Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Robin Young and Bassem Youssef converse at the Kennedy Library

Bassem Youssef converses with a member of the audience at the Kennedy Library after
 his on stage conversation with Robin Young.                                 Photo by Marash Girl

Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian satirist and former host of the popular Egyptian TV show, Al-Bernameg, held court with WBUR's Robin Young (Here and Now) last night at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. Considered the "John Stewart of Egypt", while broadcasting in Egypt, he had 40 million viewers a week.

Beginning his career in Egypt as a cardiac surgeon, he soon became a renowned TV comic. (What's so funny about that?)  (He hinted that the surgeons practiced their humor while their patients were under anesthesia.)    "Broadcasting is about money, power, and politics," he said, and continued:  "Political satire and humor can breed peace. . .Here in the United States, none is silenced -- people can express their opinions openly; whether there will be change is a different matter. . . In the Arab world, we don't have this luxury."  Once he had to leave Egypt, he refused to do the same program from outside because it would not be satire then.  "Folks were hurt every time I spoke in public."  And when Robin Young asked about his future, he answered, "I hope to reinvent myself somehow.  I live in Dubai now as do my wife and daughter  (though presently I am a visiting scholar at Harvard University).   I'd like to do a Pan Arab show."  When asked about Isis, Youssef exclaimed, "Isis are stupid people -- crazy -- They're not everywhere. . ."  

When Robin Young asked him, "What in the United States is so funny?" Youssef answered, without hesitation, "Fox News and Donald Trump (the wig, of course)!  I actually respect him.  He's honest."

Youssef admitted to missing his country where it's warm and sunny -- "something you don't know about here in New England.  I miss my family.  Sometimes I wake up and I don't know what city I'm in.  I woke up one day and I was in Vegas. . ."

Robin Young asked Youssef whether he could translate any of his jokes from Arabic into English.  His answer:  Humor is a third language.  In Arabic, much of our humor comes from the use of profanity."  And on politics, he commented, "In Egypt, the military is more sacred than religion. . . Why would history make any exception for us?  In Egypt, we're in the 1960's. . . If you don't have money to buy a time machine, just go to Egypt!"

"In Egypt," Youssef continued,  "there are lots of divorces because of political issues.  (Do Democrats marry Republicans here in the U.S.?)  And many parents report their children to the authorities! . . . My personal life has been a mess My family is game for everybody, so my family is living in Dubai now. . . In Egypt, people are questioning everything now: religious authority, autocratic authority, the status quo."


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