Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House

Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House

We sat down with the creator of Hulu series ‘Ramy’ to talk season three, the nuances of Muslim-American life and Bella Hadid’s acting debut on the show

Thursday 29 September 2022.  By Sagal Mohammed   Photography by Josh Aikin

Ramy Youssef stopped by Holloway House in Los Angeles last week to host a special screening for the third season of his Emmy-nominated dark comedy, Ramy. The self-titled Hulu series, debuted in 2019, follows a first-generation Egyptian-American Muslim who navigates the many layers of adulthood as a Western millennial, while trying to connect with his faith, Arab culture and the expectations of his immigrant family, who too, are grabbling with a sense of cultural confusion. 
The show is a semi-autobiographical take on Youssef’s own life growing up in New Jersey where he, like many first-generation American Muslims, juggled the nuances of two contrasting worlds. This in-between space has birthed an entire generation of ‘modern Muslims’ – a group who straddle the line between adhering to the practices of their religion and respective native traditions, but equally enjoy parts of Western culture, be it premarital sex or occasionally smoking some weed or having a drink.
It’s a narrative rarely, if ever, shown on screen and one delivered authentically by Youssef, whose character loves and respects the values of his faith and culture, but struggles with the anxieties of meeting the demands of his parents versus those of his non-Muslim peers. This honesty is what makes the show so refreshing, alongside the fact that it stays clear of boring stereotypes and prejudice perceptions of what Arab and Muslim communities are like. It’s why Youssef picked up the Best Actor in a Comedy Series award at the Golden Globes in 2020 after just one season of the show. It’s also why Ramy has such a cult audience – many of whom showed up for the preview screening and live Q&A between Youssef and co-creators May Calamawy and Laith Nakli, hosted by Emmy winner Quinta Brunson (of Abbott Elementary) at Holloway House.
Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House
Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House
‘For me, so much of this show is about how this family sits in figuring out its own spiritual language,’ the 31-year-old multi-hyphenate tells Soho House, lounging in one of our suites hours before the event. ‘Spirituality, faith, and the act of wanting to figure out how to negotiate that space is such a huge part of what the family goes through, which is what makes it feel like something that is really specific for certain people who feel that way with Islam. But then I think it can also feel like that for anyone who’s just in a negotiation between their higher self and their lower self.’ 
Youssef, who has a background in comedy, admits that season three is his favourite to date – the key reason being the deeper focus on Ramy’s family and their individual character development. ‘In this season, we continue with that spiritual theme, but also explore things like capitalism in a different way and understanding what that means, especially for a family of immigrants in America’, he explains. ‘It’s a lot more ensemble than it has been and the family is definitely coming to a head with where they’re at in terms of the American dream. They’re asking what the reality of it is. Did we get what we actually wanted when we came here? Where they’re at economically is really impacting who they are and what they’re doing for money, and how that influences what it is that they believe in – that’s a really big theme this season.’ 
Another major moment is the addition of Bella Hadid, who joins the cast for her debut acting role. The 25-year-old supermodel, who is of Palestinian descent, plays Ramy’s new girlfriend in a guest role that Youssef has described as the ‘weirdest script we’ve ever written’. Still, he says Hadid embraced it for what it was as soon as she was approached with the opportunity. ‘Bella really loved the show and was already a big fan of it, and we have a lot of mutual friends so it was easy to connect,’ says Youssef. ‘We had written this role that wasn’t specifically for her and we didn’t change it when we got her – she just slipped right into it and was such a natural. Even just talking to her before filming, I knew that she would do an amazing job because she just has so much emotional access as a human and a great level of creative thinking.’
Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House
Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House
Hadid recently opened up about wanting to connect with her Muslim heritage and the regret she feels for not having the opportunity to grow up with her dad and his Palestinian family. ‘I would have loved to grow up and be with my dad every day, and studying and really being able to practice, just in general being able to live in a Muslim culture,’ she told GQ. ‘But I wasn’t given that.’ The show, and her friendship with Youssef, has allowed her to reconnect with this missing part of her life and spirituality. 
For Youssef, who directed seven of the 10 new episodes, the purpose of Ramy has always remained the same. ‘I think so much of the storytelling around Muslims, especially young Muslims in America or the Western world, is rooted in erasure – this idea of not wanting to be this or do this anymore. I wanted to make something that sat in the spiritual space that this show does,’ he says. ‘I’m excited to explore and be able to show characters that aren’t trying to erase their faith or their culture, but want to synthesise it with where they feel like they are headed in life. I’m grateful that I get to do that.’ 
As for the future, he has a plethora of projects on the horizon – including the upcoming release of Poor Things, a Hollywood production in which he stars alongside Emma Stone, Margaret Qualley and Mark Ruffalo. He also co-created the Netflix comedy series Mo, with comedian Mo Amer as the lead, and is focused on bringing more authentic storytelling around people in his community to the mainstream. 
Ramy season 3 is coming to Hulu on September 30, 2022. To book your stay at Holloway House, click here
Soho Spotlight: Ramy Youssef visits Holloway House | Soho House
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