For this installment of Path to the Emmy Awards, we’re featuring Ramy Youssef, star and creator of the Hulu comedy series Ramy. The semi-autobiographical series follows the lead titular character, played by Youssef, as he explores questions of identity and faith while navigating life as an Arab Muslim millennial in New Jersey. After winning Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy TV Series at the Golden Globes earlier this year, Youssef is now up for Best Actor in a Comedy Series at the upcoming Emmy Awards. The first-time nominee also received a nod in the directing category for his work on this season’s fourth episode, “Miakhalifa.mov.” Let’s take a look at the multi-hyphenate behind Ramy and his path to the Emmy Awards.
Youssef was born in Queens to parents who both emigrated from Egypt, another similarity to his character Ramy Hassan, who also is Egyptian-American. The actor made an important distinction between himself and the role, though, in an interview with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “I like to think that the fictional Ramy is maybe [me] if I didn’t find comedy and filmmaking,” Youssef clarified. “So many of the feelings resonate with me from the character of Ramy, but I really try to put him without a passion and kind of without a purpose that is as clear as the one I have in real life. So that’s a big separation, and it kind of puts him in more trouble and makes him more stuck.”
As for Youssef’s own purpose, it veered from a more traditional career path. He did a brief stint at Rutgers University, pursuing a degree in political science with the idea that he’d one day practice law. But Youssef left the university at 20 to go after his comedy dreams. Booking a role on the Nickelodeon sitcom See Dad Run got him to L.A., according to an interview with NPR. He then landed the role of Samar Swailem on Mr. Robot opposite fellow Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek. Next came a small role in the Joaquin Phoenix-starring Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and then his own stand-up special entitled Feelings on HBO.
Youssef’s deeply personal standup comedy has been a source to draw from for Ramy. The cast of his self-reflective series even features some real people from Youssef’s life, such as the character of Steve, played by his longtime friend Steve Way. During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Youssef further discussed the distinction between art and life. “It’s emotionally true; the events are different,” the Ramy star and creator said about the show. “I really wanted to make something where it showed someone struggling with faith in an honest way.”
You’ll have to wait until this year’s Emmy Awards to find out if Youssef’s journey to them will result in a win for the first-time nominee. His path there wasn’t always understood by Youssef’s parents, according to his interview with Colbert. “My mom was like, ‘That’s amazing you’re an actor,’” Youssef recalled. “‘You’re going to meet so many actors, and then maybe one day you can become a lawyer for actors.’” Youssef told the late-night host that it was his first appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which was also his network television debut, that changed her mind.
And during a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he noted another recognition milestone. “Someone sent me an interview where they were asking Brad Pitt what he was really liking on TV, and he said he loved our show,” Youssef noted. “That was cool because that’s the kind of thing you can send to your mom. Because there’s a lot of stuff that happens and it’s dope, but it’s not on like, mom awareness level.” All in all, from his early goal of becoming a lawyer to an A-list actor complimenting the show he created and stars in, Youssef has had quite the path to the Emmy Awards.