Cardiac surgeons don’t often give up the scalpel for the standing microphone, but for comedian and satirist Bassem Youssef, it was medicine that brought him to comedy.
At the height of the Egyptian revolution, Youssef, later dubbed âthe Jon Stewart of Egypt,â offered medical assistance to protesters in Tahir Square in his homeland. Frustrated by the delegitimization of the protesters by the Egyptian media, Youssef launched a series of satirical videos on YouTube mocking the media coverage of the revolution.
In a short period of time, Youssef’s show “al-Bernameg” attracted more than 30 million viewers per show.
âIt wasn’t planned,â Youssef said. âIt was very exciting. Suddenly, I have to choose between an American career and a career in entertainment. I had 30 million people watching me every episode, so that means 30 million people will have one. opinion of you, and it’s very scary. “
The 46-year-old comic will appear Thursday through Saturday at The Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls.
âI loved making things every week, but the pressure was just unbearable,â Youssef said.
While fearful of the authoritarian Egyptian regime, Youssef brought complex and sensitive topics into the public conversation via political satire, interviews and skits. He redirected his own anxiety and shook the Egyptian leadership.
âIf you laugh at fear, you can’t be afraid anymore,â Youssef said. “Being a bossy leader takes fear. If you take that away from them, they have nothing.”
Under increasing pressure from the government, the political climate became more dangerous, and eventually Youssef left Egypt and came to America where he built a career with a podcast, a children’s book and a stand-up. He has appeared four times in “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and in 2013 was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME magazine.
Youssef recently had a phone conversation about comedy and his career ahead of his Funny Stop shows.
Q: You were one of the few comedians on the road during the pandemic. Was there some trepidation in traveling across the country?
A: There are different abilities for each club in each state, so it’s been interesting. But it was really good to see that people wanted to go out and wanted to laugh. It has been very, very rewarding.
Q: Was it a difficult transition from satire to stand-up?
A: Absoutely. Especially with English as a second language. So I was doing a program in Arabic. Now all of a sudden I have challenged myself to stand up in English, which means I have to rewire my brain, and I have to rethink everything I know about how to pronounce words, when to pronounce the words, the speed, the cadence, it was very, very, very difficult.
Q: What is your live show? Are these mostly stories from your life?
A: Think of it as a two-act play. The first act is my life in Egypt on the difficulties. Coming here as an immigrant under Trump is my second act, and all the things that have happened to me personally. But this is really my story. Every joke I say and every situation I tell is something that has happened to me. For example, one day I was questioned in Egypt for six hours about my jokes, and I had to explain my jokes to them. It’s part of the show. These are all real life situations.
Q: You’ve been nicknamed the âJon Stewart of Egyptâ, but you’ve addressed a different audience than âThe Daily Showâ. Do you see any differences in humor?
A: The humor is the same but the context is always different. Humor is a third language. The stakes may be a little higher in Egypt, but the satire is the same everywhere. Sarcasm is known as offensive art. You offend people. It’s even better when you offend people in power. But the context, the language and the references are different. I find it very difficult to explain humor to someone who doesn’t speak the language, who doesn’t know the culture. The Egyptians are known to be very satirical people. After the revolution, it was the first time that there was a window of opportunity to satirize authority.
Q: Americans tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe. With your background and having also lived in America for a few years now, are you able to give the public a more global view of the world?
A: Being the center of the universe is very common for everyone. It’s not really exclusive to America. But yes, there are other Arab comedians, but most of them are raised or born. I really am someone who comes from where I used to live. I have this opportunity to look at things from a dual lens and show how not really different we are at all.
Q: Talk about the children’s book “Nadia’s Magical Reality”.
A: These are immigrant families. My daughter’s name is Nadia, and it talks about things that young children should start to approach and take into account, like being different and being accepted. We use magic, storytelling and time travel. It is a matter of empathy, courage and friendship.
Q: Who are the actors that you admire?
A: From the oldest school, George Carlin. I love Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, Jim Jefferies and Dave Chapelle, of course. They are all incredible actors.
Digital planning editor BJ Lisko can be contacted at [email protected].
On Twitter: @BJLisko
If you are going to â¦
Who: Bassem Youssef
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, 7:20 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Or: The Funny Stop, 1757 State Road, Cuyahoga Falls
Tickets: $ 30 at FunnyStop.online