Throughout the eighteen days of January 25th revolution, Egypt’s state media played a definitive role in spreading propaganda and misleading information about the revolution, to the point that public opinion was affected and violence was incited against pro-democracy demonstrators. Over the past two months, figures like Amr Moustafa, Talaat Zakaria, Affaf Shoeib and Tamer from Ghamra have become household names; not just for their ridiculous statements and outright lies; but also for the hilarity of their appearances.
Enter Bassem Youssef, a 37-year-old heart surgeon from Cairo who launched his own YouTube Channel, B+ The Bassem Youssef Show; to take on the hypocrisy of Egypt's media in a political satire à-la Jon Stewart.
If you’re not one of the 21,000 Facebook fans or the nearly 750,000 people who have viewed his six YouTube videos, this is what you’ve missed:
Episode One took on the Egyptian State media’s attempt to spread fear and conspiracy theories about Tahrir Square and the protestors, including the KFC meal theory, while Episode Two focused on actor Talaat Zakaria’s claims that Tahrir Square was full of deviant behavior and people of poor repute.
Episode Three tackled (the respectable, intellectual, educated, great artist) singer-songwriter Amr Mostafa. Affaf Shoeib and her quote about Bizza Bel Kabab was the victim of Episode Four, while Episode Five focused on Tamer from Ghamra.
If none of these names sound familiar to you, then Bassem Youssef’s show is here to remind you of the hilarious but quite serious accusations that these people made during the revolution. In every episode, Youssef hits it on the nail with his subtle humour, sardonic smile and straight face in a refreshing, entertaining and educational way.
‘I’m not a stand-up comedian,’ he told Cairo 360, ‘the goal of my show is to make people think and remember the misleading media during the revolution.’
Like millions of Egyptians, Youssef was moved by the January 25th revolution and contributed by collecting donations, delivering blankets and even helping out at the Tahrir field hospital. Having witnessed the essence of the Tahrir spirit and the revolution, Youssef made it his personal mission to archive the media’s lies and hold them accountable.
‘I believe if you’re going to go on TV and say nonsense, you should pay for it,’ he said, ‘Especially if you’re an influential character and if what you’re saying is going to affect people. So if you’re going to get the perks of being a celebrity, you should pay for whatever damage you do to the people.’
This inspired Youssef to start writing the script for his show, and his friend Tarek Azaz, one of the few Middle Eastern partners in YouTube, encouraged him to have it produced. Youssef is the only amateur on the show’s team; director Mohamed Khalifa, Producer Amr Ismail and D.O.P Tarek Abdel Hamid are all seasoned professionals who previously worked on the video clip for ‘Sout El Horreya.’
With his show being the number one subscribed YouTube channel in Egypt, Youssef admits that the whole team is surprised by the show’s instant success: ‘We had a plan that maybe in one week we’d get 10,000 hits for our videos,’ he laughed.
It’s easy to relate to Youssef’s show because he’s funny, he tells it like it is, and avoids vulgarity. ‘I’m a little outspoken,’ he said, ‘I’m not sleazy. I’m just saying what everyone wants to say [about the media].’
A lot of preparation goes into the Bassem Youssef Show; for every five-minute episode, Youssef watches up to ten hours of YouTube video for research. The show is filmed in a spare room in his flat, much to the dismay of his very patient wife: ‘We film on Fridays, which is her cleaning day,’ he added sheepishly.
Youssef is in talks with several TV stations and production houses to air his shows on TV, but insists that he will only agree if he has a great writing team and if the show won’t be about cheap laughs.
‘I will fail if I’m on my own, I will run out material,’ he said. ‘To continue I need a team of clever writers and producers.’
With the next episode coming out this Monday, Youssef is interested in branching outside of Egypt, but pointed out that figures like Gadafi are easy targets. Instead, he’s looking for material, where the ‘videos speak for themselves’ and allow for his subtle political commentary.
While no public figure is safe from Youssef’s satire, the one topic he remains cautious about tackling is religion: ‘It’s a very sensitive topic so it has to be well written,’ he said. He is committed to showing extremism from both sides, and is careful not to associate himself with one political movement or ‘side’ to the story.
‘I don’t want to alienate people; so that when I express my opinion, they say ‘Yeah, he’s credible,’’ he said.
Born Bassem Raafat Mohamed Youssef, he is a graduate of Cairo University’s faculty of medicine in 1998. Having lived in the US and Germany for a few years, Youssef returned to Cairo over a year ago. Aside from his work as a heart surgeon, he is an avid sports fan, enjoys rock climbing and tango. He named his show B+ after his blood group and also because his message is to remain positive throughout everything. He is a big fan of Jon Stewart and has never dyed his hair.