Bassem at Chatham House London Conference 2016
|Birth name||Bassem Muhammad Youssef|
22 March 1974 |
|Alma mater||Cairo University|
|Genres||Political/news satire, observational comedy, surreal comedy, black comedy, sarcasm, insult comedy|
|Subject(s)||Mass media/news media/media criticism, American politics, Egyptian culture, current events, religion, pop culture, race relations, racism, human sexuality|
|Spouse||Hala Diab (m. 2010)|
It's kinda me and Jon Stewart have a pact together – so he's making me famous in the Western world and I'm making him famous in Egypt!
The Dark Satirist, like the Dark Knight – that could be a good name for a superhero.
What I hope to do in the States is to break up this stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs. I mean, we are basically the only sub-culture that is not represented in Hollywood. And it's funny because everybody is talking about the Muslim world and the Arab world, and we are not represented.
Islam's not just about covering your hair. It's about how you treat other people.
Part of the reason why people get radicalized is because they feel they are disenfranchised; that they not there; that they are bullied. But if they are represented, they can't go and say to themselves: 'Oh, this society hates us!'
We have dealt with the Arab/Muslim problem in the American media in every single way but through comedy. Hollywood has always been lagging behind comedy… We can make fun of ourselves, too, and I'm inviting us to laugh with us – and all the misconceptions.
Sarcasm all around the world is always against right wing and against people in power. That's the definition of political sarcasm.
There's no glory and no respect in making fun of the weak, the powerless.
I can go back to Egypt anytime I want. Can I leave Egypt anytime I want? I think I can. I think I can.
Theocratic and military authorities share one thing: they have no sense of humour.
A lot of people tend to glorify the role of satire and comedians. They put them up as role models, as fighters for the truth and against tyranny, and I think that's overrated.
I didn't invent satire. I didn't come up with it. And it will continue to be a very powerful tool to disrupt political taboos and social taboos and religious taboos, because those taboos are always used to control and to curb people's way of creativity and thinking, by making them feel guilty because they want to make a change.
This is the conundrum of the present regimes in the Arab world. They still want to control youth; they want to be in control as they did in the 1950s and '60s. But that doesn't work anymore. Now with just a Wi-Fi link, you can understand what's happening in the world.
The bigger you become of a celebrity, the bigger the expectations, the pressure on you – to make change, to say what people want, to target the people they want to target. Fame is toxic; it is quite toxic.
Egyptian comedy has a very, very old tradition. Our theater and our movies are just, like, amazing. And Egypt is kind of like the Hollywood of the Middle East. I mean, we had cinema maybe decades before the other Arab countries ever got independence.
I chose the Egyptian dream: the dream to make a TV show, and then be called an infidel by the end.
My show in Egypt was called, 'The Show,' or, 'Al Bernameg' in Arabic. Basically, it was a political satire show. It started on Internet by three, four-minute episodes, and then it evolved into a live show in a theater, which was something that was unprecedented in the Arab world.
I do think that this planet is a totally unjust planet. I mean throughout history – history paints a beautiful picture when it's written by the victorious, but it's a planet that belongs to the strong and the more able, and usually they are tyrants. So basically, I don't see justice happening to the crushed and the weak.
The importance of satire is bringing more people to the table. There are a lot of average citizens who aren't interested in politics and would be more interested if it's brought to them in a comedic, funny, satirical way.
I never thought of myself as a comedian. That is a label – make me laugh. I want to make you think.
When we overthrew Mubarak, we did this in 18 days. And because we were very naive and very unexperienced in revolutions, we thought that that was it. It is very difficult to imagine that you can actually get rid of a dictatorship that has been there for 60 years only in 18 days. So we were very naive.
I get very confused about being called a comedian, because when you say 'I'm a comedian,' people expect you to crack a joke. Maybe I use laughter and humour to make people think. I don't know what you call that – a humourist? A satirist? A pessimistic comedian? I don't know. Satirists can be very dark.
I pity Americans for their very bad fruits. Your 'mango' is cucumber. The only thing I really miss about Egypt is mangoes.