Bassem Youssef and Sara Taksler on 'Tickling Giants'
Known as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt," Bassem Youssef hosted a satirical news show that was the first of its kind in the Middle East. The show was immensely popular, until the military-backed government forced Youssef off the air and out of the country. Youssef and director Sara Taksler tell us about their documentary Tickling Giants, which profiles Youssef’s leap from heart surgeon to super star satirist.
Bassem Youssef was a heart surgeon in Cairo who harbored a love for Jon Stewart and The Daily Show and who dreamed of becoming a comedian. In the years following the Arab Spring he made that unlikely leap -- first with a YouTube show, and eventually with a live political satire show that drew more than 30 million viewers every week. The new documentary Tickling Giants -- directed by Sara Taksler, herself a Daily Show producer -- follows Youssef’s journey to stardom and ends with him fleeing the country for the United States after the military-backed government forced his show off the air in 2014.
Photo: Egyptian political satirist Bassem Youssef, featured in the new documentary Tickling Giants
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In June 2012, Egypt was in transition. Following the protests of the Arab Spring, ousted leader Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison, and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi became the new president.
That month, Jon Stewart invited Bassem Youssef to appear on The Daily Show, where he introduced him as, "a heart surgeon who also hosts a satirical news program in Egypt."
The tale of how Bassem Youssef went from performing heart surgery to performing comedy, first on YouTube, and then on live television, is told in the new documentary Tickling Giants.
Youssef joins us on the show today along with Sara Taksler -- the director of the film and a producer on The Daily Show -- which is where she and Youssef first met.
Following his Daily Show appearance, Youssef launched a live show in Egypt with a very similar look, and it began to draw a much bigger audience than the American original. The Arab Spring made comedy a possibility, but satire in Egypt still was not without risks. A warrant was issued for Youssef's arrest for allegedly mocking President Morsi and making fun of Islam.
Those charges eventually were dropped, but the risks of mocking the government only escalated, especially once Morsi was ousted as president. Eventually he was replaced by the military-backed Abdel Fattah El-Sisi -- a man the New York Times editorial board recently called "an enemy of human rights." Under Sisi, Youssef's show was cancelled – twice -- and eventually he was forced to flee the country.
Youssef and Taksler tell us about those perils of producing satire in Egypt, why they were accused of being spies for the CIA, and what Youssef's life in America is like now.
The film Tickling Giants is available on Netflix international and is playing at colleges and festivals around the US.