NEW YORK - Heart surgeon turned satirist Bassem Youssef, who was known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” has the cameras turned on him in the documentary “Tickling Giants,” which had its world premiere at the Tribeca film festival in New York on Thursday.
Youssef became Egypt’s top satirist thanks to his online, and later TV, show that poked fun at Egyptian politics after the Arab Spring of 2011. It was pulled off the air in 2014, and Youssef left Egypt for California. U.S. film maker Sara Taksler thought her documentary project would take about a year but the twists and turns of Youssef’s life made it a four year project.
“He’s a pretty normal guy who has an opportunity to non-violently address power and he took it. 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,” said Taksler.
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 effect 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.”
Yousef now hopes to carve out a niche for himself in the United States. “Maybe I’ll do something disruptive like I did in Egypt. I know it’s wishful thinking but you can dream. And I think you guys need some sort of diversity. Not just Arabs who blow themselves up on television,” he said.