LATEST IN TELEVISION, MUSIC, MOVIES AND THE ARTS

by Ernest Kearney  —  Imagine if Donald Trump was president for life, that all the TV stations were operated by Fox News and that the nation’s population was an overwhelming mish-mash of “dittoheads,” “truthers,” and “birthers.”

Well, welcome to Bassem Youssef’s world.

If that name sounds vaguely familiar to you then maybe you read about him in Time magazine or caught his appearance on The Daily Show.

Which was a fitting venue for the former cardiac surgeon who earned the sobriquet “The Jon Stewart of Egypt.”

Which he was.

For a while.

Tickling Giants, Sara Taksler’s meticulously crafted 2016 documentary chronicles Bassem’s meteoric rise and eventual erasure against a backdrop of the euphoria and failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt where a people’s revolution for change morphed into a revolving door for business as usual.

The film starts off with Bassem cautioning the viewer:

“Warning –
Speaking out against oppressive regimes

May cause side effects such as headaches, mood

Swings, loss of appetite, loss of constitutionally

Guaranteed rights, death and vaginal dryness.…”

Bassem could have kept his head down and his mouth shut and probably have had a much happier life for it.

He was a successful surgeon with a young family when the Egyptian Revolution began and the Mubarack regime began to falter.  But Bassem wanted to believe his country was changing, that a new future lay ahead for his people.

So with the help of some friends Basset began filming The B+ Show in a small room in his Cairo apartment with the intention of uploading the episodes to YouTube.

It primarily consisted of Bassem sitting at a small desk, drolly commenting on the events shaking Egyptian society in his self-effacing manner while looking at the camera with his big, basset hound eyes.

Within six months Bassem and his friends shot 108 episodes of The B+ Show.  On YouTube they racked up over 15 million hits.

This success lead to Bassem being offered the chance of doing a show on Egyptian television, and so in 2011 Al-Bernameg (“The Show”) aired on Egypt’s ONTV.

Egyptian celebrities and politicians appeared on the show.  Jon Stewart and Bassem even took turns appearing as the other one’s guest. On Stewart’s show Bassem came out on stage taking photos of the studio audience.  When Stewart told him that Angeline Jolie had been the guest the night before and had occupied the chair, Bassem immediately got up and took a close-up picture of the seat.

Stewart joked that he was “the Bassem Youssef of America.”

But there was one very prominent difference between the two men.

Stewart’s show would have an average nightly audience of two million viewers.

Bassem’s show would have thirty million.

Tickling Giants renders a pithy chronicle of recent Egyptian history from the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, through the coup d’état that removed him from office and the rise of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former Defense Minister to the office of the presidency.

For three seasons, Bassem’s fortunes ebbed and flowed as al-Sisi gathered in the reins of government, but soon lawsuits and accusations of “insulting Islam,” were leveled at Bassem.  Eventually, as if a page had been taken right out of Trump’s playbook, charges were brought against him for “circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security.”

“The freedom of any people is judged by the volume of its laughter.”

Sara Taksler’s documentary is a work of heart and wit and sorrow.

And hope.

Bassem has been driven from his homeland, and his show is gone from the Egyptian airways, but his YouTube episodes live on and now have accumulated 184 million hits.

Sara Taksler is also in exile and works on Comedy Channel’s The Opposition with Jordan Klepper.

Taksler ends this chapter of Bassem’s life with an upbeat rap song in which we are reminded:

“We should all in our own ways be tickling giants.”

Good advice to the people of America.

 ♦     ♦     ♦

“Tickling Giants” is available on Netflix for streaming. To learn more click HERE.


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Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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