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Ramy Youssef Takes on Haters Who Think He Should Like Hamas

Jesse DeFlorio / HBO
Jesse DeFlorio / HBO

Like Larry David, Ramy Youssef is the kind of comedian who can’t help but follow his wired mind wherever it leads him. As Curb Your Enthusiasm devotees know all too well, this wild goose chase always ends in anger for David. And as fans of Youssef’s hit Hulu series Ramy could surely tell you, it more often than not ends in indecisiveness for Youssef.

Across three seasons of his hit Hulu series, Ramy, and his debut stand-up special, 2019’s Feelings, Youssef has been processing what he described in the latter as a life that, because he is a young practicing Muslim living in post-9/11 America, has been defined by things over which he has no control. For audiences used to seeing Youssef idle in his indecisiveness, his new special More Feelings, available Saturday on Max, will undoubtedly register as a surprise. Youssef isn’t processing anymore. He knows how he feels.

In an hour-long set that touches on the many urgent issues of our day, including the war in Gaza, Youssef proves himself to be a compassionate storyteller who, at last, is clear and confident in his beliefs. Through devastating jokes about identity politics and earnest observations like the shared sense of “Christmas-lessness” he felt with his Jewish friends as a kid, he shows how those in power use the charged politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to pit people against one another and refuses to participate in the pile-on.

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What makes More Feelings such an evolution from Feelings is Youssef’s confidence. He’s no longer concerned with other people’s expectations. Both specials were directed by The Bear creator Christopher Storer, but you wouldn’t know it from the visuals.

They are basically aesthetic opposites.

In Feelings, Storer’s camera is always moving, introducing the audience to Youssef by way of constantly circling him. The treatment complemented the material, which, for many Americans, may have been their first encounter with modern comedy about Muslim stereotypes.

In More Feelings, Storer keeps his camera trained on Youssef, who is bathed in the same indigo blue lighting that blanketed Jerrod Carmichael in Rothaniel, so as not to miss a single thing Youssef says. And while watching Youssef systematically dismantle Islamophobia in Feelings was rewarding, watching him refuse to entertain bad-faith questions about his identity in More Feelings is even better.

“I’m sick of being doubted,” Youssef declares while recalling how, after October 7th, a friend called to ask him where he stood on Hamas. “Do you think any of us like what happened on October 7?” Youssef wearily asks under a stark spotlight, with Storer’s camera fixed on his face in a striking close-up shot. “It’s awful. We hate seeing people die. It's inhumane. It made me cry.”

But it’s not the plea that makes the moment so powerful, it’s the punchline. “You think I’m like Hamas?” Youssef asks again. “Bro, I’m a Taliban guy.” The joke proves a similar point that Hannah Gadsby has strived to make throughout their career: Just because you can’t convince someone of your dignity doesn’t mean you have to insult yourself to get a laugh. You can—as Youssef masterfully does here—mock the idiot who insulted you instead.

Youssef is over other Muslims’ expectations of him, too. He opens the special, taped in front of a live audience at White Eagle Hall in New Jersey, by acknowledging that he’s given all the proceeds from the tour to humanitarian aid in Gaza. But the acknowledgment quickly turns into a joke-filled discussion about the perils of representation and how impossible it is to please everybody.

“I got to cover everything?” Youssef asks, recalling how he got “cooked in the inbox by the Muslims” after he raised money for victims of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey but not the victims of the floods in Pakistan. “I got to be, like, the mayor of Muslim disaster?”

Youssef has never been big on representation. He resists, almost reflexively, the idea that his comedy gives voice to a universal Muslim American experience, in part because there’s no such thing as a universal Muslim experience. There are only stereotypes, like the idea that the Muslim and Jewish communities are meant to hate one another.

“They’re trying to tell me I'm supposed to have a problem with Jewish people,” Youssef says. “They throw this whole thing, Muslim, Jewish, Holy War.” But Youssef doesn’t bite, not because he’s above the brawl, but because he “doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

“When I grew up, my best friends were Jewish,” Youssef explains. The Holy War is not his to inherit.

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If this is all beginning to sound too heavy, it’s worth mentioning that there is also plenty of breezy material in More Feelings. And Youssef uses his meandering storytelling style to alternate between the darkness and the light. His story about encountering an Israeli flag in the bedroom of a Jewish girl he briefly dated, for instance, gives way to a bit about his family treating his therapy sessions like a “Verizon family plan.”

“My sessions don't even make sense,” Youssef says. ‘My therapist is like, ‘How’s work going? I’m like, ‘It’s good, but what do you do when your children leave?’” It’s a refreshing spin on what’s become a go-to topic for millennial comedians.

But Youssef is really at his best when handling the heavier stuff because it reveals how sharp his thinking is. In fact, some of my personal favorite moments in “More Feelings” don’t even include jokes, like when Youssef points out how politicians hijack people’s identities by parroting a divisive talking point that sounds like it was ripped straight from a senator’s since-deleted Tweet: “Do you think Hamas likes gay people?” Youssef asks in his best attempt at a snarky, opportunistic politician. Only when a stand-up asks it can we see the question for the bad joke it really is.

Youssef’s impression and on-point follow-up observation about how Americans didn’t care about gay people until “three years ago when trans people scared them into it” demonstrate that it’s not just Palestinians and Israelis wrapped up in this devastating conflict. The powerful are attempting to force everyone to pick sides. It suggests that our identities—no matter what they are or how far removed they may be from the current crisis in Gaza—are being used against us. And through that realization, Youssef shows that our oppressors are not the people we are pitted against. They are the systems that dictate how we feel in the first place.

For more, listen to Ramy Youssef on The Last Laugh podcast.

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