Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host, who hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.
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At the start of the Arab Spring in Egypt, I decided to leave my job as a heart surgeon to become a late-night comedian. We wanted to find a creative, non-violent way to protect free speech and fight a president who abused his power.
I am the subject of Tickling Giants (100% on RT!), a new documentary directed by a senior producer at The Daily Show. You can buy the movie on iTunes starting today!
(It's un-rated by the MPAA, just like this AMA.)
I also wrote a book - Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring
You'll laugh, you'll cry, and I'll make 20 cents.
I'm being helped with typing by a kind gentleman at an English-only computer, so questions in Arabic are okay, but things will move faster if we keep things to English.
Hey bassem!!! Is there any chance to see you in Egypt after the elections ?
Don't forget to check /r/Egypt أبناء وطنك 😂😂
Hello Bassem. Would you consider hosting your own late-night show here in the States if given the opportunity?
If I am given the opportunity, who am I to say "No?"
YES!! Come on HBO, let's make this happen!
Tell them this.
Hi Bassem. You are probably on a black list in Egypt and would be arrested if you were to land in Cairo Airport. My question is: Do you want to go back to Egypt and pursue your career there if you are removed from the black list or are you going to continue your career in the US even after that?
I don't think I'm going to be off the black list any time soon so I'm going to focus on doing things here in the States. I don't think there's an actual black list. Everything in Egypt is open for interpretation. There are no rules any more.
Umm... would you rather fight: one elsisi-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized elsisi?
If I wasn't a vegan, I would eat one elsisi-sized duck.
What is your reply to all the Egyptians attacking you on social meda and telling you to stop commenting on the Egyptian politics because you left Egypt??
Thanks for this AMA, I hope the best for you Dr Bassem
The same Egyptians attack people who live in Egypt when they criticize the country and tell them, "If you don't like the country, why don't you leave?"
What about being a surgeon prepared you for comedy?
Are there challenges that cross over with those two careers?
Which (comedy or surgery) was more challenging to master?
Surgery made me a much harder working person, a nerd, a perfectionist.
Both have different challenges - you either have to mess up with someone's life, or you have to live with a life of rejection in entertainment.
Is your 'senior producer' a certain Jon Stewart?
No, Sara Taksler. She worked for 4 years to bring together Tickling Giants. Please watch it!
Whats the reason you stopped the program " Al Barnamij "? Sorry if this is posted somewhere, but I want to hear it from him.
I think I answered this questions 100,000,000 times, but in short - I made jokes, the authorities didn't like the jokes, they shut me down.
Hi Bassem ,
What would be the ultimate advice you'd give to the arab youth ?
Question everything. Don't let anybody blackmail you by fake patriotism or fake religious doctrine.
When he finished with The Daily Show, Jon Stewart went to raise animals on a farm upstate. When he left the Presidency, Barack Obama went kitesurfing.
What's the Bassem Youssef plan for what happens when politics grinds you down?
kitesurfing like my boy Obama. Been doing it since 2013.
Hi Dr. Youssef! Do you think the way that we cover terrorist attacks on US media emboldens extremists (with wall to wall 24-hour coverage)? If so, is there a more productive way?
Unfortunately this is what news cycles do to get ratings. They are in a tough position because if they don't cover it, others will. What emboldens extremists is that people start to change they're style of life and let that change their daily routines.
Hi ya Bassem,
Wa7eshna kteer and we miss you on our screen.
Recently there has been talk in Egypt about Khaled Ali running for president against Sisi, while the chances of him winning are slim at best, I think it is good that someone from a revolutionary background is trying to stir something in the stagnant situation in Egypt.
My question is, if you were asked, will you be willing to give support to someone like Khaled? Also how long do you think the situation will stay the same before something changes? BTW, how did you spend the 5 billion :D :D ?
P.S. Hope to see you on a TV show in the States soon, as an Egyptian who lives in Boston, you're making the Egyptian community proud of you.
It's always good to have some activity in a stagnant political scene like ours. However you can't have fair elections when the military is controlling everything and calling the shots. I will still support him out of principle.
Nice to see you back here again. Last time you were here, we made it clear that we are friends :)
I've followed everything you've done especially after El Bernameg.
During and after El Bernameg the country was heavily divided.
Do you ever feel that you can go back and do what you were doing again if the circumstances allowed?
Do you think people will follow into your footsteps too if the circumstances allowed. (God damn those circumstances)
For the circumstances to change a lot has to happen, it's not just the change of a president. There's a whole deep state, a whole corrupt institution, and I don't think they're going away any time soon.
The Egypt that I miss, in my opinion, is not there any more.
Masr btsalem 3lek!!
I'm really disgusted by the way many Egyptians accuse you of conspiracy against Egypt just because you made fun of someone. It must have been a bad experience for you and your family. Do you sometimes regret your decisions and wish you just remained a cardiac surgeon?
Also, any chance we'll see a 2nd season of "The Democracy Handbook"? Was the first one a success?
I don't regret my decisions. I think the internet harassment comes with public exposure. There is no second part to The Democracy Handbook.
Serious question. Do you think that the revolution did more harm than good? Would it have been better now, if it never have happened?
No, the revolution is just a reaction to an already corrupt regime. If it didn't happen then, it would happen anyways.
Thanks for doing this--
Like most Americans I grew up without any exposure to Arab popular culture, I want to know is how is Arab humor different or similar to that of American or British comedy?
Humor is a separate language, you can speak English, but not be able to understand humor in English. The same goes for Arabic. Even humor between Arab countries is different. There isn't a fool-proof formula for this.
I guessed that, but what I meant is what kind of delivery is Arab humor: like dry, sarcastic humor, like aggressive making fun of people humor, or more along the lines of physical comedy.
These are all different kinds of humor that exist in Arabic, same as in English. However, the majority tend to lean towards the physical, obvious comedy. The more intelligent people tend to lean towards dry, intelligent humor, just like anywhere else in the world.
You often mention that Jon Stewart and American political satirists were/are your inspiration and they helped you become who you are today. If you could give any piece of advice to Jon Stewart or any other American satirist (given your own experiences as a comedian in Egypt), what would it be?
I think they're doing fine without my advice.
Hi Bassem, I used to love watching your show every week when it was on the air. Do you have any advice for people who feel like they want to make a difference in Egypt but don't see themselves going back?
Work on themselves to become better at what they do. One day they can go back and serve the country when it's ready for them.
Were you forced to leave Egypt or you had a choice? Can you return to Egypt anytime you want? Are you placed on a black list?
I was forced to leave because they were coming to get me. I don't think I can return any time soon. I am definitely at the top of the black list.
If you and Jon went on a bro date...
What would you eat?
What would you talk about?
Who would make the first move?
Make the first move?
I think you have a totally messed up idea of what a bro-date is.
Bassem! Wayn kint!
I just want to know about your opinions of the current situation in the MENA region, namely the El Hoceima protests in Morocco and the Qatar Crisis.
Finally, is it too late for the Arab World to get the change that it deserves? Especially with the Cheeto-in-chief running things in the Middle East lately.
"This shit is about to come down"
(I think we've been saying this for the past six years)
In your opinion, who do you think is currently most suitable to lead the country after El-Sisi's term is over?
It's not a question of who, it's a question of creating an atmosphere to allow for a decent democracy. No one is asking who is leading Denmark, Finland, or Norway.
What was the biggest culture shock you had when you visited the US? Which one still shocks you?
After living all my life in the Middle East, nothing can ever shock me.
I have a final exam of medical signs tomorrow and I still have 400 pages to learn. What did you do if you were in my place?
I ask if you think that you can return to Egypt one day. Also, would you present the Carthage Film Festival Closing Ceremony another time?
Study, and stop logging onto social media.
I hope to return.
If I was invited to host it again I would do it.
What do you have to say about the current scuttlebutt in the Gulf, in regards to Qatar and it's long, terrible week?
I think it's going to be over before we know it. Compromises will be made, and things will go back to normal very soon.
did you struggle in medical school ? I find it incredibly boring and you of all people make me feel that it is not worth it seeing that you had an amazing career as a host I doubt very seriously that medicine really made any impact in your life in the long run .
Everyone struggles in medical school. It's a character builder and helped me in my TV career.
Do you still have hope that Egypt will be a democratic and free country in the next 10 years ?
Yes. What is happening now is not sustainable.
Looking forward at watching the show! I became a fan, your sense of humour is great!
You have always been dubbed as the 'Jon Stewart of Egypt' and it cracks me up every time I see that one show where you invite Jon. My question is: was he your sole inspiration for doing your own show? Or did you have other influences that helped you start to become a comedian?
Jon was the main inspiration, followed by Stephen Colbert (who also came from Jon's show). Jon's impact was amazing.
Hey Bassem, love your work.
I am impressed by how seamlessly your humor translates to both Arabic and English audiences. Do you find it just as easy to write or improv comedy bits in English..?
Not at all. I'm still learning the craft.
Hi Bassem! Really love your work, and since I know a lot of things about you already (researched), I will ask questions that are unrelated to your occupation(s).
How do you like your eggs?
What's your favorite English TV Show & Movie?
Do you prefer living in the west or back home?
How do you respond to hateful comments towards your ethnicity?
What's your favorite dank meme?
Aside from AMA's, do you use reddit?
That's all, can't wait to see more of your work!
Yes, but I'm vegan.
LA is amazing.
I ignore them.
It changes every 5 minutes.
In your opinion Dr. Bassem , What's really behind The current Qatar isolation ? and Why the four countries ?
And do you think Israel would make a move about that ?
I think involved in it don't even know the answer to this question.
Hi Bassem! Have you ever regretted being a Comedian and considered getting back to being a heart surgeon?
Hi Bassem, what's your favourite Game of Thrones character?
Tyrion Lannister. How could you go wrong with that guy?
Would you consider being a guest speaker at a university in the US?
Sure. I do this all the time.
I have read your book and enjoyed it a lot.
Regarding how the Muslim world keep wasting opportunities, in your opinion what do Muslims have to adopt/get rid of quickly in order to move forward?
They should adopt a true secular, democratic system. That's the first step.
Hey a Bassem you came to visit us in Sydney a day after i went off to Egypt :(
anyhow out of all the countries you've travelled to in the last few years which country has been your favourite ?? Also what's your favourite Egyptian meal ??
Stuffed grape leaves
Hello! I really like your work <3
My question is: How do you feel the recent tendency of comedians holding back less than they did before the US elections?
It's not a recent tendency. It's always been there. Thank George W Bush for 8 years.
What's the best solution to bring peace and prosperity to the middle East, including Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and dealing with Islamic extremism? Bonus points if it doesn't involve heavy handed US intervention.
Getting our own secular societies that don't answer to religious or military fascism.
Haven't seen you workout recently ? What do you do for exercise now ?
Still a vegan ?
Yes, still a vegan. Trying out yoga and pilates.
1)Do you believe revolution has improved things?
2) Are you worried about extremists(like the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt before the military stepped in) are getting a lot of popularity in elections, and if yes what can be done about it?
Revolutions usually open doors. They don't necessarily change things instantly. They're prequels of things to come. They're not done in an instant, they're a long process. They start to question ideologies that trap people into oppression and corruption.
In any case, we should stop trying to choose between a military option or religious option. They are two sides of the same coin.