"Egypt's Jon Stewart" Has One Big Concern: "Sucking at the Emmys"
Bassem Youssef, host of the International Emmys, says about his fellow Middle Easterners, "It seems the planet doesn’t want us anymore," and has one piece of advice for former 'Daily Show' host Stewart: "Hire me."
A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Compared to facing down authoritarian governments, as you did on your Egyptian satire show Al-Bernameg, hosting the International Emmys must seem like a breeze.
Being in the face of a dictatorship can cost me my show, my freedom of expression or, in a worst-case scenario, my freedom. But sucking at the Emmys will give me bad reviews at The Hollywood Reporter and "Page Six" in the New York Post. I can't handle that — this is definitely my worst nightmare.
Are you planning much political satire for the show? How does the U.S. presidential election race compare with elections back home, for example?
With everything that is happening in the world, how could you avoid politics? So yes, there should be some. As for the presidential elections in America and comparing it with what we have in the Middle East, well, it all ends with one president in power right? Who cares what happens till we have one. So, in a nutshell, there aren’t that many differences. Wink Wink!
You finally abandoned Al-Bernameg after intense pressure from the authoritarian regime there. What would it take for you to start up your show again?
Al-Bernameg belongs to Egypt. I said many times that I have no desire to do the show from outside. I don’t want to be put in that situation of a fugitive dissident who is attacking from outside. I might have my views and sometimes I am vocal with them, but having a full-fledged show [outside the country] could make me lose a lot of credibility back home. To have the show as it was, in Arabic and from inside the country, the political atmosphere has to totally transform. It is not the best move for me right now.
What, if anything, do you find funny about the current situation in the Middle East?
The whole thing is a farce. We, as Middle Eastern, seem to be cursed. It is not going well for us there, and it seems it won't be going well for us where we are escaping to — it seems the planet doesn't want us anymore. Many don't know if they should stay or leave because either way they are doomed. Now, on a lighter note … well, there isn't any.
American viewers seem to get their image of Arabs from watching Homeland and 24. What shows from the Mideast should they watch to get a real picture of the region and its people?
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Homeland. I mean, they are the show that really gets the racist in you. I have to thank the makers of that show for doing their best in horribly portraying all of us. So, thank you. As for what to watch from the Middle East, well, we have cooking shows, like the rest of the planet; we have vibrant soccer leagues, like the rest of the planet — except the U.S.; and I remember watching a show where there were a bunch of Arabs talking normally — you know, like the rest of the planet! The Middle East is huge, like America. It has over 350 million people living there doing normal stuff, like America. It has places that are not that great and others that are amazing to live in and to visit — like North Dakota and the rest of America.
Jon Stewart was the inspiration for your show. Any advice on what he should do with his newfound spare time?