Ramy Youssef's SNL will be significant, even if he won't be the first Arab or Ramy to host

The comedian will lead his first episode of Saturday Night Live, with Travis Scott set to perform

Ramy Youssef will be hosting Saturday Night Live for the first time this week. AP
Powered by automated translation

Ramy Youssef will be marking a career milestone on Saturday.

The comedian is set to host Saturday Night Live, appearing alongside Travis Scott, who will be the musical act for the episode.

Hosting and performing SNL is, in a way, a rite of passage into the western mainstream, especially for comedians. The show has been a television staple since 1975 and is celebrated for its social commentary and political satire.

It has also been a waterhole for several top-billed entertainers, many of whom have gone on to become leading figures in the industry. Think of any world-famous comedian or entertainer over the past 50 years and they’ve likely appeared in at least one episode.

From Adam Sandler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle, John Belushi, Robin Williams, George Carlin and Steve Martin, the list of SNL performers is long and stellar. Even figures outside the entertainment industry have made noteworthy appearances, including Elon Musk, Michael Jordan, Donald Trump and Michael Phelps.

Increasingly for stand-up comedians, an SNL hosting gig signifies the ultimate endorsement of their cultural importance – an ascension to the top tier of their art form. When Shane McGillis hosted earlier this year, for example, it was widely viewed as not only a mea culpa for the show having fired the performer years earlier, it was also an acknowledgement of the outsized influence he's gained in the comedy world since.

Youssef will be the first Arab comedian to host the show but, as SNL regular Kenan Thompson reminds him in the episode’s teaser, he isn’t the first Arab to be featured on the weekly comedy special. He isn’t even the first Egyptian, nor even the first Ramy to host the show.

The teaser features Youssef on the SNL stage on the verge of introducing himself as “the first-ever Arab host for Saturday Night Live".

“Oh, hey, man, I’m sorry to interrupt, but you’re actually not the first to host,” Thomson says. This goes on for several times, as Youssef tries to bill himself, as the first Egyptian, and then the first Egyptian named Ramy. Thomson, however, interrupts him again, saying he is wrong on both counts.

The other Ramy is Rami Malek, the America-born Oscar winner with Egyptian heritage, who appeared in October 2021. The show was filled with several skits, perhaps the most famous of which was the one where Malek and Pete Davidson play each other.

Youssef may be set to host SNL in the shadow of Malek, but the comedian will undoubtedly make a memorable appearance with his unique brand of gawky humour. Hosting the special will be another landmark in a career that seems steadfastly gaining ground.

Youssef has a Best Actor Golden Globe for his performance in the Hulu series Ramy, a comedy based on his experiences growing up as a second-generation Arab-American in New Jersey. Youssef also starred in last year's Poor Things, which won Emma Stone the Academy Award for Best Actress. He also recently released his special More Feelings, which is available to stream on OSN+.

Perhaps more importantly, Youssef's appearance marks another stride forward in Arab representation in English-language media, an essential subverting stereotypes about the Middle East that sometimes circulate western platforms.

The comedian himself touches on this in the teaser, though with a tongue-in-cheek tone. As Thomson interrupts his introduction to remind him of Malek's appearance, a doleful piano melody begins to play and Youssef starts a monologue that, though hilarious, rings with an element of truth.

"Whatever, man, whatever," he says. "Who cares? Being first, it's dumb anyway. It doesn't matter who's first. It just matters that there's room for all of us. That's what diversity is. Let's just do it from the heart."

Of course, he then powers forward with his introduction and finally settles on labelling himself “first-ever Egyptian named Ramy from New Jersey”, to which Thomson gives an enthusiastic thumbs up. The teaser ends on a comic note, promising that the SNL episode will be one for the books – irrespective of firsts.

Published: March 29, 2024, 10:59 AM