Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is a former Egyptian cardiac surgeon, satirist and columnist, who hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. In 2013, he was named one of the "100 most influential people in the world" by Time magazine.
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I'm a heart surgeon turned satirist, who started from a simple series of 5 minute YouTube videos which then progressed into the biggest live political satire show in the Middle East. I'm the subject of a new documentary directed by a senior producer at The Daily Show, Tickling Giants, and you can learn more and watch the trailer here.
I'm here at reddit HQ in New York City with Victoria to do my AMA today.
Edit: I would love to meet you guys again on reddit. You have been incredible at supporting, and I had some fears that no one would show up, but I was pleasantly surprised. I would like to give out a special thanks to the amazing Victoria, who has been writing my answers at warp speed. I have never seen anybody type that fast, and that efficiently. This is amazing, and I just want to keep on talking so Victoria will continue writing, and I will be amazed about how fast she is, and I have to stop right now or else she will get some kind of carpal tunnel injury.
Thank you guys for a wonderful time, and please go to the website, and support the movie. Any amount helps.
Hi Dr. Bassem,
I'm an Algerian Arab living in Canada and I've been an avid follower of your shows, from your YouTube debut at the B+ Show to what became, for a short time, the most watched and popular satirical news program in the Arab world, to Amreeka Bil Arabi where you engage with Arab-Americans through comedy.
So here are my questions for you. I apologise if they're too many, please feel free to answer selectively.
After Morsi's removal, the radical shift in the vehemence of your satire suggested the regime was pressuring you into softening your criticism of the military and soon-to-be-president General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Recent telephone leaks corroborate this. Did you receive any similar pressures when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power? Did they have any real effect on the satirical extent of the show?
Many critics argue that you played an important role in the demise of Mohammad Morsi by ridiculing him and desacralizing his status as an elected president. You also endorsed the June 2013 protests. Now that a military dictatorship has been reinstated and the press' freedom has been obliterated, do you have any regrets? If you had to deliver your show again during Morsi's presidency, would you do it in the same way?
Do you plan a censorship-less YouTube comeback? You know, just like the good old times :)
Much of El Bernameg's appeal comes from its usage of the Egyptian colloquial dialect, with its colourful expressions and natural flow. I believe your production team is also amongst the first to introduce expletives in a widely watched show, which, for those unfamiliar with the conservatism of Egyptian society, is huge. It seems impossible to convey that kind of humour through Standard Arabic. People around the Arab World learn to read and write in Standard Arabic and yet barely use it in daily life. If anything, it may hinder their creative potential. Do you believe it would be beneficial to erect "Egyptian Arabic" from dialect to language and teach children to read and write in a language they use every day? I'm playing devil's advocate here and would hate to see Standard Arabic disappear but I would love to hear your input.
As a moderator of /r/arabs, I'm a staunch pan-Arabist and I'm very grateful for the opportunities you've given artists from different Arab countries to perform on your show. Amidst the political turmoil and cross-border enmities, you've effectively acted as a rallying force in the collective cultural scene.
Thank you once again and I wish you the best of luck for the future!
1.) There has always been pressure on the show, whether directly or indirectly. And if you see that my satire was soft, it was enough for the show to be banned. So again, different people have different views of the situation, coming from different places.
2.) I have no regrets because I was doing my job during the Muslim Brotherhood Era, as well as the era that followed, and to suggest that a political satire show played a role in the demise of a certain government, it shows how weak the government is, not how strong the show is.
3.) Well, the old times are different, and as I said before - to downgrade from a whole theater to YouTube is a step backwards, and the show being stopped is a much louder message than anything I could ever say on YouTube or elsewhere.
4.) This is a very complicated zeitgeisty kind of question that concerns linguistics and culture and history and human habits! I wish I had the capacity and the credentials to give you a satisfying answer. But I fail. I hope that you acknowledge this problem and find a solution for it in your next TED talk. I'm sure it will be amazing.
And I would like to thank you for your wonderful words, and I would like to explain that above sentence is a complete joke. :)
Where can I get this hat?
That was an amazing prop made by our amazing prop master, and it is nowhere to be found.
Hi! I'm a huge fan of The Daily Show and I've always loved your appearances on it. I admire you for hosting a similar show in a country where some are persecuted for their speech, and it's a shame that you were shut down. Hopefully, sometime in the future, you can begin airing the show again. (EDIT: formatting)
Is there any chance that you'll take over The Daily Show?
Who do you hope takes it over?
What does the future look like for Al-Bernameg?
Hosting the Daily Show is a far-fetched fantasy, because I don't think Americans are ready to get their political satire-news from a Middle Eastern with a thick accent. However, I will dwell on that dream until they finally choose a replacement, and when that happens, I will pretend my dreams are crushed. Still, I have a very little hope that maybe Comedy Central will go somewhat exotic like me! Because that would be an incredible end to the documentary, ahahah!
I trust Jon Stewart to be the best judge for who would succeed him.
And furthermore, the Daily Show maybe has the best team ever, and I think they will support whomever will come into his shoes (which will be very difficult to fill).
The future ...TBD. To be decided.
Umm Kulthum or Abdel Halim?
I want to add my voice to the others here when I say thanks for your work!
My question is, what can those of us of Egyptian descent or in the Egyptian Diaspora in the West do to help the country?
The best thing is to work on yourself. Make yourself better humans. Because when you find an opening, you can find a way to help your country.
Hello Dr. Bassem. I've been looking forward to this for a while now.
I'm an Egyptian who, like most Egyptians, has missed your weekly show a lot, and I have a few questions (non concerning Egyptian internal affairs, so no worries there) :
What's your next project? Do we have a chance of seeing you doing your magic anytime soon?
There has been some speculations over the chance of you taking over The Daily Show after Jon Stewart's announcement that he'll be leaving the show. Is there any truth there?
You were introduced prior to this AMA as a "former cardiac surgeon". Does that mean you're leaving the medical field behind for now?
Thanks for taking time to respond to redditors, who knew you know about us?
My next project is working with Arab talents across the Arab world in order to fulfill their own dream through digital media. And if you support my documentary, you will definitely see me soon!
Taking over The Daily Show is a dream that I don't think will ever come true. I think I have a better shot of becoming the first Middle Eastern President of the United States than getting The Daily Show!
I am leaving the medical field for now.
Who doesn't know reddit?
Thank you so much for doing this. I'm the son of Coptic Egyptian immigrants to the US and a HUGE fan of yours. First, I want to thank you for your work. It took a lot of courage and got a lot of people in the country and around the world thinking about what was actually happening in Egypt. My question is this: Being the son of immigrants, I think there's a serious misunderstanding in the US concerning the culture and politics in Egypt, North Africa and the Middle East. For instance, the Egyptian community of immigrants including my parents and the vast majority of my friends and family are huge fans of El-Sisi whereas the western media portrays him as a corrupt dictator. I'd argue that the situation is significantly more nuanced than either of those, but do you think the rest of the world will ever be able to understand that? Also, what are your personal thoughts on the General?
Political views by many people are affected by their personal take on things, and how much they are exposed to media. You can agree or disagree, oppose a certain political direction, based on your own personal exposure to the events. People who oppose a certain leader have their reasons, the same way other people would support a certain leader.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the best argument being put out there, and how can you relay your message.
If you fail in relaying your message, you only have yourself to blame. Same goes for persons or a whole media outlet.
Dr.Bassem , Hi! I am from Egypt and I live in Egypt. I just wanted to thank you very much for your show. Me and my friends would always sit in a coffee shop with hundreds of other Egyptians just to watch you and get a laugh in an otherwise boooring life. It is no coincidence that you had the highest watched television show when you were on.
You really embody the spirit of free speech and satire for a lot of us over here in Egypt. You introduced many of us, me personally, to the world of satire and you helped us really think about things that were happening around us in a light hearted way. You really are a huge inspiration and a role model (whether you want to admit it or not :P).
In summation : وحشتنا فشخ يا باسم سوستة
My questions to you are : How much input did your team have on the script ? Which e3lamy (TV host) did you enjoy making fun of the most? Sherif xD?
Putting the script together was a collective effort that was shared equally by all of us! I always like to give credit to the amazing people that worked with me, starting from the newest intern researcher up to my writers. It's a team effort, and this show has succeeded because no one took selfish credit on getting the show out, and this is how we were different than other programs. As far as which person I've enjoyed making fun of, I've never viewed the program as a personal tool to get the piss out of people. And I enjoyed more talking about the issues. And the bigger picture. Not the people.
Please don't think of internet shows as a step backwards. It allows a tremendously wide audience and I know millions of Americans would love to watch you help us make sense of the middle east.
Well, thank you very much. But again, there is a difference between judging emotionally about a certain move, and looking practically at the issue. And we need to differentiate our desire to see someone onscreen, and having a really successful show.
Hey Bassem, (sorry this is gonna be long)
Just to get this out of the way: I’m a huge fan and supporter of what you do, you and your team. I believe that you (as a team, because I know you always say that it’s a team effort) represent a better Egypt. At a time when even the idea of openly criticizing the ruling power was just being introduced to Egyptians, you stepped up and openly mocked arguably one of the toughest and most influential political parties at the time. Even when the ruling party was one of overwhelming support you managed to keep on doing what you do as with any other party. The Egyptian people were not ready to hear someone they supported being ridiculed and for that you were shunned by the general population. I can’t apologize on behalf of the Egyptian people even though I am Egyptian born and bred, but I just wish to tell you that it’s a shame you came at the wrong time. Hopefully there will come a time where people are ready to hear what you offer. Your jokes, innuendos, musical numbers and every other satirical gesture you made used to liven up my Friday nights.
Plus, Ayman ma3aya fl gym. Ollo yro7 mt2akhar shwaya 3shan mabal7a2sh ashoofo!
Now for the question part:
My parents are part of the population that believes you are a US agent that actually hates this country. While debating them, one point I couldn’t manage to argue was that when mocking Morsi, you mocked how he ruled (once, how he dressed), yet when mocking Adly Mansour, you mocked how he looks personally (Which is something he can’t change) What’s your response to that? (that you were just finding anything to mock because you didn’t have enough material)
First of all, you need to review my episodes again, because I never mocked anybody for how they looked. As a matter of fact, that is a very similar argument that the Muslim Brotherhood was using saying that I mocked Morsi for how he looked. It is very easy to be on the winning side of the joke, and it's very difficult when you become on the receiving end of the joke. The Muslim Brotherhood, while I was having my show, threw at me all kind of accusations including that I was an American agent, just as your parents do to me now. I was called a traitor, a Zionist, an enemy of Islam, and when the regime changed, people added to the list that I am a hater and an enemy of the army and someone who wanted to destroy Egypt. So for me, it's quite confusing how many accusations you can pack into one person! And at the end of the day, it seems that most of the people throwing these accusations have absolutely no sense of humor.
Bassem basha! Saba7 el fol. (For English speakers: Mr. Bassem! Good morning!)
Now that your program has been banned from several TV channels, why not start your own TV channel with other respectable journalists in Egypt? If that's not possible, what about your YouTube channel?
About the YouTube channel: people who had followed the program on the live show have some expectations for the performers and the quality of the program. Going back to YouTube would be a step backwards, and it would be disappointing for so many people expecting a certain level of performance. Doing a show is not a single-handed effort, it is doing it with a whole team, and it is difficult to get this team to change their mindsets from performing onstage, and getting it back on YouTube.
I have said before, in my press conference as we were ending the program, that banning the program is a message louder than anything that could ever be said.
And we stand by this.
why don't you do a program similar to America in Arabic? i.e something that is more intellectual than sarcastic, there are so many important subjects you can tackle about current issues that concern the Arab world
This could be a possibility. And if we get the right offer, and put in the right team, this program might make a comeback.
So, How about that ISIS? What do we have to do to get the threat of them gone? What do you think about the call to attack the Mall of America which is owned by the Ghermezian family?
Basically ISIS are a bunch of fucking lunatics. And they should be treated as such. The people who are calling for the bombing of shopping malls are equally fucking nuts. Or has no money to shop, and they want to make everybody's life much worse.
Hello Dr. Bassem, what will be your next move after the movie you want to create, and when will be your next move on the TV Screens?
It's still too early to decide. I'm taking a break and focusing all my attention in supporting the documentary, which you can find here. People!
Hamdella ala el salama!
If you can remove three people from power and send them to the moon who are they? And if you can free three people to safety to outside Egypt who are they and finally the dinner question if can have dinner with 3 famous people from past or present who are they and why.
I would remove EVERYBODY from power, everywhere in the world, and maybe start over. Then I would release all the prisoners, and then fill the prisons all over again. And then me and you will have dinner, watching the world as it unfolds.
Hey Bassem. Where is your best Shawarma in Cairo?
I have been vegan for a year and a half, and I have lost connection with the world of meats. Sorry to disappoint.
Thank you so much for your response. If I could ask a follow up, I'm a law student here in the US with aspirations to do just that. Not necessarily on video like you but through my writing. Do you have any tips for an someone like me?
Write about what matters to people. Discover the pulse of the people, and what they want to hear, and address their issues and problems.
This one has nothing to do with politics. As a Youtube success story, what advice would you give to a starting Egyptian Youtuber?
So you need to watch a lot of videos. Know what people like, and don't like. You need to enrich your experience, about understanding what makes a successful YouTube video. You need to make use of the feedback coming in from your fans, but not get overwhelmed with too much negativity. And just keep up with the flow - don't rest on a certain technique or style, and always surprise your fans.
Hi Bassem!! Really big fan!
So my question is.. If you were president for one day, what would be your first piece of legislation? Who would you pardon? What would you rather have your face printed on: chocolates or pillows?
Bonus question : how can I be your best friend...
First of all, you're already my best friend!
Just by the fact that you are coming in, and willing to donate, so as you can see, my friendship has a price...
Ehmmm... I would rather have my face printed on pillows made of chocolate!
To have everybody have their ration of chocolate pillows. And I would pardon anybody who had been jailed just because of something they had said.
The trailer to the documentary looks really interesting! The title is also really clever. How did you get involved in this project, and what do you hope the response to the film will be?
I got involved by being harassed by Sara Taksler, to be the subject of this documentary. I couldn't tell her "no" because at the time, she was working at the Daily Show, and I didn't want to say no to anybody working with Jon Stewart. So I basically said "yes" to be on his good side, but I discovered it didn't really make any difference, so if we went back in time, I would perhaps have second thoughts about being in this documentary, but now I am amazed at the kind of work Sara has put, documenting my experience to put it in the archives of history. So please don't let me regret this move, and go and donate.
I hope that people's response will be in the form of understanding this era of Egyptian history, and understanding the importance of political satire in promoting free speech.
And also, it's quite entertaining, so I hope you are entertained!
What advise you gave yo the Egyptian youth ?
Eat well, brush your teeth, and be kind to your fellow egyptians.
Bassem, habibi, I am asking this question on behalf of my friend who lives in Amman, Jordan: "Which is harder heart surgery or Egyptian politics?"
Seinfeld or Frasier ?
I have to say... that it took me a while to appreciate both. I didn't understand the humor of Frasier or appreciated fully the humor of Seinfeld until I better understood American culture and American humor. Frasier is a very sophisticated comedy, and Seinfeld, although being a comedy about nothing, both of them have their challenges in understanding the humor.
I'm glad to say that i enjoy both of them, although I have to admit that I did not miss a single episode of Frasier.
If we had the chance, do you think we should face the law in order to keep something great alive, such as a controversial website or a book, or even a satirical TV show?
I'm asking that question because I've faced this situation myself, where I had to take something down in order to avoid legal action, and I'd like to know the opinion of someone who has taken the fight to a whole new level.
It's always worth spreading your ideas and your opinions. But sometimes, you need to think of your personal safety.
Why use comedy as a tool to discuss social issues? What do you hope to gain by seemingly making light of real world problems that affect you as well as others? And can you comment on the rise of political comedy in the Middle East in recent years?
I'm a current graduate student developing a thesis on the intersection of comedy, social issues, and digital media, and I'd forever regret if I also didn't ask you if I could interview you for my thesis project at some point...though first and foremost, keep on doing what you're doing! Thank you for your work!
For your first question, why use comedy as a tool to discuss the social issues, my answer would be: why not? There are more than enough dull, boring people who are discussing those issues in a totally non-interesting, boring way, so why not just have a few laughs about it? This kind of question - that wants to limit people to a certain type of freedom of expression - is beyond me. As for your thesis, I would be honored. However, I get too many similar requests, and I really don't have the time to satisfy all of these requests, so please accept my apologies.
Are you scared for your well-being living in the Middle East?
Let's say I have the normal worries and concerns that many have.
Do you think Egypt will get better soon? and do u agree with the military attack on ISIS?
I hope that the whole region will heal soon. This is a much needed wish. And I think dealing with ISIS is a very-very complicated matter. And I hope it ends well.
I was wondering if you heard about the confiscation of “Walls of Freedom”, the book documenting street art of the Egyptian revolution by Egyptian authorities? Any thoughts on that?
Confiscating or burning or taking away the rights of people to read is not good by any measure.
What's your favorite dinosaur?
What's a piece of advice that has helped you during a tough time?
It's an advice that I got from Jon Stewart. When I didn't know what to say, he told me "Make fun of whatever you're feeling. See how you feel about something, and so when the joke comes out, it will come out very truthfully and honestly."
Good day Mr. Youseff!
Jordanian here and a huge fan. I know you made an appearance at Chaplin's comedy club (next to my house!) a couple of weeks ago but couldn't get a reservation. We all absolutely love you and wish you best of luck in the future.
Are there any Arab comedians/shows you follow or recommend? My favorite is Hisham from El 3elm Wal Emaou.
Have you ever thought of doing stand up?
Amr Diab or Mohammad Mounir?
Finally, check out /r/arabs if you have the time. We'd love to have you :)
1.) There are lovely Arab talents on the internet, and I would refrain from answering this question because I don't want to influence anyone's opinions, so I will keep the answer to myself.
2.) I already did! I did a few standup comedy shows. I did a few standup comedies, but I decided I would not do it after the program, because people expect a certain performance from the program that might not be present in the standup comedy. However, this might change in the future, but I don't know now.
3.) Both of them have been in the arena for quite a long time. They both have incredible success stories, and the fact they are still big stars after all these years is impressive by itself.
What's your MBTI (Myer Briggs Type Indicator)?
Extrovert extrovert extrovert extrovert. Manic depressive.
Do you and Jon ever hang out? Just get a good bagel?
We get a bagel in his office. Because he's an extremely busy man.
What would you say to those who think of youth in the region as aimless, or as we would say in Egyptian "tayesh" or "saye3". Can you address this question with the perspective of youth unemployment? What non-political, rather social and economical movements led or focused on youth could you point as an example of youth civic activism to overcome this massive hurdle?
PS. You are my personal hero, thank you for your courage and continued vital role you play. I based my graduation thesis on the videos you made on YouTube about the media's 'role' during the Jan 25 Revolution. So thank you again since then and ongoing :)
This kind of rhetoric is always used by paternalistic governments, to cover for its own failures, and bring down its youth. And they use this instead of giving a platform to the young people of this nation and having them realize their dream. Because the mere fact that these young people are coming into light will expose their failures and their shortcomings. That's why this rhetoric is quite common, to cover up for their own incompetence. There are many civic movements and organizations, however it's not usually supported by these regimes because they don't play the same political game the government wants them to be a part of. At the end, a country that does not realize the potential of its youth is an old withering country.
Who is a guest you've wanted to have on your show but have been unable to get?
Mmm - certain political leaders in the country. The thought that, by coming into the show, it would hurt them politically.
Pizza or burger?
What's your view on the current Egyptian government's economic projects and policies (Suez canal, low income housing developments, reduce subsidies etc) are they being implemented effectively and will they reap the country long lasting benefits, or are they plagued by the same corruption that will cripple any potential benefit from them?
These are long-term plans, and to answer strategic questions like these, you need a whole economic panel. Not a political satirist.
How long will you stay in USA and Dubai???
I'm staying in the U.S. until I finish my residency at Harvard at the end of the spring break, and then I will go back to Dubai, where I reside at the moment.
I am a very big fan.
I have 2 questions,
1st: what video games do you play in your free time?
2nd: isn't really a question, but can you recommend me a fun book to read :)
I am not into video games at all. I have missed the ship that sailed into the land of Xbox and Playstation.
A fun book? Really, a fun book? Well, how about a political book that is funny. If you haven't read ANIMAL FARM, go with that.
Can you do an IAMA in Arabic one day?
Are you surprised to hear that the highest rate of atheism in the Muslim World is in Saudi Arabia?
I would love to do an AMA in Arabic. The problem of faith and losing faith in the Arab World has surfaced recently, and I think people need to address this issue directly without using the usual techniques of denial and dismissing the core of the issue.
Why do you think satirical comedy is taken so seriously in the Middle East, and does that play a role in how governments interact with you?
To appreciate satire, sometimes you need to lay a whole foundation of acceptance of criticism by others. And being at peace with being put on the spot and being responsible for your actions. Sadly, many of these elements are not present in that part of the world. And this is why satire could be viewed as an insult, or a direct attack.
Hi, I'm one of your fans since your first broadcast on Youtube in 2011 and I have some questions:
1-is there any chance that your show "albernameg" will be coming back airing from Egypt or any other country ?
2-There was pressure on you and your show all the time, what was the thing the current regime did that forced you to quit ?
3-Are there any talks that you would be replacing jon stewart as the host of The Daily Show ?
4-when will Tackling Gaints be released?
1.) I have explained in my press conference before that there was extreme pressure for us to continue the program. I cannot really elaborate on that. Because that might hurt other people. But I think anybody with half a brain, haha, would understand what we mean! I have always emphasized that we cannot do a political satire show from outside the country, because that would take away from the program's credibility. Having the program getting back on-air is something that is unknown to us.
TICKLING GIANTS will be released once we have enough money from you people, so go on the website and donate so we can see this wonderful story unfold!
There were rumours when you reportedly relocated to Dubai that Al Nernameg may be following you and going out from MBC Dubai. Was there any truth to this? Could it happen in future?
There are so many rumors that have been circulating about me, including that I am a secret alien.
But as you can see - all of them are not true.
I miss Friday Nights with you Bassem!
How is baby Nadia? Do you ever plan on returning? How are Shady, Khaled Mansour, Wattar, Hesham Mansour?
Nadia is doing fine. I am trying to make her accommodate to the snow. As for my lovely friends and colleagues, they are doing fine as well. And I wish them all the best in their future endeavors.