Bassem at Chatham House London Conference 2016
|Birth name||Bassem Raafat Mohamed Youssef|
|Born||22 March 1974|
|Medium||Stand-up, television, books|
|Alma mater||Cairo University|
|Genres||Political/news satire, observational comedy, surreal comedy, black comedy, sarcasm, insult comedy|
|Subject(s)||Mass media/news media/media criticism, American politics, Egyptian culture, current events, religion, pop culture, race relations, racism, human sexuality|
Hala Diab (m. 2010)
|Notable works and roles|
Bassem Raafat Mohamed Youssef (Arabic: باسم رأفت محمد يوسف, IPA: [ˈbæːsem ˈɾɑʔfɑt mæˈħæmmæd ˈjuːsef]; born 22 March 1974) is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, surgeon, doctor, media critic, and television host, who hosted El-Bernameg (The Show), a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. In 2013, he was named as one of the "100 most influential people in the world" by Time magazine. Youssef's current projects are Tickling Giants, The Democracy Handbook, and Revolution For Dummies.
Bassem Youssef graduated from Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine, majoring in cardiothoracic surgery, in 1998. He passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination and has been a member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) since February 2007. He practiced as a cardiothoracic surgeon in Egypt for 13 years, until his move into comedy and political satirism. He also received training in cardiac and lung transplantation in Germany, after which he spent a year and a half in the US working for a company that produces medical equipment related to cardiothoracic surgery. In January 2011, Youssef assisted the wounded in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution. Youssef has credited surgery for making him "a much harder working person, a nerd, a perfectionist."
The B+ Show (March 2011)
Inspired by the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Youssef created his first satirical show in March 2011. The initial idea came from his friend Tarek ElKazzaz. Entitled The B+ Show after his blood type, the program, at 5 minutes per episode, was uploaded to his YouTube channel in May 2011 and gained more than five million views in the first three months alone. The show was shot in Youssef's laundry room using a table, a chair, one camera, and a mural of amateur photos from Tahrir Square that cost $100. The show was a collaboration by Youssef with Tarek ElKazzaz, Amr Ismail, Mohamed Khalifa, and Mostafa Al-Halawany. Youssef used social media to showcase his talent and his show gave a voice to the millions of Egyptians who were seething with anger from the traditional media's coverage of the Egyptian Revolution.
Al Bernameg Season 1 (September 2011)
After the success of The B+ Show, Egyptian channel ONTV, owned by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, offered Youssef a deal for Al Bernameg (literally, "The Program"). Youssef had planned to move to Cleveland to practice medicine but instead signed his show's contract. With a budget of roughly half a million dollars, the series made him the first Internet to TV conversion in the Middle East. The show, which consisted of 104 episodes, premiered during Ramadan 1432 (2011) with Egyptian-American engineer Muhammad Radwan as its first guest. In his show, Youssef has parodied such Egyptian celebrities as show host Tawfik Okasha, composer Amr Mostafa, Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, and Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and onetime presidential candidate. The show became the platform for many writers, artists, and politicians to speak freely about the social and political scene. Al-Bernameg's success inspired a number of amateur initiatives on various social media channels, who credit The B+ Show as their inspiration.
The Daily Show 2012
In June 2012, Jon Stewart invited Youssef to The Daily Show for an extended interview, "...I do know a little something about the humour business; your show is sharp, you're really good on it, it's smart, it's well executed, I think the world of what you're doing down there," Stewart said to Youssef. The segment was one of the highest in viewership on the Daily Show's website.
Al Bernameg Season 2 (November 2012)
Following the success of The B+ Show on YouTube and the first season of Al-Bernameg on ONTV, Tarek ElKazzaz convinced an old friend, Ahmed Abbas, to join QSoft as chief operations officer and Project Director for Al-Bernameg with the mission of developing and upgrading the show into a multifaceted and global brand. This was done with the help of a team that covered many disciplines, including marketing, operations, legal and public relations. This all helped in developing both Bassem Youssef and Al-Bernameg on all levels and created a global audience. The show Al Bernameg was renewed for a second season after a contract with a second channel, CBC (Capital Broadcast Center), which premiered on November 23, 2012. The second season consisted of 29 episodes and has recorded one of the highest viewership ratings on both TV and internet with 40 million viewers on TV and more than 184 million combined views for his show on YouTube alone. Just three episodes into the show, several lawsuits were filed against Bassem Youssef and his show, mainly for "insult and defamation". On the season's premiere, Youssef made the owner and coworkers of his channel the subject of his show, as an assurance that he is granted full freedom of expression, and that no topic was off limits. CBC did not, however, air his second episode, which also featured further criticism of a TV show host who filed a lawsuit against Youssef. The show returned to its regular schedule for the third episode.
The program, which began with a small group working at home with Youssef, moved from ONTV's smallest studio to Radio theater in downtown Cairo, a theatre redesigned in the likeness of New York's Radio City, making it the first live audience show in the Middle East. The contents of a typical show's broadcast have evolved, which began with a sarcastic take on current political events, and eventually incorporating the hosting of public figures and stars from various fields, as well as various artists' performances. In November 2012, Al-Bernameg moved from ONTV's smallest studio to Radio Theatre in Cairo's downtown. Following the move, Youssef succeeded in increasing the show's worth by eight times in one year. The second season, which premiered in November 2012 on CBC network, was the first real live audience show in Egypt. The show gained tremendous success through its criticism of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, representing the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon after the show started airing, complaints were filed against Youssef, accusing him of insulting Islam, Morsi and disrupting public order and peace.
Youssef also wrote newspaper columns, where he tackled taboo subjects such as atheism and questioning the commonly held view that apostasy from Islam should be punishable by death. On March 18, 2014, he faced plagiarism accusations by his readers, and through Twitter, by the original British writer, Ben Judah, who wrote the article for Politico magazine. He later published an apology in El Sherouk newspaper for initially publishing an article without citing any references.
America in Arabic
As Al-Bernameg continued with its growing success, Jon Stewart appeared as a guest on the show in June 2013.
CBC stops airing
After a four-month break, Youssef appeared on air in October 2013, with a show that stirred much controversy and criticism. In response to the popular criticism and discontent the show caused, CBC, the show's broadcaster, distanced itself from the show and its creators, and decided to stop airing it on its channels. Meanwhile, more than 30 complaints against Youssef and the show were filed at the General Prosecutor's office, accusing him of insulting the Egyptian Armed Forces and President Adly Mansour and describing the June 30 protests as a military coup, in addition to disrupting public order and peace. The General Prosecutor transferred some of the complaints for investigation, which were subject to the prosecutor's decision and judgment.
Al Bernameg Season 3 (October 2013)
After terminating the contract with CBC, the production company behind Al Bernameg received offers from different TV channels. The third season was scheduled to air during the first quarter of 2014. In February 2014 it was announced that Youssef had signed a deal with the Middle East Broadcasting Center and that they would start broadcasting Al Bernameg from 7 February on MBC MASR. However the program was suspended by MBC during the 2014 Egyptian presidential election campaign, and in June 2014 Youssef announced that he was ending Al-Bernameg as he felt that the political climate in Egypt was too dangerous to continue the show.
After a four-month break, Al Bernameg returned to air for its third series on 25 October 2013. The season premiere marked the first broadcast for the show since the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état had deposed Mohamed Morsi from the Egyptian presidency. Youssef criticised both the Morsi administration and the people's idolization of the Egyptian Defense Minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. The following day the CBC network issued a statement distancing the channel from the political stance taken by Youssef. The CBC network issued another statement, and decided to stop broadcasting Al Bernameg because of violations in the contract signed.
Al-Bernameg reappeared on MBC Masr satellite channel on February 7, 2014, achieving unprecedented weekly viewership ratings for 11 consecutive weeks. In June 2014, and after a six-week break, the Al-Bernameg team held a press conference where Youssef announced the termination of the show due to pressure on both the show and the airing channel.
Life in the USA: 2014-Present
In February 2015, it was announced that Youssef was collaborating with The Daily Show producer Sara Taksler to launch a crowd-funding campaign for her documentary about his experience, Tickling Giants. Youssef stated that he couldn't say no to her request to do the documentary as, "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 ..."
In the fall of 2016, Youssef was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL). His research interests were stated as "political satire and its role in disrupting political, social and religious taboos."
In February 2016, it was announced that Youssef had reached a deal with Fusion to produce a digital series, Democracy Handbook with Bassem Youssef. The show premiered online and in a one-hour broadcast special in mid-July 2016.
Tickling Giants, a documentary film about Bassem Youssef directed by Sara Taksler, premiered on April 14, 2016, at the Tribeca Film Festival. John Oliver and Ed Helms were moderators for Q&As at screenings in Los Angeles. It became available for purchase in June 2017. The film is available for streaming on Netflix in 30 countries (excluding Canada and the US as of September 2019). Unsurprisingly, it is not legally circulated in Egypt.
In 2017 Youssef guest-starred in the DuckTales reboot episode "The Living Mummies of Toth-Ra!" as the titular pharaoh.
In 2019, Bassem Youssef began the YouTube channel PlantBtv. His new online show combines his comedic, medical, and vegan background. It seeks to educate both Arabic and English audiences on nutrition and food science as it connects to health and wellbeing.
Bassem Youssef has done a variety of public speaking events in the US and Canada. He has also appeared on a variety of US media outlets. He has been interviewed for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, has twice appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and has been interviewed by Larry King and Trevor Noah. As of fall 2019, Youssef has regular standup comedy shows in San Francisco. His comedy for the western audience has a focus on immigration, refugees, terrorism, and the Arab experience in America.
Response of Egyptian Government
On 1 January 2013, the daily Al-masry Al-youm reported that an Egyptian prosecutor was investigating Bassem Youssef on charges of maligning President Mohammed Morsi, whose office claimed that Youssef's show was "circulating false news likely to disturb public peace and public security and affect the administration."
Despite all of the controversy it sparks, Al Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Bassem Youssef's YouTube channel the most subscribed to in Egypt.
On 30 March 2013, an arrest warrant was issued for Youssef for allegedly insulting Islam and Morsi. The move was seen by opponents as part of an effort to silence dissent against Morsi's government. Youssef confirmed the arrest warrant on his Twitter account and said he would hand himself in to the prosecutor's office, jokingly adding, "Unless they kindly send a police van today and save me the transportation hassle." The following day, he was questioned by authorities before being released on bail of 15,000 Egyptian pounds. The event sparked international media attention as well as a segment on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show in which he declared his support for Youssef, calling him a "friend" and "brother".
After Al Bernameg ended, the Egyptian police raided the offices of the production company, arresting several employees and confiscating their computers. According to Youssef, the police told producer Amr Ismail that they would continue harassing the company if Youssef did not stop speaking publicly at international conferences. The Egyptian courts then levied a E£50 million fine against Youssef in a contract dispute with CBC. In the verdict, the courts condemned satirical television shows and implied that Youssef was disrupting the peace and inciting public unrest. Fearing he would be arrested if he stayed in Egypt, Youssef fled to Dubai in November 2014.
In November 2013, Youssef's role in the media was recognized by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which awarded him with the International Press Freedom Award, along with three other journalists.
Al Bernameg was chosen by South by Southwest, one of the largest international interactive festivals, as the first and most successful internet to TV conversion story in the Middle East. Al Bernameg's YouTube channel was the first channel in the MENA region to reach one million subscribers and was awarded the gold button trophy.
Youssef lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California with his wife, an Egyptian-Palestinian, and their daughter, Nadia (b.~2012), and son, Adam (b. 2017). Youssef is a Muslim. When asked if he will ever return to Egypt and if he misses Egypt he has responded "no".
For 19 years he studied and worked in the field of medicine. He worked as a cardiothoracic surgeon when Al Bernameg was on hiatus. In his capacity as a doctor, he assisted wounded Tahrir Square protesters after the Battle of the Camel.
In 2014, Youssef changed his diet to a whole-food, plant-based diet after realizing that his diet was the main reason for his feeling tired and lacking energy. He had tried different diets, including protein diets, low carb diets, and low-fat diets, however, his weight was never stable and he suffered from insomnia and chronic fatigue. Youssef is a proponent of yoga and pilates. He also enjoys kitesurfing and running.
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As a Muslim and Arab, Youssef aspires to bring new perspective for the American audience.
- "Plant B الحلقة الأولى | في بيتنا نباتي - Lunch with A Vegan". Youtube.
- Montasser, Farah (29 August 2011). "Revolutionary satire: Bassem Youssef speaks to Ahram Online". Ahram Online. Retrieved 9 January 2014.
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- "HOW I TURNED TO PLANT BASED DIET? PART ONE". Blog.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bassem Youssef.|
- Bassem Youssef on IMDb
- Bassem Youssef on Twitter
- Profile and articles at alarabiya.net
- Articles on shorouknews.com (in Arabic)
- AmericaBlAraby on YouTube (in Arabic)
- Albernameg website
- Albernameg YouTube Channel
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Bassem Youssef at Oslofreedomforum.com
- Daily Show with Jon Stewart Clip