A Saturday Night Live Monologue That Felt More Like Prayer - 5 minutes read

Ramy Youssef has spent much of his career mining heartfelt humor from experiences that straddle the sacred and the profane. So it was no surprise that the actor, writer, and comedian opened last night’s Saturday Night Live monologue with an amusingly wide-ranging celebration of worship: “This is an incredibly spiritual weekend,” he said. “We’re in the holy month of Ramadan. Tomorrow is Easter. And yesterday, Beyoncé released a new album.”

Youssef added that he was looking forward to Ramadan in part because Muslims are so loving. Other people don’t understand this about Muslims, he lamented, adding that in our divided nation, Muslims face the ramifications of others’ misguided views about them all the time. He recalled an experience in upstate New York that made him reluctant to speak Arabic on the phone with his mother. Surrounded by MAGA flags and other visible signs of Trump country, he responded to her standard greeting, assalamu alaikum, with an awkward anglicization: “I was like, ‘Mother, peace be upon you. Like, I—you know, and the prophet, you know which prophet. The best one, the last one.’”

Read: Ramy meditates on the pitfalls of self-righteousness

The burden and fear that many Muslims feel in the U.S. is a subject of frequent consideration for Youssef. This story of self-censorship, which he also recounts in a new stand-up special now playing on Max, reflects the dissonance between outsiders’ distorted perceptions of Islam and the peacefulness that the Egyptian American comedian sees in his own community. Pointing out this tension early in his monologue gave an additional layer of meaning to the powerful message that Youssef closed with: “My prayers are complicated. I’ve got a lot to fit in. I’m like, ‘God, please, please help Ahmed’s family,’” he said, referencing a friend with family in Gaza. “Please stop the suffering. Stop the violence. Please free the people of Palestine, please.” After cheers and applause, Youssef continued: “Please. And please free the hostages, all the hostages, please.”

In its measured, empathetic defense of human life, Youssef’s monologue echoed his earlier statements calling for peace in Palestine and Israel: On the Oscars red carpet, for example, the Poor Things actor explained that he and others attending the ceremony had chosen to wear Artists4Ceasefire pins because “we really wanna say ‘Let’s just stop killing children.’” On SNL, Youssef took a tone similar to the one he’s used to explore the subject in More Feelings, his new special, and in his semi-autobiographical dramedy, Ramy, mixing meditation with comedy. His monologue set up an episode that continued the show’s heavy focus on politics this season, including a cold open about the blasphemous, blatant money grab of  Donald Trump–branded Bibles and a “Weekend Update” segment in which Michael Che joked that President Joe Biden was among the “lesser-known celebrities” at a recent fundraiser for his own reelection campaign.

But some of the night’s best sketches, which Youssef acted in, had nothing to do with politics at all. In a parody ad touting “Ozempic for Ramadan,” Youssef sang the buzzy diabetes drug’s praises—not for weight loss but for lessening the painful toll of fasting during the holy month: “I used to rush to eat a whole meal before dawn,” he says, opening a fridge while it’s clearly still dark outside. “Now, I just grab my prayer beads and Ozempic needle. As long as I shoot up before the sun rises, it’s halal.” The skit also brought in the series stalwart Kenan Thompson as a halal cart owner struggling to fast while serving delicious, aromatic food to his customers. “Ozempic for Ramadan” got him over that hurdle, helping the vendor keep his calm even “when white women ask if I have salmon.”

Another sketch drew on the themes of familial conflict that recur throughout Youssef’s series, Ramy. On the “Immigrant Dad Talk Show,” Youssef and the SNL regular Marcello Hernández played Hahmed Ahmed Mahmoud and Joaquin Antonio, two fathers discussing their children—“the good ones, and the sons as well.” Smoking a hookah and a cigarette respectively, the men bonded over their mutual distaste for their sons’ interests; they described their boys as ungrateful and impractical, complaining about their desire to work on a thesis or pay $2,000 for a cup of coffee in Brooklyn. When Mikey Day joined the men as a guest, playing an archetypal white sitcom dad, the hosts balked at his claim that his son was his best friend. “Your son is a piece of property,” Youssef’s character said in disgust. “Are you friends with a mailbox?”

Both of these skits highlighted Youssef’s comedic talents and his uncanny ability to capture the absurdities of life in an immigrant or Muslim household. Watching him imbue the characters with bombastic humor and delight, I found myself wanting to revisit previous seasons of Ramy. And by the time the episode ended, I was already ready to rewatch the artful dexterity of his opening monologue.

Source: The Atlantic

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