The Coolest Person on TV Talks Masturbation, Trump, and Our Unhealthy Obsession With ‘Firsts’

Ramy Youssef is in a situation many auteurs have stumbled into before. When a person creates, writes, and stars in his own show—with his name in the title, to boot—viewers tend to confuse where the fictional character stops and the real person begins. 

And so, ahead of the season two premiere of Ramy, which launches Friday on Hulu, Youssef has decided to come clean about a season two plot point that was, in fact, directly inspired by his own life. Yes, he really did cry during Toy Story 4

“There are things that are fictional Ramy and there are things that are real Ramy,” he says, letting out one of those long laughs that at first sound like silence, until you listen closely and hear soft whispers of wheezing. “That was real, man.” 

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Over the course of what will now be 20 episodes, Ramy has tackled sex, moral obligation, bigotry, and life under a Trump for a first-generation Muslim American struggling to navigate his family and faith. It’s a biography that Youssef shares with his character, having been raised by Egyptian immigrants in post-9/11 Rutherford, New Jersey, a commuter line away from New York City.

The 29-year-old writer, actor, and stand-up comedian—his HBO special Ramy Youssef: Feelings was nominated for a Critics Choice Award last year—quit his job at the Apple Store in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District a decade ago to move to L.A. for a role on the Nickelodeon comedy See Dad Run. As he earned a series of breaks and learned more about the industry, he knew there was a story to tell about his upbringing and his relationship to religion. It led him to create Ramy, which Hulu premiered to rave reviews last year. 

The semi-autobiographical series was revelatory for many viewers, even if that fact itself is disappointing. Whatever preconceived notions some might have about a Muslim man in America, Ramy was, by and large, your average wayward millennial guy. 

He has complicated feelings about sex. He feels guilty about his vices. He drives his mother up a wall with his scraggly appearance—unkempt curls, overgrown facial hair, always wearing a hat—which is to say to the rest of us he seems effortlessly stylish. These are all things Youssef thought about as he got older, as he became a man: Who are you, and who do you want to be? And how do you be serious about your faith while figuring it out? 

Youssef won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series in February, a deserved, yet surprise win over the likes of Michael Douglas, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, and Tony-winner Ben Platt. He began his speech by saying, “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great,” transitioning into concise gratitude that was both self-deprecating and appropriately powerful.

“Look, I know you guys haven’t seen my show,” he said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Is this an editor?’ 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.”

Thinking back to that night, Youssef laughs remembering a photo that was taken at about 4 am. In it, he’s sitting with his laptop open to Final Draft, working on rewrites of a season two script, his newly minted Golden Globe statue off to the side. 

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