Welcome to Mogul's new interview!
With our nation and world in turmoil, there feels no more fitting a time to bring the voice of Bassem Youssef to our platform.
Bassem started his career as a heart surgeon and went on to become one of the world’s most popular comedians. Known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem’s powerful story of taking on his country’s leaders through satire is chronicled in the documentary film “Tickling Giants.”
Since coming to the United States, Bassem has starred in Fusion TV’s “Democracy Handbook,” written the book “Revolution for Dummies” and is currently working with comedian Larry Wilmore to develop a pilot for ABC.
In a time when hope may seem bleak, Bassem encourages us to keep going. Will he be back with a new show like the one he hosted in Egypt? Will Bassem and Jon Stewart perform together? What’s Bassem’s advice for aspiring performers and what’s he most looking forward to in 2018? Learn the answers to all this and more in our interview!
Here are some of Bassem's interview #takeaways:
- I was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt.
-Many children dream to be famous: to be a rockstar or superhero.
-I wanted to be on TV yet the fact that it happened was amazing. I had my jokes but didn’t think that I would have my own TV show.
ON THE START OF BASSEM'S SHOW "AL BERNAMEG" (TRANSLATION: “THE PROGRAM"):
-In Egypt, I studied medicine. I specialized in heart surgery and practiced for 12 years.
-The Revolution came and I started doing political satire videos out of my laundry room and putting them on YouTube.
-Why? Because there was a discrepancy between what was happening in reality and on media.
-The media was spreading fake news.
-I used their videos against them and showed the hypocrisy of the media.
-My videos blew up and I started having offers from networks.
ON OPPOSITION TO "AL BERNAMEG:"
-On "Al Bernameg," I did what political satirists do: make fun of media and authority.
-But humor and political satire can easily get under the skin of dictators and totalitarian regimes and the Islamic Authority had a warrant for my arrest.
-I was interrogated and harassed but continued doing it.
-My show was killed twice.
-It’s resonated with what I see in the United States when the President gets offended and riled up when someone makes fun of him. We had that but on steroids.
-It eventually became unsafe for the show to continue and I was too close to being arrested or put on the no fly list, so I had to leave.
Jessica Lipps: Where did you go?
Bassem Youssef: I went to Dubai and then moved to Los Angeles.
-In LA, I got an agent and managers.
-I had connections with Fusion TV and started doing a show called “Democracy Handbook." I wrote a book titled "Revolution for Dummies." During this time, Director Sara Taksler finished her film "Tickling Giants" and I started doing promotion for it.
ON "TICKLING GIANTS:"
Jessica: How did it come up?
Bassem: I was visiting the offices of The Daily Show in 2012. Sara was working there. She found my story interesting and asked if I would be the subject of her documentary. I said yes!
Jessica: The documentary ends with you in the U.S. after being exiled from Egypt and giving speeches of hope. How did you manage to have hope after everything you’d been through?
Bassem: In Egypt, we had hope and it was taken away from us. But there is always hope.
-If you read history, regimes like these are not sustainable. I am here and trying to have a new beginning. There is hope in that.
-Maybe my show was stopped and suspended. This is depressing but at the end of the day, there are always new beginnings and new venues to spread your voice and speak up.
-It doesn’t really begin and end with one thing, the election of a person or the ending of a democratic experience. For example, we recently had the Alabama elections. Who ever thought that a Democrat would win the Senate?
-There are always new ways to start over. There is always a way to come back and come back on top.
Jessica: Will you have another show like "Al Bernameg?"
Bassem: If I did the show it would be in the U.S., directed to the people in the U.S., and talking about things that matter to the people that live here, whether you are an immigrant or not.
-Of course I am pitching ideas but there is a lot of competition.
-I hope to come back. But not as the same thing as "Al Bernameg" because that show was meant for Egypt and for Egyptians inside of Egypt and I have no interest to do it from outside of the country.
Jessica: Will you and Jon Stewart have a show together?
Bassem: I don’t know! Jon doesn’t even, like, come out of his farm in New Jersey, so how would I know? (Laughter)
Jessica: What advice do you have for aspiring comics and actors?
Bassem: I’m not in a position to give anyone advice. I think that everyone finds their own way and voice.
-Everyone has their own values, inputs and circumstances. I don’t think that there is one advice that fits all.
-I didn’t get advice from anyone who was older or bigger than me. I just had my own way to do it.
-I think that people who have achieved and done something with their lives, they figured it out for themselves. They get inspiration from different sources, inputs and variables and find their own way to do it.
-When I get invited to universities to speak to people who are 18, 19 and 20, I tell them: "I belong to a different generation. Whatever was relevant for me at the time is different from what is relevant today. Whatever I give you would be outdated advice."
Jessica: Do you have a favorite joke?
Bassem: No, because every joke has its own circumstances.
-Since you mentioned Jon Stewart, Jon always said that political satire is like a potato salad or egg salad sandwich. It has the shelf life of an egg salad sandwich. It is relevant at a certain point or mood. It can’t be replicated. Something that could be great one day might not be great the next day.
-I don’t measure my journey with jokes but rather with point of views that are more resilient than just one joke that’s been said.
Jessica: It’s January 2018. What are you looking forward to for the New Year?
Bassem: I’m looking forward to the midterms in November.
-I’m not yet an American citizen so can’t campaign.
-I’m trying to spread my message through humor and satire and to comment on the status quo.
-That will be better than campaigning for a certain candidate.
-No matter what, it’s always important to look ahead.
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