Bassem Youssef documentary premieres at New York's Tribeca Film Festival
A photo of Bassem from Tickling Giants. (Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)
After four years in the making, a documentary about Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's personal and professional struggles in Egypt has finally premiered in the USA.
“Tickling Giants,” which looks at Youssef’s attempt to remain on air after his The Daily Show-like program "El Bernameg" received a huge backlash from the Egyptian government, had its world premiere at the Tribeca film festival in New York on Thursday.
Sara Taksler, a senior producer at the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart” secretly directed the documentary, the New York Times reported.
"He's a pretty normal guy who has an opportunity to non-violently address power and he took it," said Taksler." And I want people to think in their own lives, whether something big, like a government taking advantage or something on a smaller scale, like a bully on the playground or a co-worker who is taking advantage of someone, or something like that. I want people to think about ways to tickling giants in their lives.”
Bassem's show was watched by millions of Egyptians and Arabs every week. The former heart surgeon started his hit show on YouTube after the Arab Spring of 2011, before it earned a slot on Egyptian TV.
Youssef said there are lots of people who are funnier than him but the important thing is context. “You can do funny to be a distraction and you can do funny to affect people and this is the difference, “ he said. “What I miss in the show is the political satire as an effective weapon against the brainwashing and the empty propaganda. And I think it's very important… to enable the media and force the authority to be more responsible for the people.”
In an interview with journalist Hilary Lewis at Tribeca, Bassem talked about the rise and fall of his satirical show and more.
When his show was pulled off the air in 2014, Youssef followed his dreams and moved to the US. Things have been going well for him since then: the funnyman is currently filming a new online show, "The Democracy Handbook," for Fusion TV’s new digital platform "F Comedy."
The series follows Youssef around the US as he analyses American politics from his Arab perspective.
“It’s a satirical outlook for American democracy through the eyes of a Middle Easterner," he explains.
“It’s kind of crazy when you can’t satirise the conditions in your own region but you get given the opportunity to go and satirise America. I’m the first Arab to do it and that’s a great honour.
“It’s hard, because I come from a different culture, so why would people listen to me? There’s a lot of competition out there because everyone is doing it, but what’s interesting is to find that Middle Eastern perspective.
“So for example I can say to people, ‘Trump – seriously? Are you scared of him? We call this life, every day, get over it!’
“It’s such an incredible opportunity to do what I want to do instead of what I have to do."
"The Democracy Handbook" will be produced by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart producer Kathy Egan, whom Youssef has a good relationship with from appearing on Stewart's show before he stepped down as host in 2015.
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