Tickling Giants (2016)

March 26th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir Sara Taksler | Documentary with Bassem Youssef, Jon Stewart | USA 2016 |111 min.

During the Arab spring, cardiac surgeon Bassem Youssef from Cairo went to a demonstration against the regime of president Mubarak in Tahrir – an event which would change his life. Director/writer Sara Taksler, producer of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” has followed Bassem’s rise and fall as the face of his satirical TV programme “The Show”, which saw him taking on three presidents: Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi and Fattah el-Sisi, his audience reaching 30 million at its peak.

When Bassem was demonstrating in Tahrir against the near thirty-year rule of Mubarak, he wanted to help the victims of the police brutality but a teargas attack left him incapacitated and he remembers, “I saw two different realities, the one I saw in the streets, and the other reality I saw on television”. With his friend Tarek Elkazzaz and the cartoonist JF Andeel, Bassem started a satirical show “The B+ Show” on You Tube, which became so successful that Bassem gave up medicine and started “The Show” (Al-Bernameg) on TV. Soon he became a popular figure, and after the fall of Mubarak in 2011, to which he contributed, Bassem soon found out that Mubarak’s successor Mohamed Morsi, though democratically elected, turned out to be a ruthless dictator, who wanted to change the secular constitution of the country, turning it into an Islamic Republic.

After Morsi’s overthrow by the military, led by Fattah el-Sisi, the latter was elected as the new president in 2014, garnering a staggering 96% of all votes cast. Needless to say, that Bassem did not stop attacking the new regime, which was more or less a Mubarak 2.0 version. Helped by a visit from Jon Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” in the USA, Bassem at first seem to keep his audience, but the new regime instigated mass protests against “The Show”: A woman shouting into the camera of the State TV Station “Don’t mess with the Egyptian Army and Sisi!”. To which a Bassem supporter answered” Why are you against the man who fought against the Brotherhood?” Bassem would soon find out “how scary it was, to be a TV host”. Shot behind the scenes, we see the collaborators being equally frightened – after all the military had re-introduced Martial Law and nobody was safe. At first, the CBC TV station let Bassem and his crew go, and after they found a new station, the government blocked the transmission of “the Show”, a step, even Morsi had refrained from. With his family and friends frightened, Bassem finally gave up and said good-bye to his audience. But CBC went to court, and Bassem was convicted of having to pay a fine in the nine figures region “for breach of contract”. With two suitcases he fled with his wife and baby-daughter to the USA – trying to drum up support for a new TV show, whilst giving lectures. After Trump’s election, this may be just another ironic twist in Bassem’s search for freedom of expression.

Whilst TICKLING GIANTS tries to keep up the humour, it is truly very dark, even though Bassem jokes at the very end that he hopes that this documentary will make it easier for him to meet a nubile Italian film star –the reality is, that he could not even attend his father’s funeral in Cairo. And president el Sisi has certainly reached his long-term goal “of influencing the media”. Taksler is very professional, always interested in the changes of the show’s crew, where the participation in this daring enterprise has brought also personal liberation for the female members. But overall, there is no sign of a happy-end anywhere – the giants are marching on. AS


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