Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Ramy Youssef: More Feelings’ On HBO Finds A Comedian No Longer Willing To ... - 7 minutes read

Ramy Youssef ended his first HBO stand-up special with a bang, openly wondering if perhaps the terrorist attacks on 9/11 worked by making Islam stronger and America weaker. But now, 22 years later, after the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 have led to a devastating counterattack by Israel on all of Palestine, Youssef finds himself rising to the occasion with a new hour of comedy for HBO questioning not his own faith but our overreliance on stereotypes to misinform us and upon celebrities to take the activist stances we demand of them.

The Gist: Americans have seen a lot more of Youssef in the past year already thanks to his supporting role in Poor Things, where he played the aspiring surgeon and potential romantic interest, Max McCandless, to Emma Stone’s Oscar-winning Bella Baxter.

Of course, Youssef has won plenty of awards himself already, including a Peabody Award and Golden Globe for his own Hulu series, Ramy, as well as another Peabody for co-creating and executive-producing Netflix’s Mo for Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer. Youssef was up for a Directors Guild of America award for directing the season two “Honeydew” episode of The Bear, the critically-acclaimed series created by Christopher Storer, who has directed Youssef in both of his HBO specials.

Filmed in New Jersey, the state where Youssef grew up as the son of Egyptian immigrants, More Feelings finds the comedian pondering his role as a celebrity in fund-raising for charities or politicians, revealing how a childhood book report has continued to haunt him, and noting his personal growth in how he handles his religious faith as well as his romantic relationships.

Photo: WarnerMedia

Memorable Jokes: Announcing his current stand-up tour has donated funds to a charity in Gaza may have opened Youssef to criticism, but acknowledging it also allows the comedian to address how society currently measures good deeds as much by their performative nature rather than in regard to how much the activism actually helps the situation at hand.

For example, when he raised money earlier to help earthquake victims in Syria and Turkey, Youssef said fellow Muslims roasted him for it. They messaged him demanding to know: “Where were you when the floods happened in Pakistan?” And when Youssef provided an answer for another cause (defending women from oppression in Iran), someone rebuffed him over the specificity of his Instagram activism: “Nah, that was Story. Grid is real feminism.” When Taylor Swift attended one of Youssef’s fundraisers, some wanted to know if he’d been able to convert her to Islam. “I’ve got to cover everything?!?!” the comedian wondered. At the same time, becoming a famous Muslim American also means his support will be coveted by politicians in an election year. “I know Biden’s going to call me,” he can joke assuredly, recounting how the Biden campaign reached out to him in 2020, too.

And yet, Muslims in America still don’t have it easy, even if the men can pretend to be Hispanic in a pinch. “People are scared of us, still,” he says. “I thought it was over, but the brand is weak. They’ll believe anything about us.” While he was just a kid in 2001 and felt an overwhelming need to defer or compromise or assimilate due to his insecurities, he’s no longer in a mood to prove himself as a practicing Muslim. “I’m done apologizing,” he says. So when he got a call from someone asking him for his stance on Hamas in October, Youssef wasn’t having it. “I resent the question,” he says. “It’s why we’ve been talking about Palestine our whole lives. We hate what’s happening there. We want justice. We want peace. We do. So of course I don’t like it.” The comedian in him responds to the Hamas query instead with a caustic quip: “Bro, I’m a Taliban guy.”

There are lighter moments. Youssef recalls finding common solace with the other Muslim family and three Jewish families in his New Jersey hometown, bonding over their mutual lack of Christmas celebrations each December. He also recounts a time in his youth when he hooked up with a Jewish girl who had a big Israeli flag hung on her bedroom wall, leading him to ask: “Have you ever been so horny you’re like: I can figure out Palestine?”

And now that he’s married to a Saudi, he’s quick to point out that neither her nor her family had anything to do with the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and that Saudi women have more abortion rights these days than many American women.

Youssef also finds himself thinking about how his book report on Gandhi might hold the key to his relationship with his father, as well as to understanding Youssef’s therapy sessions. Well, it’s either that or “Alex at Olive Garden.”

Photo: HBO

Our Take: On the red carpet for the Oscars, Youssef wore a pin supporting Palestine and told reporters he hoped for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. In those brief moments, he probably reached more viewers and more potential voters than he might through this hour of comedy.

But he also understands how divided we are as Americans, and that it’s not along the historical Mason-Dixon line that formed a shorthand for Civil War politics in the 1800s. No, now, as Youssef jokes, “the South is 25 minutes from wherever you think isn’t the South,” so even in parts of New York, the comedian can find himself too uncomfortable to take a phone call from his mother and speak to her in Arabic. That’s the America we live in now. And it’s a nation that’s no less hospitable to gay people than Palestine or Israel, Youssef reminds us. But if political debates in real life or online keep trying to divide us, how can one comedian be the key to bringing people together? Thinking back to the Biden campaign pressing Youssef to get out the vote in Michigan, where the Arab-American population is most concentrated, he can only respond bleakly: “Is it up to me? Am I the guy?” 

He might not have been the guy in 2020, when he was still questioning his faith and his place in both his Hulu series and in his stand-up. But four years later, he’s no longer struggling with his identity or his confidence. And Storer’s camerawork reflects this confidence, framing Youssef often for long shots in close-up, the comedian’s face bathed in the glow of the spotlight, so we can focus on him plainly and clearly.

Youssef’s Ramy co-star, Steve Way, appears in the opening minute of the special to introduce him, matter-of-factly reminding us of his own struggles with muscular dystrophy, wishing he were dead, but since he’s not, he might as well be here to celebrate Youssef. And since we’re all here, some of us struggling much more than others with our personal circumstances or just struggling to make sense of the world’s calamities, we might as well be reminded just how much we have in common, and hope that helps carry us through.

Our Call: STREAM IT. No matter which flag we raise, no matter whom we pray to, there’s something fundamentally true about all of us wanting to feel safe, to be seen and heard, even if we grew up being taught and told about how different we all are. Youssef might not change your mind specifically about whom you’re voting for or what side you’re on politically, but hopefully he’ll get you thinking about how you engage with your friends, your families, and even with strangers, whether you’re on Instagram or at Olive Garden.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.

Source: Decider

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