Saturday Night Live recap: Ramy Youssef is let down by lazy writing

Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC
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Spring break is over, at least where Saturday Night Live is concerned—after two weeks of reruns (the last live episode was the gleefully odd Josh Brolin edition on March 9th), the NBC sketch show returned with brand-new material this week and a shiny new host: actor-comedian Ramy Youssef, with rapper Travis Scott joining him as musical guest.

Although he recently popped up opposite Emma Stone in Poor Things, Youssef is best-known for his Golden Globe-winning turn as Ramy Hassan in Ramy, the Hulu comedy series that follows an Egyptian American family navigating religious differences and political divide in New Jersey. Given that the comic tackled similarly provocative subjects in his latest stand-up special Ramy Youssef: More Feelings—which premiered on HBO on Saturday, March 23—it’s not a surprise that Youssef’s hosting debut dabbled in spirituality and Gaza as readily as it did podcasts and Ozempic.

Alas, despite Ramy’s efforts, that multi-week hiatus didn’t do much to pep up a night of flat writing.

Cold open: The second coming of Donald

Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and, uh, another Mary (Catholic school was a long time ago, folks) are at Jesus’ tomb to anoint the late prophet. When they arrive, however, they discover that the resurrected messiah is of the MAGA sort, with James Austin Johnson back as the Bible-hawking Donald Trump.

JAJ’s Don impersonation is reliably excellent (maybe the series’ best?) and there are some punchy lines about the former’s president’s fake-worship (“Definitely read it. My favorite part is probably the ending, how it all it wraps up!”) but after a few weeks off, starting with a Trump cold open feels tired. Plus, Don’s original Trump Bible commercial was so batshit, the show’s riff simply can’t compete with reality.

Opening monologue: Red hats and Ramadan

The holy vibes continued in Ramy Youssef’s monologue: “This is an incredibly spiritual weekend. We’re in the holy month of Ramadan. Tomorrow is Easter. And yesterday, Beyoncé released a new album. There’s just so many religions celebrating all at once.” He quickly segued from piety to politics, discussing the Biden campaign (more old Joe jokes) and his wish that America’s next president should not only be a woman but specifically a trans woman. (Of the more subdued studio-audience applause: “New York’s like, ‘We’re liberal...but we’re Italian.”)

But, movingly, he ended on a call of prayer and peace: “Please stop the suffering. Stop the violence. Please free the people of Palestine. And please free the hostages, all the hostages.” Like much of Youssef’s work, it’s altogether a great example of humor interjected with humanity.

The sketch genre we need a break from:

Aside from marking Heidi Gardener’s 500th sketch on SNL, there wasn’t much to cheer about with this snoozy start to our skits-and-bits portion of the evening. This week’s “Couples Goals” concept was funny—a reprisal of an April 2023 sketch, it featured Youssef as a husband revealing that his worst fear isn’t actually heights but that his wife will die in a bizarre accident and leave him to contend with investigators and incriminating texts—but dulled by that early reveal and exhausting repetition. (That cue card budget puts Love Actually to shame.) The game-show spoof is a favorite of the show but a formulaic one, and even with the recent time off, we can do with a few more weeks without it.

The most “Ramy Youssef” sketch of the night:

Ramy regularly razzes his real-life Egyptian dad during his stand-up specials, so this talk show about immigrant fathers had Youssef all over it. Sitting in matching lawn chairs with matching butt-whooping belts, Marcello Hernández’s Joaquin Antonio and our host’s Hahmed Ahmed Mahmoud are busy bemoaning their sons’ life choices (“Thesis? Thesis a waste of time!”)—that is, until they meet the son of their neighbor Kevin (Mikey Day), who has a penchant for parkour and pecking his dad on the lips. (Between this and the “Protective Mom” recurring bit, Hernández has officially cornered the show’s market on immigrant-parent humor.)

The best topical twist of the night:

Smart move to skip a garden-variety Ozempic spoof and instead poke fun at the diabetes medication—which has been coopted as a hunger suppressant and weight-loss aid—through the lens of Youssef’s Muslim upbringing. “I used to rush to eat a whole meal before dawn,” Ramy announces in the faux-mercial, which also features Kenan Thompson as a street-meat vendor. “Now, I just grab my prayer beads and Ozempic needle. As long as I shoot up before the sun rises, it’s halal!”

Ramy Youssef/Travis Scott

C

C

Ramy Youssef/Travis Scott

Season

49

Episode

15

Stray observations

  • “Weekend Update” can get away with some biting commentary—this week’s edition featured a whole bit revolving around the Princess of Wales’ tragic recent diagnosis—but that joke about the Key Bridge collapse was downright brutal, especially with several individuals still missing.

  • Who else needed to pop a Dramamine (or two) during Travis Scott’s dizzying performance of “Fe!n” with Playboi Carti?

  • For the love of God, can we get Chloe Troast something to do other than hit a high note and shake a milk carton in a blink-and-you-missed-it cameo? She’s a featured player—let the woman play.