It’s a little hard right now to remember a time when we were all gathered in celebration, but I’ll never forget one particular moment right after January’s Golden Globes Awards. I was at the Walt Disney Co. after-party, which included 20th Century Fox TV, Nat Geo, Hulu, ABC and others, situated on the top deck of the Beverly Hilton parking lot, when in walked “Ramy” creator and star Ramy Youssef. Youssef had just won the Globe for comedy actor and still seemed a bit stunned. But he was also grinning, ear-to-ear. “I’m going to give it to my mom, so she can put it on her shelf in Jersey,” he told me at the time. “This is so amazing!”
And it was, in so many ways. “Ramy” earned critical raves in its first season for its portrayal of a young American Muslim who’s still looking to define himself as he balances family, faith and love. The “Ramy” win elevated the comedy’s profile, and its recently launched second season has added Oscar winner Mahershala Ali — giving the show even more mojo as it heads into Emmy season.
Now, both “Ramy” and Youssef are Emmy contenders — a year after they weren’t even quite in the conversation.
“[The Globes win] shone a light on a show that was shot with a pretty small budget that didn’t have a lot of press,” says May Calamawy, who plays Ramy’s sister, Dena. “The broader audience that we got from that was overwhelming but also fun, so many people started watching it, and it brought a lot more anticipation for Season 2. It definitely raised the bar and the stakes.”
The cast of “Ramy” has become tight over the past two seasons, and Calamawy calls working with Youssef “a learning experience.”
“He’s responsible for so much, [but] he has this ability to maintain such an approachable demeanor,” she says. “When you’re acting with him, he’s fully invested as the character. Then, in-between takes, he’s able to give really good direction and suggest lines and improv.”
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Youssef’s charm and energy, and that’s why I ultimately wasn’t surprised that he won the Globe. I’m assuming enough Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members got to spend a few minutes with him and, coupled with the power of “Ramy,” couldn’t help but vote for him.
“He just has so much grace with how he approaches things,” Calamawy says. “He just likes to make sure that everyone is feeling comfortable.”
In this year’s lead comedy actor race, other contenders in the mix include “The Good Place’s” Ted Danson, “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Larry David, “The Kominsky Method’s” Michael Douglas and “Schitt’s Creek’s” Eugene Levy. Legends, all of them — which makes Youssef’s appearance in that conversation impressive. But Calamawy isn’t surprised.
“Ramy can do whatever he wants to do,” she says. “He really can. I know that he’s very picky with what he wants to work with, which I really respect. He doesn’t want to do it if it doesn’t have integrity or isn’t something he believes in.”
And while some of those other names are icons who have been in the business for decades, Youssef is just at the beginning of his career.
“I feel like Ramy will be creating a lot,” Calamawy says. “I know that he can act in whatever he wants, but I’m very excited to see what he creates next from scratch.”