Ramy, Hulu’s sharply-insightful comedy from creator Ramy Youssef, has always been a show about searching. In its first season, its titular character was searching for purpose and meaning. In its second, Ramy wanted to find his higher self, a spiritual connection that had evaded him thus far. But, when the show returns for its third installment, Ramy’s season-two-ending crisis of faith has sparked a different kind of search, one wrapped up in capitalism and the exceptionalism mythology surrounding the ever-elusive American Dream.
The humor comes in realizing that, for all of his exhaustive (and exhausting) searching, Ramy hasn’t learned much. He’s still self-absorbed, self-pitying, and motivated by vapid self-interest. But he’s trying, he’s reckoning, he’s atoning for his sins, even as he commits new ones. In season three, he’s more likable (and more ridiculous) than ever but his struggles are tempered by the realization that everyone in his family is suffering the same crisis of faith, the same disillusion with their once-promised land.
UPROXX chatted with Youssef about the show’s bigger ambitions this time around, the symbolism of Egyptian Shark Tank, traveling to Jerusalem, and why he might end Ramy’s story in season four.
I suppose the biggest question coming back is this: Is Ramy still a f*ckboi or has he learned something from the whole marriage disaster of season two?
(Laughs) It’s hard to totally kill that part (of him) but I think we find him really sitting in shame. I think there are definitely external and internal consequences for him, and it really drives him to act in ways where there’s almost like a separation within himself. We spend a lot of the season watching him struggle with that. And I think it’s very emblematic of what’s always been fun to me about the show — just negotiating that space between your higher self and your lower self, intentions versus realities.
I think he has this desire for some sort of repentance, but it’s not exactly spiritual. As a show, spirituality has really been a tent pole of what we’re examining. But I would say equally in the conversation this season is capitalism and the idea of where we find ourselves in a lot of American households. He finds his family really struggling and he wants to do whatever it takes, not only to help them but also to be good at something. He’s [at a] spiritual dead end.
There’s a bit of a time jump at the start of this season. What has Ramy been doing for the past year?
In that time off, where we find him and where we find his family is where I think a lot of families sit in the time that has passed since the show aired. I think about the season as a crisis of faith, in a spiritual sense for Ramy, but also for his parents and his sister. There’s this crisis of faith in the American Dream and what it means. As people who came to the country 30 plus years ago… It’s almost like the test results came in and they’re like, ‘Did we even net out at anything? We don’t even own the place we raised our kids in, and we’ve lost ourselves along the way.’
Ramy has slowly morphed into more of an ensemble show. Was that intentional and does it continue in season three?
The more that we make the show, for me personally, the less that the title makes sense. It’s this show about a family. Obviously, it funnels through me just as the person making the show, but I just have so much fun writing for and directing everyone in this show. I think that the points of view that they have to offer really serve what I think is, again, the philosophy of the show. The philosophy of the show is not all things Ramy, the philosophy is like, what does it look like to try to be on a spiritual path and deal with who you want to be and who you actually are? And I think that’s a really human thing. And so the more we make the show, it just, it’s so exciting to show more humans going through that and feeling that beyond just the title character.
There’s a scene early in season three when Ramy blows up at a woman who compares her Wiccan beliefs to the persecution of Islam. It felt like the first time we’ve seen the character truly angry. Why?
The anger comes with the shame. I think there’s a simmering anger underneath the whole season. It’s mainly anger with himself, but then he is in that bar scene, he’s pinned in a corner in this weird situation and he’s coming off this shame of this moral jousting with his old flame and it comes out in this different way. But I think so much of the self-destructive behavior and so much of the drastic things that he does are fueled by that anger, and under that anger there’s fear.
His relationship with his cousin continues to be problematic this season. What was the reaction to their hookup in season two and were you surprised by it?
It’s funny, I love making this show because depending on how someone responds to it, it’s always such an interesting insight. So I think that there are some people who the cousin thing is just the funniest thing to them and I’m like, ‘Cool. That’s their kind of humor.’ And then there are some people who look at it really literally and they’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ And then there are some people who are just immigrant kids and are just like, ‘Hey. I mean, I’ve seen that happen in my family.’ And honestly, if any American looks back one generation in their family they’re going to find it too. So I think there’s always just this recognition of where are we at with our own histories and our own understanding of how the world has been.
But reactions are always a funny thing with this show because there are people who watch the show and they’re like, ‘Why is there so much sex?’ And it’s because they’re not comfortable with sex. And then there are people who watch the show and they’re like, ‘These people can’t stop praying.’ And it’s because they’re not comfortable with spirituality.
And making people uncomfortable is fun sometimes …
I mean, it is [but] something that is a real guiding principle to me is I never want to be malicious. What we’re being uncomfortable about is all the just ‘elephant in the room stuff’ or just all the stuff that is right under the surface, and we’re like, ‘Well, what if we just lifted the hood? Or what if we just got near the button that we’re not supposed to touch?’ But how do we do that with love?
If the show is called Ramy it’s mainly because I think I always want to be doing things at Ramy’s expense, because I never want to be pointing the finger at other people. I don’t like doing it in standup. If I ever told a joke about someone in standup, it goes back to being about myself. It’s always about how I see a part of me in them, or how I might have been in that situation. And this show… I don’t want anyone else to be the butt of the joke, I want it to be as self-examining as possible.
The show has always done a good job of authentically portraying the Middle East. Why did you want to go to Israel this season, and why did you want to have Ramy behave the way he did there?
This episode that we did in Jerusalem was probably one of my favorites. Palestine/Israel is a very contested thing and it’s a highly emotional thing. We wanted to think about what it would look like if we went into this situation, and somehow the biggest asshole in the situation was Ramy. That’s where I felt like there would be the most comedy, where it’s like, okay if there’s something that’s unifying the sides of this, it’s them being like, ‘What the fuck is going on with this dude?’
There’s an episode midway through the season that introduces the concept of Egyptian Shark Tank. Is that a real thing?
[laughs] No, it’s a fantasy that we came up with for the show. Shark Tank is the 30-minute version of the American Dream. It’s like you can just show up and bam, rags to riches. It’s a show for immigrants at the end of the day.
It’s one of a few things this season that surprised me, simply because I can’t imagine them existing in season one of this show. Did you feel the freedom to experiment more this time around?
Totally, there’s a bunch of that energy. It was exciting to take these swings. We aren’t the type of show that is formulaic or even tonally formulaic. I think that we are very philosophically consistent with the themes that we want to be pursuing in our characters. But in the way that certain years of your life might feel different, there’s a year where you’re more optimistic, a year where you’re more depressed, and a year where things are just weird. I think that that is a liberty that I enjoy taking with the show and figuring out how we step into that. Because you’re right, some of those scenes you never would’ve thought would be in season one, yet you walk away and say, ‘Oh yeah, it made sense that it matured into that and that it grew into that,’ in the same way that a person in your life can surprise you as the years go on. I like the idea that the show could do that too.
If the show doesn’t really follow a formula and it’s always philosophical and it’s always asking those questions, is there an end?
When we finished the first season, I had an idea of what the last scene would be, and that still is the scene that I want to do. And so I feel like that scene would be hopefully at the end of a fourth season.
But because of its nature, it’d be really interesting to pick the show back up in a bunch of years or something and just see where it’s at because I don’t think any of these questions will end. I think they’ll just have different lenses and feel like something else. And so if you told me we did one more [season] and then five, six years went by and I begged Hulu to let me open it back up, I would be very happy with that reality.
Season three of ‘Ramy’ will begin streaming via Hulu on September 30th.