Bassem Youssef: The Jon Stewart of the Arab World

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Stand-up comedian Bassem Youssef, who has been dubbed the Jon Stewart of the Arab World, is appearing at ASU Gammage on Saturday, Jan. 22. He is a former heart surgeon, revolutionary activist, political comedian, podcaster, and author of children’s books. He created the most popular political satire show in the Middle East until those in power in the region had him arrested, forcing him to escape his home country of Egypt. Now he lives in the U.S. and has been named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, under the “Pioneers” category, and continues to challenge power with one of the most powerful weapons: humor.

Despite his background in the medical field as a heart surgeon, Youssef began posting satirical videos to YouTube, which then evolved to a comedy show, mocking the state-run media, an experience he described as scary, fun, and interesting all in one. After three years, Youssef’s government had enough and placed him under arrest. Youssef said he fled to America to avoid a 100 million pound fine, which the government was using to silence him without alerting the rest of the world. Youssef managed to catch a flight and escape to America just in time where he continues his comedy in English.

Comedy in English is not the same as what he was used to. He said he had to teach himself “a new form of art,” as comedy is not universal. He said understanding nuances, history, background, and references are important and without them comedy does not translate. “I did not understand John Stewart in the beginning… What are Republicans? What are Democrats?” Youssef had to rewire his brain to do comedy in a foreign language and setting.

Bassem Youssef will be performing at Arizona State University’s Gammage Theatre on Saturday, January 22, 2022.

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