” had been in the works for years — and had evolved over time as Youssef got in a relationship and eventually got married. But some of his routine also became very more front and center for audiences in the wake of the war in Gaza.

“There’s stuff that I do touch on, a tightrope walk of taking really big concepts, and then making them super personal,” Youssef tells Variety‘s Awards Circuit Podcast. “With our show [Hulu’s “Ramy”], we had already done that with Palestine and Israel. And in my stand up, I had already done versions of it. But in the last seven or eight months, it became something that has risen to the surface for everybody. When you’re taking your time to talk about it for 10 minutes in a set, it’s important to you. On a show, you’re dedicating episodes to something, it’s important to you. But a lot of times, it’s felt like a conversation that is important to who it’s important to. But lately, it’s kind of felt like something that’s, ‘no, no, this is the conversation.’ The fact that things that I’m talking about intersect with that moment.”

Youssef notes that the conversation about Israel and Palestine is now mixed with both people who have been talking about it for a long time, and people who are new to the conversation. “And then it’s all happening online, which I think is the hardest part,” he says. “On one level, there’s this amazing way that people can talk about information and people can learn things. And another, which I think we all experience a degree of, it’s ‘oh, wow, everything is so heated, and no one’s looking anyone in the eye.’ There’s so much facelessness in terms of how we discuss things.”

He notes that having these conversations in standup feels a bit freeing. “The cool thing about being in a standup club, the intention is just really clear,” he says. “There’s things that if I had typed them into a comment box, might seem like inflammatory, but because we’re in the same room, we made the commitment to kind of be in a type of a conversation.”

Youssef notes that there’s now less to explain to audiences when diving into discussing the Middle East in his routine. In this edition of the Awards Circuit podcast, he also discusses his experience hosting “Saturday Night Live,” as well as what it was like to be on the Oscar campaign circuit for “Poor Things.” Listen below!

Youssef is best known as the creator and star of “Ramy” on Hulu, which follows an Egyptian American family living in New Jersey as they navigate spirituality, money problems and political divides. He also serves as co-creator on Mo Amer’s Netflix series “Mo,” and recently starred as Max McCandles in “Poor Things,” the 2023 film by Yorgos Lanthimos starring Emma Stone. His production banner, Cairo Cowboy, is under a first-look deal at Amazon, where he has set an animated series titled “#1 Happy Family USA” starring himself, Alia Shawkat, Mandy Moore and Chris Redd. Next up, Youssef and Will Ferrell are co-creating “Golf,” a comedy series set at Netflix, with Ferrell also set to star. Josh Rabinowitz also serves as co-creator.

Hailing from Cairo Cowboy and A24, “More Feelings” is Youssef’s second special with HBO, following up on 2019’s “Ramy Youssef: Feelings.” The special is directed by Chris Storer, the “Ramy” director best known as creator and co-showrunner of FX’s “The Bear,” for which Youssef has directed one episode for. Youssef and Storer executive produce the special alongside Tyson Binder.

Because he has been discussing these issues for so long, Youssef says he has some optimism now that he sees the mainstream finally discussing the state of Palestinian affairs. “Let’s not dance around stuff… are we in a moment here where we can get it all out and then have something different. I think barreling toward that direction.”

Meanwhile, Youssef admits that in the special, he pokes at several things that can make audiences a bit uncomfortable — especially in this presidential election year. That includes showcasing some of President Biden’s weaknesses, which makes quite a few audience members uncomfortable.

“My favorite thing about doing stand up in America being and being a Muslim in America — which I still think is my favorite place to be a Muslim despite anything — is because this is supposed to be the place where you can really express yourself and do what you want. This is not an authoritarian regime. Isn’t the point of it, that we’re supposed to be able to question it. I point out a few pretty obvious things about Biden, and it’s somehow the part that makes everyone the most nervous. Isn’t the whole point of this thing that you’re allowed to prod at it? And if it’s that fragile, that just calling it what it is will send everything into a tailspin, how’s that on me?”

As for his recent appearance as host on “SNL,” Youssef said he was “really grateful to be there. It was one of the best weeks of my life. It was a dream. Lorne asked me to come on after watching my special. I got more of a reaction off ‘SNL’ than winning a Golden Globe. To be able to have that opportunity live and be able to just do what you want to do. it’s kind of like the ultimate creative expression.”

Also on this episode, we chat with “Apples Never Fall” star Jake Lacy about his recent string of projects, and we even discover his real name.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

From Variety US