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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

Hollywood news banter 6 MIN, 31 SEC

Matt Belloni, editorial director of the Hollywood Reporter, joins Kim Masters to discuss top entertainment news stories of the week.

  • Will there be another writers' strike? The last strike ten years ago was bitter and divisive and largely over revenues from digital and streaming television. In the age of Peak TV, it may seem like there's plenty of work for writers, but shorter episode orders mean writers may be held on a project for a year, and only paid for 10 or 12 episodes, instead of 22, like in days gone by.
  • For the first time ever, Cannes is showing two TV shows at the festival this year. While the lines between film and television continue to blur, it's probably no coincidence that the shows they're screening -- David Lynch's Twin Peaks revival and Jane Campion's second season of Top of The Lake -- are both by auteur filmmakers.
  • Bill O'Reilly is on vacation -- a pre-planned vacation, he would like you to know. The question is, will he be back or is this a permanent vacation?

Matthew Belloni, Hollywood Reporter (@THRMattBelloni)

Bassem Youssef and Sara Taksler on 'Tickling Giants' 20 MIN, 40 SEC

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.

Bassem Youssef, comedian, political satirist and author (@Byoussef)
Sara Taksler, producer and director (@sarataksler)


Kim Masters

Kaitlin Parker

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