Bassem Youssef on rumours, satire and the documentary Tickling Giants

The Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef talks about his new documentary that's based on him and the show Al Bernameg, whether he could take over The Daily Show after Jon Stewart's departure and his project in the Arab world.

The Egyptian satirist and Al Bernameg host Bassem Youssef, centre, and his team announce the end of the show. Khaled Desouki / AFP

Given the reaction to his work by the authorities, Bassem Youssef rarely gives interviews and he has said little about Tickling Giants. This week, however, he took part in an online discussion on Reddit with a select group of fans and supporters. The National was also invited. Youssef is in the United States working at The Institute of Politics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a resident fellow for the spring term. Here are some of the highlights of what the Egyptian revealed about his work and the upcoming documentary.

On future plans and returning to Egypt

“I’m staying in the US until I finish my residency at Harvard at the end of the spring break, and then I will go back to Dubai, where I reside at the moment. It’s still too early to decide. I’m taking a break and focusing all my attention in supporting the documentary.

“My next project is working with Arab talents across the Arab world in order to fulfil their own dream through digital media. And if you support my documentary, you will definitely see me soon.”

On rumours his satirical TV comedy Al Bernameg will be relaunched in Dubai

“There are so many rumours that have been circulating about me, including that I am a secret alien. But as you can see, all of them are not true.”

On whether we’ll see more Daily Show appearances. Could he take over hosting the show when Jon Stewart steps down this year?

“Well, I’m here in Boston. I’m four hours away by train from New York – if they want me, they know where to find me.”

On whether he would consider taking Al Bernameg back to YouTube, where he launched the show

“People who had followed the programme on the live show have some expectations for the performers and the quality of the programme. Going back to YouTube would be a step backwards and it would be disappointing for so many people expecting a certain level of performance.

“Doing a show is not a single-­handed effort, it is doing it with a whole team, and it is difficult to get this team to change their mindsets from performing onstage, and getting it back on YouTube.

“I have said before, in my press conference as we were ending the programme, that banning the programme is a message louder than anything that could ever be said. And we stand by this.”

On how he became involved with Tickling Giants

"I got involved by being harassed by Sara Taksler to be the subject of this documentary. I couldn't tell her no because at the time she was working at The Daily Show and I didn't want to say no to anybody working with Jon Stewart. So I basically said yes to be on his good side – but I discovered it didn't really make any difference, so if we went back in time, I would perhaps have second thoughts about being in this documentary. But now I am amazed at the kind of work Sara has put in, documenting my experience to put it in the archives of history."

On regrets about agreeing to Tickling Giants when he could, perhaps, have settled into a cosy academic career

“No, I don’t regret at all having gone through this journey. It gave me the chance to meet wonderful people and have wonderful fans. So please don’t let me regret this move, and go and donate.”

On his hopes for the public’s response to the movie

“I hope that people’s response will be in the form of understanding this era of Egyptian history and understanding the importance of political satire in promoting free speech. And also, it’s quite entertaining, so I hope you are entertained.”

His advice for Egyptian youth

“Eat well, brush your teeth and be kind to your fellow Egyptians.”

• Visit the Tickling Giants’ crowdfunding campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/tickling-giants--2

cnewbould@thenational.ae