Must-see morning clip: Bassem Youssef risks death threats for political satire

"Daily Show" host Jon Stewart calls the Egyptian doctor-turned-comedian "a brother"


Prachi Gupta
March 17, 2014 4:53PM (UTC)

Americans have come to know Bassem Youssef as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt," where he mans a weekly satire show similar in format to "The Daily Show." Unlike "The Daily Show," however, Youssef's set in Cairo is protected by a steel gate, monitored by surveillance cameras, bomb-sniffing dogs, and riot police, and neither guests nor crew know for sure if the show will air as planned.

This is because in Egypt, Youssef is one of the few people speaking out against an oppressive regime. On Sunday, "60 Minutes" aired an interview between Bob Simon and the surgeon-turned-comedian, whose show has been "mysteriously jammed" for the past two weeks.

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Although Youssef has been arrested, interrogated, faced cancellation, and continues to receive death threats for his hour-long show, the comedian did not give in to the intimidation tactics of former president Mohammed Morsi, and has not relented under pressure from Field Marshal Al-Sisi. Of future harm, which could include torture or even death, Youssef tells Bob Simon, "So it will happen. I mean if it happens, it happens. You should let go of your fears...so you can be able to operate."

When asked if his comedy helped destabilize Morsi's regime, Youssef said, "What I did is I did a political satire show. If [Morsi's] regime was destabilized because of a show that comes one hour a week, that is a very weak regime. So it's-- maybe it's not about my strength, and maybe it's about their weakness."

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Youssef's show pulls in about 20 times more viewers than "The Daily Show," but the satirist has looked to Stewart for advice on how to find humor when everything is so tense. Paraphrasing Stewart, Youssef said the advice was to "make fun of whatever you feel."

"If you feel that you are afraid, make fun of that," he explained. "If you feel that you cannot talk about certain subjects, make fun of that. If you don't have anything to say, make fun of that."

Stewart commented on his "friend," "colleague" and "brother," saying, "People always say, about comedy, 'Where do you draw the line?' The idea that Bassem is somehow pushing a line or stepping over a boundary that should be sacred or sacrosanct is kind of amazing when you think about what the government is doing. Shouldn't the question be to them: 'Where do you guys draw the line?' -- not to Bassem."

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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