Bassem Youssef Says Egyptian Media Isn't That Different From the U.S.

June 11, 2018

By Max Godnick

When ABC soured on "Roseanne" the network cancelled the hit comedy, despite its massive ratings. In a much more drastic move, when Egyptian authorities grew tired of the host of that country's first satirical talk show, they exiled him.

Bassem Youssef was the host of the comedic news program El-Bernameg from 2011 until its cancellation in 2014. During that time, he earned the moniker "The Egyptian Jon Stewart" and even had his counterpart on as a guest for his show. Now, he describes himself as living in exile in Los Angeles, as he transitions into a career in entertainment in the United States.

Youssef enters an American comedic landscape that's seen a number of high-profile controversies over the past few months. From the outcry surrounding Samantha Bee's comments about Ivanka Trump to Michelle Wolf's now infamous stint at the White House Correspondents Dinner, the line between comedy and politics may never have been more blurred in the U.S.

But it's a phenomenon that Youssef says was present during his days on the air in Egypt.

"People looked at me sometimes as a political leader, which I never assumed. It's a role I never assumed, I never accepted," Youssef said Monday in an interview with Cheddar's Baker Machado.

"I think because people see the failure in media, the failure in politics, they turn to comedians, and that's very dangerous because we have a very limited role," he said.

Youssef added that's one of many similarities between American and Middle Eastern media.

"Media is the same everywhere, especially if it's directed toward a certain agenda," said Youssef.

He said he's noticed similar themes between Egyptian coverage of the Arab Spring and some American outlets' descriptions of national protest movements. He noted that conservative networks in both countries accused students and protesters of being paid actors planted for the cameras.

Originally a medical doctor, Youssef began posting comedic videos to YouTube during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Eventually, he said the show drew in as many as 30 million viewers a week - in large part, thanks to its haters.

"Even people who hated the show, half of the 30 million people just hate-watched the show," said Youssef.

Now, Youssef is hoping his latest project, a podcast called ReMade in America, will reach similar ratings heights. The program features conversations between immigrants about their experiences in the United States and is available on Apple Podcasts now.

For full interview, click here.