Before Jennifer Aniston read out his name at this year’s Golden Globes, many were not aware of the talents of Ramy Youssef.
The comedian won the award for best actor in a television series (musical or comedy) for the lead role in his semi-autobiographical show, Ramy.
Now back for a second series, Youssef told Sky News’ Backstage podcast that getting that gong had a huge impact.
“I think it [the show] really came out again that night and it really it felt like an announcement that we existed,” he said.
“I mean, this is a very crowded television landscape and so an award like that, it means a lot for a show like ours, for a show that has…no celebrities, no stars, no one that, you know, people really know, at least in America.
“So to be able to win something on that level, it’s an amount of recognition that you can’t – there’s no billboard that could ever do that, and so it really meant a lot to us.”
The comedy-drama follows the title character as he struggles with being a practicing Muslim in a modern world.
Both critics and fans have praised the series for its depiction of Muslims in America, with traditionally taboo topics like sex, pornography and trans rights all tackled in the first series.
Youssef said he’s aware Ramy was lucky to have been in a position to have even been nominated for a Golden Globe – and is hopeful that it shows how the TV industry is changing.
“It means a lot that a network would take a chance on someone like me and on a show like mine,” Youssef said.
“I didn’t even have a stand-up hour out when I got my show picked up, my stand-up hour came out after my show came out, which is a very unusual trajectory for a comedian.
“So to really take a chance on the specificity of a story and for it to be rewarded on that level, it makes me excited just on an industry level.”
Unlike the first season, the second – which is out on Amazon Prime’s Starzplay channel in the UK – comes with some star power attached.
Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali has joined the cast, and Youssef said his involvement came about simply because he liked the first series.
“He’s a practicing Muslim and he felt the connection to what we had put together in season one – that it was a character who was really trying to believe and trying to follow his faith, but dealing with the complications that come with that,” Youssef explained.
“I think so much of faith on television is either very sanitised or very cartoonish, and religion is usually the butt of the joke.
“He was very kind, he was like ‘cool man, well, you know, let me know if you ever need anything’, and it kind of turned into us getting dinner, and then pretty quickly, I was like, ‘remember when you said, let me know if you ever need anything? How about would you would you want to kind of come on and do a role, an episode or two?'”
While Ramy is ultimately about one man and his family, Youssef is aware that because the show tackles material around religion, there is an expectation that he’s representing a huge number of people.
He said it’s not helpful to think beyond the characters.
“There’s certainly this perception around representation and this idea that we are representing Muslims or that we are representing Arabs or that we’re doing a number of things – we feel that pressure and then we don’t take it.
“I don’t think it’s really smart for me to try and be too representative or too democratic and trying to show too many things, because…it starts to hurt the story,” Youssef said.
The boost the show was given by the Golden Globe win hasn’t come without its downsides.
Youssef said some people are determined to take issue with what he’s making.
He said: “We put out some press photos before the season [two] came out…and I got multiple emails with different criticisms, just based on the photo – ‘his hands are too high in the prayer scene and the beads aren’t quite right’.”
“It’s like, ‘well you didn’t even see the thing yet!’
“If someone wants to connect to this show, they’ll find a way in, and if someone wants to disconnect from the show, they’ll find multiple ways out.”
The second series of Ramy is available on Amazon Prime’s Starzplay channel now.
Hear more of the interview in this week’s episode of Backstage – Sky News’ entertainment podcast.