The streets of Cairo, Egypt erupt with protests over politics. There's one man giving a voice to those without power. He is representing the people through satirical comedy, directed at the ruling elites. That man is Dr. Bassem Youssef, and he is the subject of Sara Taksler's extraordinary documentary; "Tickling Giants".
"Tickling Giants" follows Bassem Youssef (the proclaimed "Egyptian Jon Stewart") as he pushes the boundaries of Egyptian regimes in a political satire comedy show. As the only one of it's kind in Egypt, "The Show" garnered over 30 million views each week, accounting for more than 40% of the Egyptian population (to put that in perspective, "The Daily Show," Americans ultimate political satire comedy, only reached 2 million views at the height of it's popularity)!
Egypt is not a country known for their freedom of speech and tolerance of dissent, so Taksler, the film's creator, was fascinated by the work Bassem Youssef, a heart surgeon turned YouTube comedian turned late night television host, was doing in Egypt. She could never have predicted what was to come.
Find the trailer here, and think I hope you get the chance to then watch the film, because...
1. It's funny.
If you're at all familiar with "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart/Trevor Noah, then you know it's a comedy show based on intelligent and sometimes scathing satire. And as someone who used to watch it almost daily, I can tell you, it was hilarious.
Bassem Youssef models his comedy show, aptly titled "The Show," or "AlBernameg" in Arabic, off of "The Daily Show," but the stakes are much higher in Egypt's authoritarian regime. That doesn't stop Youssef and his team from giving comedy their best effort, and the result is a laugh-out-loud journey of jokes, success, and some of the hardest setbacks in the history of comedic television.
2. It's interesting.
"Tickling Giants" not only tells the story of Youssef, it also chronicles the efforts of his staff, the evolution of his show and the changing political environment of Egypt. With beautiful and eye-opening footage, as well as a collection of interviews with both supporters and protesters alike, there is not a second of the documentary's 111 minutes wasted. Fans of satire and drama, political news and late-night tv alike will find something to love in Taksler's masterpiece.
3. It’s a cautionary tale.
"This show is about holding authority accountable, regardless of who's in charge." Youssef can be found saying in the trailer and publicity events beyond. This documentary and Youssef's journey perfectly show the dangers of a regime that is afraid of comedy and demonizes/tries to limit the press. It quickly shows the erosion of rights that we take for granted in the Western world and clues us in on just what we need to notice in order not to lose those rights.
Words are powerful. And when an authority in power tries to inhibit control, it may be time to start "tickling giants".
4. It's got some fun animation.
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On staff at Youssef's "The Show," there was an expert animator who contributed his talents to the film. These drawings perfectly encapsulate what the documentary, and Youssef's actions, are about. With huge Godzilla-like dictators stomping on cities to Youssef's character running around the streets brandishing his feather like a weapon, these little scenes add a whole new element unique to many documentaries that come before.
5. It's professional.
Everything about the documentary is well-put together, well-said, and all around expertly done. With clear film from interviews, snippets of Youssef's show and footage from many riots and protests throughout the streets of Cairo, it is no secret that this film is built to last. And last it should, because it's messages and ideals are a privilege for anyone to learn (more on that below).
6. It's powerful.
"There's a lot to laugh at, and to learn from, in Tickling Giants," says New York Times critic, Ken Jaworowski. Director Sara Taksler would agree.
I got the chance to meet her, and besides her well-spoken ideals about the power of comedy in the political sphere, she told me that if nothing else, the main lesson she wants to impart on people through her film is this: "Find creative, nonviolent ways to express yourself when you see an abuse of power."
This is what Bassem Youssef is doing through his show, and as you observe his journey from surgeon to late-night comedian, you'll begin to fully appreciate the life you have and hopefully come away with these 5 takeaways.
7. It's eye-opening.
It's obvious to many that Western powers largely possess a certain stereotype and stigma around the Middle East. These prevailing generalizations many hold, from ideas of Middle Eastern culture, religions, peoples, etc., can prevent us from really attempting to learn about different parts of the world. "Tickling Giants" gives Western audiences, who Taksler often stated was her target audience for making this film, a chance to peer into this other area of the world and realize that culture and people are not something to be stigmatized, but something to be appreciated and understood.
Not only is it opening eyes to another culture, the film also reminds audiences how lucky they are to have free speech, an idea that's under attack in many areas of the world. Youssef's struggles throughout making this show (of which we see plainly through the lens of the documentary camera) remind us just how powerful our words are, and to not take them for granted.
8. It's really good.
I've watched the entire thing, and would do so again in a second. Every part of it is engaging and it's hard to know what comes next. Everyone I've talked to in my life has loved it, but don't just take it from me or my community. Take it from these well-known reviewers:
""Tickling Giants" is a terrific movie that leaves you cherishing (a little more) the freedom we have, and holding in contempt (a little more) those who would compromise it."-Variety
""Tickling Giants" surprises us on several levels."-LA Times
"A beautiful, funny, charming, insightful, laugh until you cry, and then cry until you laugh film."-Huffington Post
"A first-rate documentary"-The New York Times
9. It's easy to get.
Note: these dates are for 2017 so you can get the movie now without waiting
After you watch the trailer (and finish this article), you can find "Tickling Giants" almost immediately wherever you are. Here are some of the best places you can find this extraordinary documentary:
I hope this article has convinced you to watch "Tickling Giants", or if you have already watched it, reflect on the many positive aspects of the movie.
Tickling Giants is daring, funny, and more timely than ever. I hope you get a chance to witness it.