Bassem Youssef and Ahmed Ahmed: The Risk and Rewards of Satire

April 13, 2015

While Bassem Youssef’s satirical voice has made him widely known as the Egyptian Jon Stewart, merely five years ago Youssef was a heart surgeon broadcasting humorous political commentary on YouTube from his laundry room. His videos soon exploded in popularity, and by 2011 he had moved his satirical show to television. In 2012 Jon Stewart invited Youssef to join him on The Daily Show, and shortly thereafter in 2013 Time Magazine named Bassem Youssef one of the “100 most influential people in the world.” Unfortunately, some would like to see his influence muted, and the political climate in Egypt has made it too dangerous for Youssef to continue producing his show.

On Point of Inquiry this week, Youssef is joined by international comedian Ahmed Ahmed and host Josh Zepps, and the three of them discuss the role of satire in provoking real political change. Ahmed, like Yousself, has had to learn the hard way that satirists walk a fine line between pushing boundaries while trying not to break them.

Youssef is currently working with a senior producer at The Daily Show to create a documentary about Youssef’s journey of standing up to an entire regime with his fearless comedy, entitled Tickling Giants.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 13, 2015. 

I’m Josh Zepps, host of Huff Post Live, and this is a podcast of the Center for Inquiry. Today’s show is something a little bit different. I was invited by the Harvard Institute of Politics to speak at a study group about satire and its impact on culture and power. The resident fellow leading the class is a superstar satirist in the Middle East. Bassem Youssef, he’s the Arab world’s Jon Stewart. His satirical TV show in Egypt started during the revolution in 2011 as just a YouTube show shots in his laundry room. But it gained more than five million views in three months. It was picked up by a TV station in Egypt’s newly liberated media climate. And it became a bombshell across the whole Arab world, with 40 million viewers who’d just never seen satirical free speech lampooning authorities with impunity like that. He had the most subscribed to YouTube channel in Egypt with hundreds of millions of views. Jon Stewart had Bassem on The Daily Show. In 2012, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But as the revolution fizzled and as President Mohamed Morsi was deposed and the Egyptian military reasserted control, his show was squeezed off the air in 2014 and Bassem moved to America for his residency at Harvard. Joining me at the study group was another popular Egyptian comedian, Ahmed Ahmed, who was raised in California and who now sells out stadiums in Dubai and Jordan, Egypt and elsewhere. After 9/11, he toured America with the groundbreaking show One Arab, One Jew, One Stage and later the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. Bassem and Ahmed are friends. I recorded this informal conversation with them at Harvard to get their thoughts on Islam, comedy, politics and free speech. Enjoy. 

Basman Ahmed, thanks for being on point of inquiry. Well, first of all, it’s not Burzum and asthma. Right. Right. So you white people get. They get you print stations. Right. 

It’s Bassem, Bassem and Asherman. Mama. No, not Asima does not. You know, I say Achmad H. 

H no. E.H.. 

Yes. It’s a soft one. I don’t get the. And everything, you know, it’s like. Yes. So you see Arab peoples. All right. It’s like we look girdling and we don’t like Flemyng, right? Yes, exactly. Don’t be so white. 

Bassem Yeah. That. Yes. Better. How did how did you come to prominence in Egypt? Yes, I’m prominent. I’m a prominent person like you. I’m like I’m like a Bruce. So. So basically I didn’t plan to do it. 

So I just I was in Tahrir like as a doctor, kind of like attending to the injured people in the demonstrations. 

And then the the whole thing is basically you go to Tahrir Square and you see it’s a revolution. 

You come back and you look at the mainstream media and the state run media and you think it’s, oh, my God, it’s like it’s a total conspiracy. Everybody wants to outdo it, to get it to to get us out of this hypocrisy. 

There’s a lot of laughter, especially when the revolution succeeded in toppling Mubarak. And then this is like, you know what? Somebody has to document that. So we start I so I started collecting the YouTube videos and doing YouTube videos on my own. What were they what was the content? 

Basically how the media reacted to the revolution, how the they brainwashed the public through false reports, through lies, through deceit. And it was hilarious. It was hilarious. I mean, suddenly Ethiopia and Eritrea wants to war in war with us and they are part of the conspiracy. 

Everybody in the world was conspiring against us, and that was that was part of it. And I just didn’t think too much of it. I thought, like, maybe I’ll get ten thousand views, two monthly draft, five me and less than a month I was I was signed my first TV contract. And so it’s like the Justin Bieber visa. 

Only I, I only I’m older and have more chest hair. 

That’s that’s incredible. Were you able to you were able to witness the situation with your own resources documented and then be recognized so much that, you know, you get your own TV show. 

I mean, that’s but this is something that you do every day. There’s something or the cameraman doesn’t know the day to day. It does that on stage. It’s observational comedy. The difference is that we got to Brown Nose each night. 

Oh, you’re going. I don’t know. 

You’re gonna get to Egyptians liking it, you know, rather that the thing is, is what I’ve and I’ve been doing this twenty plus years doing standup comedy and, you know, trying to be an actor in front of a voice and a place in Hollywood also managed to do it every year. 

Yeah. I mean, it’s it’s incredible the escalation of the rabbit being mean to me. 

But because, like, you’re like that one year is already on and I packed like busy medium in each of those a vacuum. Right. So it is like just like you just hit direct, quote, indirect plays and it was like you fill the vacuum. And I said, what time what. 

Why you though. What was what was it about your code that happened to fill that vacuum? 

I don’t know. I mean, seriously, I mean that I can I can theorize and give you, like, all the. Please go ahead. Yeah, but it’s I mean I mean, let’s face it, it was just timing, you know, good chance and good material at that time. 

My mother would say hello alla. 

Yeah. Alone because God knows it was it was rhythm, it was written. I don’t know where it was written. So somebody wrote about some came along and look not to go back to the brownnosing thing. 

Yeah. But look articulate, funny first and foremost handsome just has natural charisma that people like to watch it. 

You know, when people call him the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, even better and nothing not to take anything away from Jon Stewart, but, you know, Jon Stewart had a certain sort of, I think one dimensional, maybe two dimensional way about his approach to his show, whereas you have so many different dimensions and your character does as well. And I think it’s it’s, you know, speaks to labor. 

But, Jon, I have to say, like, Jon’s like he’s a great educator here. I’ve been watching his show for ten years. And then when it just I didn’t know that how much I absorbed his style, absorbed his approach and his intellect. And when it came to time and just like it exploded and for for me, I really thought that, like, what we’re doing is gonna be crap. And we just saw the views and we saw that everybody wanted to actually sign this. 

So once it was a TV show and once you start saw those numbers starting to go through the roof from once you were actually picked up in other in other countries in the Middle East and you actually had an influence. How did your life change? 

Oh, it basically screwed up because, like, now I’m. I was that doctor going to Cleveland. Now I’m staying at the Eagle. I’m having a life political satire show. Listen, you know, we can speak Blake right, left about like how we changed my life and depression or whatever. But I ended up meeting incredible people I met. I’m a John Stewart. I’m a John Oliver. I’m an all incredible comedian that I was actually watching on television. You know, we know when the first time I saw it, I so Ahmed was playing a DVD in my room in my house in 2007. Axis of Evil Comedy Tour. This is how I knew Ahmed. But I didn’t know him before that. So suddenly, a few years later, because now I am a TV star. I am hosting. I’m presenting him on stage. When he came to Egypt. So this is it. If people tell me what the what you come out with this express, was it money? Was it fame? No, it’s people. It is the people that you have idealized and you respected. And suddenly your on first name or first name basis with them. You know, like we’re friends. We’re like he crashes at his house. He crashes my house. We travel together. I mean, we’re friends. I go to John. I mean, we ask each other. I mean, he asks about you, Amy, how are you doing? We’re friends. This guy. This is the thing. The thing that you take from fame. Good people. 

It’s not the money because, you know, fame goes away, but good people, states don’t tell about the political and cultural impact of what you were doing at the time. So this is an incredibly turbulent time in Egypt, obviously coming out of decades of military dictatorship. Did you think of yourself as as simply being a kind of a jester and a comedian, or did you think of yourself as taking part in this momentous shift? And what was your role in that? 

The most important thing as a comedian or a gesture is never to take yourself too seriously. And it’s like I’m Omar. I’m an activist for change. I’m an enabler because this is where people start to put more weight on your role as it is. Your your the role of satire is not to change. The role of satire is to bring more people to the table to discuss a certain issue that without satire, they wouldn’t have actually spoke about it because politics is too complicated. It is, too. It’s a lot of like political jargon, but satire. Everybody can relate to. So if you want to speak about harassment, if you only speak about like inequality, if you want to speak about whatever big issues, if you use political satire or humor, more people would come to the table and then it’s up to these people to make the change. And this is why within the failure of our political system and without opposition, people kind of look, put more weight on my political satire and start to accuse me to do is listen. Listen, that’s more not my my role. It’s your role. My role is to bring you to the conversation. I’m not going to go there and throw rocks or like toppled regimes. It’s your rule. And if you if it fails, it’s your failure, not mine. Yeah. 

I think it’s like reporting the news. We are. We are sort of. Yes. Funny journalists. Yeah, exactly. And Jon Stewart was a genius at it. And so is Bassem at what he does. And it’s kind of interesting full circle. You’re here. You’re here teaching a course at Harvard, you know, regarding satire of all things. But going back to what you were saying about just bringing satire to the table. You know, I’ve had a lot of people in the past say to me, oh, you’re a political comedian. 

And I say, I’m not a political comedian. So you’re from the Middle East and you’re Muslims. That makes you political. So you’re political by default. But I always tell people I’m just an entertainer. So whether you think I’m funny or not, are you like my charisma or my, you know, curly hair or whatever it is? I just and it’s like not to compare, but, you know, Elvis Presley said the same thing. People would ask him his opinions on politics and military. He’d say, hey, man, I’m just I’m just an entertainer. 

Yeah. But Elvis’s Elvis is content. Elvis is creative. Urge was not tied up in any great political movement. 

You you do play in quite intentionally and self consciously identity. 

I have to because my name is Ahmed Ahmed. I’m from Egypt. I was raised Muslim. And so if I don’t point out the elephant in the room, then I’m doing a disservice to myself, disservice to the community and a disservice to the people that aren’t Arab or Muslim and don’t know anything about being from that part of the world. That’s why when I was when I joked about it on stage, I was trying to make it a point to write out of the Gael’s pointed out, you know, I’m Arab Muslim Boo or whatever is going to trigger that fear because I’m I’m playing on their fears. See, America has been playing on on the fears of Americans through the news and through negative media for, you know, for ages. And so it’s like, OK, well, you can do that then. I can do it, but I can reverse it if it’s gonna be one person at a time in a dark comedy club in front of a couple hundred people on a Friday and Saturday around America. Fair enough. If I get lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, like like Bassem did, and have the charisma and the talent and the art to back it up better, you know, I just. In Hollywood, I haven’t had that opportunity yet because I’ll just say this for the record. Hollywood is a very, very racist and small minded community when it comes to opening up the doors to Arab talent. They need the bad guy. They need us. If they get rid of us. Who’s left? 

Russians. They did. They did. The Russians. They did. The Latinos did. The Asians. Black community. They’ll move on to Australians eventually. I don’t know. I think you guys are in on it. 

I guess my point is, is that there hasn’t been a place for an Arab Middle Eastern or Muslim Hollywood leading man or woman, actor or actress to have to have an opportunity. So that’s why we’re creating content now. We’re at a place where we’re producing scripts and producing comedy sketches and TV shows and trying to just make it within because it’s our responsibility. 

If in other day, Bassem, what was the impact on Egyptian culture after having been after having been Fed state media for so many years to finally have a forum in which people were able to converse in and poke fun at Mubarak, poke fun at the powers that be and have. 

Conversations that are deliberated and humorous. 

What did that feel like? What first it was very liberating. It was very liberating to actually. So we can actually do that. We can actually make fun of that. And then. Bit by bit, the taboo started to fall down, not just in person or just in power, but like for religious authorities. I mean, some of the religious authorities and chiefs who are like, you know, you can’t even, like, come even near them. You can’t even mentioned your name. Now, they’re a big, fat joke because everybody knew them for what they are right now. However, good things don’t last. And we’re fine. We’re good. What happened? What? 

Oh, everything happened. 

Let’s say let’s say let’s say that we had the very brief sprink of of humor that it is kind of withering away. But you know what? 

You can get rid of one program, but you cannot get rid of a whole sense of humor. Vanish. And it surfaced somehow one way or another. 

You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, as they say. 

What did it mean that the genie is taking it out? 

What specific what specifically happened to your show? What? 

The show is no longer what happened. How did it go down that, you know, show went off the air? How went off the air? 

I mean, the most popular show in the Middle East went up there. It must be something with the money control, let’s say no, let’s say we couldn’t continue. And I said that in a press conference for safety for me on my. 

And my crew. We had to stop. When was that Lesterville? With a direct threats direct, nothing is direct in our country’s. 

We’re not even direct as we speak to each other. We do that, we dance around the subject all the time. How dare you call us Direk? Come on. Well, what do you think we are, your Australians? 

Yeah, we’re pretty direct. Ahmed, what do you what do you make of the fate of Bassem show? He doesn’t have a clue. 

I don’t have a quiz. I don’t have a clue what. I have an opinion. Yeah, OK. My opinion is that. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Two revolutions have happened. There’s another one brewing. 

People want to laugh. People need to laugh. 

And I think if it’s not Bassem, it’s going to be somebody else. If it’s not somebody else, it’ll be somebody else. Somebody is going to rise to the occasion again. Whether it’s in Egypt or somewhere else in the Middle East or even America. And they’re going to do a show that’s that’s going to poke fun at the governments and politicians and hopefully do it in such a lighthearted way where nobody is threatened or hurt. And I think Possum’s fate, you know, is in his own hands. Whatever he wants to do, he’s smart enough to do. And I think he’ll make the right choice. And he’s he’s exactly where he needs to be right now. And what he’s doing right now and talking to international students about satire is very powerful. 

Those are young minds that will go and take his words of wisdom and apply them, hopefully. 

I met you. You have a career as a humorist and a comic and an a satirist. 

It’s not something that most what people associate with with Muslims. Why is with the exception of the fact that there are authoritarian states throughout the Middle East. 

Is there another cultural reason why there’s such a dearth of of humor in the community? 

Well, I’m actually Mexican. This is a market. You know, you need an angle. Sometimes I figured, why not? No. 

You know, I’m learning as I go and I’m 20 years in, and I thought I had it figured out. And I just don’t. 

And so every day I just tried to have fun with my job and, you know, associate myself and surround myself around good people and fun people and lighthearted people and. 

You know, there’s very few of us out there in America that are from the Middle East region specifically raised Muslim. 

Doing what we do. And so. Finding a foothold in that industry and trying to be grounded is very, very difficult. You know, traveling on top of that, living out of a bag and in hotels, you know, you do it yourself. It’s exhausting and it becomes draining. So then you have that aspect of it. But I don’t I don’t know what the future of, I guess, comedy or satire among our community is going to be. I just know that there are people out there like myself and Bassem and, you know, Maz Jobrani and Moama and these guys who really take pride in what we do, whether there’s four of us or four hundred of us. 

What’s your relationship to Islam? 

Oh, I know a guy called Islamize is a he’s a cool dude, Islam, I mean. Yeah. Yeah, it’s cool, dude. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s that Muhammad you know. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a good guy. Yes. 

People and people are me. They say you’re a practicing Muslim. I say I’m a good day’s. 

I mean, look, I was raised very, very strict Muslim. I performed HODs when I was 27. I don’t read or write Arabic, but I understand the Koran. You know, back and forth as much as you can in the way you interpret it. 

You do speak Arabic. I speak like you. 

I speak like 50 percent of my Arabic broken. But I understand it fluently. I mean, bossom, much like all my relatives back home, will speak to me fluently in Arabic. And I’ll answer back with, like, one word or answer back in English. But I was raised very strict Muslim. My household was a very Muslim household to this day. 

My mom still covers and my dad. And they pray five times a day and practice Ramadan and give Zakat, which is charity. And we’ve all performed Haj and believe in the pillars. And I guess what the. You know. 

On paper, what would people say, oh, you’re practicing Muslim, probably not. But I have the faith and I have the belief. 

And it’s more of a spiritual thing, it’s not so much of a book that leads my spirituality. 

What do you make of what’s going on in the faith? 

Well, Islam is under attack, but we’re also responsible for it, for being under attack. We’ve you know, what’s the old saying? 

Don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house. 

You know, Muslims are very they’re very adamant about wanting to criticize and point things out about other cultures and religions. 

But when they get stuff pointed at them or at us, then it’s off limits. And I don’t think that’s fair. I think it’s the fair thing for the Muslim religion and, you know, people of the faith, they should be open minded and have a sense of humor. And that’s really what’s holding us back. And that’s what’s keeping us in the dark ages. 

Bessant. But this is changing. I always say that in the last four years, the Arab Spring was not just like a spring of political ideas. It was also it affected so many things culturally and religiously. Now there are conversations and discussion that would have never taken place. People are questioning our problems as Muslims, all of our lives that we are brought up not to question and not to answer back. This is basically part of the notion of like I’m being raised as a strict Muslim. 

You do not answer back. You do not question and you do not argue. Now, because of this culture of like don’t ask, don’t argue, there has been so many unanswered questions. But you cannot hold that. Forever. Because if I can’t find the answer at my parents or my share, who tells me? Don’t speak about that. 

There’s always the Internet and there’s always like a mental gym out there that, like, warps the muscles of your mind every single time. And then you will try to cope with it first. By what you’ve been told, it’s how the household and suddenly it doesn’t work anymore. So you start to find out the truth for yourself. So suddenly you find parts of the history that were not told to suddenly quite far. Part of the interpretation that was not told you. And then you start to question everything. 

And now we have this. I mean, maybe maybe it’s not that grand, but it’s starting. Maybe it is five or six people. But like four years ago, it was zero. 

And it’s not five or six, but it’s much more. But but now you’re having all of these people are the second generation and now they are not afraid to ask the question. It doesn’t really matter if they are getting the answers or Greek conventional, but they are asking the questions and that that actually coincides with like more deterioration of the mental mindset of the older generation who cannot handle it. 

So if we are protected by the government, you use the government to stop a search and show or stop certain person like speaking about it. But that only holds on so long. 

So if that change is coming and and a certain kind of, um, I do want to see reform, but a discussion that was not there a few years ago, it’s on the table now. A Salaheddine. 

Right. No idea. But I’m like a not not the person. Yeah. The actual that the figure of speech of of Salaheddine, which means of. 

Oh to fix that. To fix yet to to to fix things your religion or fix like I would I don’t want to say fixed the relation but to fix reforming the discussion I literally you cannot really fix or destroy religion but you can fix the way you can handle it and speak about and interpret it. 

Yeah. Because there’s like 70 branches of Islam out there, maybe more now. 

There’s so many different ways you interpret the Koran. You know, like, for instance, in Saudi Arabia, they interpret it completely differently than they do in Egypt or countries that might be a little bit more open minded. You know, and there’s nothing in the Koran that says a woman has to cover their face. I don’t think I’ve read that. Yeah, but they interpret it in such a way where that’s where the culture wants to interpret it. So it’s all based on interpretation. I mean, I, I have interpreted the Koran the way I was raised with it. In a very sort of open minded way, because my mom, you know, my mother was like, she’s very open minded and coming from more of a spiritual place, whereas my dad was more by the book, you know, and I didn’t like by the book. 

Most people don’t like by the book. I know. Iraqi dissidents, for example, who try. Who are frustrated with Western white liberals for not standing up more for the rights of Muslim dissidents in the Muslim world. And one of them has said to me, you know, we always point to the moderate Muslim countries like Indonesia, for example, as models of where we shouldn’t caricature Islam as being backward in those in the Saudi way. But he makes the point that even a country like Indonesia, the majority of peoples perspective on on gay rights or on women’s rights, if you transpose those beliefs into the United States, they would be considered deeply conservative, if not bigoted. So he complains about the soft bigotry of low expectations that we have where we are resigned to the fact that Muslim societies are going to be, from a progressive perspective, more backward in quotation marks than Western countries. Is that a problem? 

That’s a that’s a complicated and loaded question, because you have your moderates. We have the people that Bassem was talking about, the people that are you know, they’re modern day Muslims who believe in modern day things. And then you have your traditional as in the people who who don’t stray from the book. 

This is how people called Aman Muhammad Ali and Mustafa don’t even pray. And they considered themselves Muslim culturally. Right. But suddenly they are put in the same bracket of these people. Right. So this is the problem with the group being people. I know. How about you as a Westerner, do what you’re supposed to do and deal with us as a human. 

You know, all of this like Muslim, right, gay, right, women, right. How about human, right. You know, in a sublingual. 

Yeah, in a second, because we keep talking about, you know, being secular and what’s more secular than that. 

Yeah, but but but but that the thing is like a lot of the people who like sing praises about secularism all day. They are not secular themselves. They should. They just want to label you. I mean, if I was white and called John, that would not even be a discussion, even if I was a Muslim. 

If I was like an American cornford, for example, you know, but there’s like an undertone, like underhanded, kind of like I don’t I don’t want to use the word dress as much like profiling, you know. 

No, no. I mean, look, we have the Patriot Act phones being tapped. Getting detained at airports. It’s a bad time to be Arab or Muslim right now in America. Fact. And the racism is out there, whether it’s subliminal or right in your face. 

You know, I have people come up to me and say, oh, man, what’s going on over there in your country? Oh, the whole Middle East is a mess. You know, they should just kill them all. Let God sort them out. That’s the mentality. 

Is that American Sniper mentality? You know, I’ve got 160 kills under my belt. You know, whether they were good killers or bad kills to brag about it and make a movie about it. I didn’t like the movie. I love Clint Eastwood. I love Bradley Cooper. Didn’t like the movie. 

What happened when the movie came out is there was a lot of Muslim haters going out there shooting Muslims like cowboys and Indians, Muslims getting hit over the head, shot, killed, you know, lit on fire. Almost as much, if not worse than the post 9/11 world. 

And this guy I mean, this guy is talking to you right now. I mean, he’s not like he’s not like having a long beard on the quaking, like a Jeleva or like, I don’t know, whatever is in his head and like, praying five times a day. He is kultury Muslim who just happens to be born into that religion and suddenly he has to be grouped with those other people. You know why? I mean, guy. I mean, how about, like, dealing with every person as he is? I mean, when I when I look at you, I don’t look I don’t look at you as like a I don’t know. I wouldn’t even care if you were Australian or Southern California or white. I would be an African. You know, I don’t care. You know, I would deal with you as a human. This is the problem. People always pretend that I will. Oh, we have all of these lake up values of spill dealing with people equally. But like in your mind, you’re not dealing with me equally. No. 

And it should be like you. There should be a case by case scenario. 

But, of course, we’re dealing with like I mean, I just don’t want to give you the impression that, like, oh, I’m being persecuted everywhere I go. No, people are expected. But like, I’m just talking about these people who bring these topics up or make a deal out of it of. Why don’t moderate Muslims speak up? Well, they speak up, but they speak in Arabic. 

And you don’t fucking understand. You know, so. 

So or do the research and know that there’s guys like myself and Bossom and there’s some of these satirists and comedians and filmmakers and poets like we’re out there, you know, we’re just not out there in the mainstream because we hadn’t been allowed that yet. 

We’re just not interesting enough. 

You know, I used to I remember when I first started I talked about this with you before I was when I first started out Hollywood. And I got to a point. Right. I thought, you know, we have to start making our own movies. We got to start doing this is when I started doing standup comedy and I kind of was pushing away from Hollywood. And I would go to Muslim and Arab, you know, investors, people with money. And I would have my whole pitch and my ideas and these TV shows and that film and trying to pitch them ideas and say, hey, you know, you guys are so sick and tired of being depicted in negative stereotypes. We can make our own movies. We can you know, we have the resources, the funding, the act, the talent, the crew, the distribution. 

And most of them say, no, no, no, leave it up to the Jews. They it’s Hollywood is their place. It’s not our place. It is your place, you know. And Arabs, you know, Muslims there. 

Their thing, you know, for the most part, except for Egypt, because Egypt has a history of being the sort of Hollywood of the Middle East when it comes to film and television entertainment. But most of that region just isn’t familiar with it. So, you know, the thing is, the quick how do we go? How do we make money? Let’s invest in a strip mall. Let’s get ups, you know, petrol station, whatever it is, that’s gonna be a quick turnaround. Making a movie is a slow turnaround. 

And here’s the thing about like the Jews being in Hollywood, we like I always criticize Arabs and Muslims who are just victimizing yourself. I mean, so like, you know, for the past 10 minutes, I’m speaking to a lot like people look at us differently, but like, hey, why don’t we we we action. We there’s a lot of blame that falls on us. 

We just go and say, like, oh, look at the Jewish people. They are just like controlling Hollywood. They are misrepresenting us in the media. 

So what have you done to change it? Nothing. And it’s not like you’re poor. We’re loaded and people are very rich. But where do you put your money? Do you put your money intended to. In the entertainment? In media? No, I don’t know. Even where do you put your money there, even like that would actually put their money in Fox News, which is a fact, you know. You know, but they would not go and invest, like in something that would bring not a positive image, but a different image or Arab Muslim awareness, you know. But look, here’s the thing. We just looks like we bitchen whine about like how the Jewish people are controlling. Call you. All right. But, you know, what are they like? I mean, have you tried to get your script to a Jewish person, tell them, why don’t you make this movie? No, I’m sure that this Jewish guy was like, if this is a good business opportunity, he produced it for you. Have you tried? No. Have you tried putting money in it? No. No. So this is the thing. We it just this kind of like. Passive anger at everything without actually doing something positive. 

How does one resolve that? 

By the way, my agents and lawyers or Jews put that out there. How do you how do you reverse that cultural trend? That group? 

Well, you know, you you reverse it by people like Ahmed, like me, like Mars, like other comedians, like other people who just like to push. I mean, I had been doing this forever for 20 years, by the way, 20, 20 years ago. 

My parents friends would all sit around and talk about their children. What did what are your children doing? Oh, you got APHC from those. And my daughter’s an engineer. And they said to my dad, What about your son? 

And my dad was the answer. He’s gay. He moved to Hollywood. He becomes gay. I’m like, well, no. So. 

And you know, and then the friends go. The parents. I go, we’re so sorry for your son. You know, we’ll pray for him. 

Now, 20 years later, their kids have kids and they’ll call my mom and dad and say. 

Can you get the sign picture for my son, the same people who are bashing me 20 years ago or asking me for my autograph now? 

So, you know, name of the game. Stay in the game. If you stay in the game long enough, you’ll you’ll switch. 

Yes. Success. Success is convincing to everybody. Bassem, I just want to go back to two. 

I want to talk about the end of the show, but I will talk about what you thought the outcome of the revolution was going to be. So the revolution happens. You have your YouTube clips, you end up with this wildly successful show. All of a sudden, you’re a superstar across across the region at that time. Did you think the revolution was going to stick? 

As time moves on, moved on, we we had our doubts because we were there today. I have to tell you that like the last four years has been an incredibly difficult time, too, every single Egyptian. 

It’s a roller coaster. We had very high hopes that where for many of us got crushed. 

And many of us had to leave. And many of us had to. 

Give up these folks. 

And it is sometimes it was very. 

You know, we still have the memory of these glimmers of hope, you know? 

And I don’t know what happened, just like a it’s one thing I learned in four years. Never predict anything in the middle. 

I want to leave Ahmed with your thoughts about about what can and can’t be said about. 

We’ve been discussing before we started taping this episode about the limits of political correctness, the fact that you were banned from Dubai for telling a couple of jokes that got up the emir’s nose and that here on campuses in the United States, you also find it difficult, not just when talking to Muslim audiences, but also talking to young, white, liberal, guilty college audiences to be as as fearless as you might want to be. 


First of all, I think if you are a comedian that tours internationally and if you are going into countries or cities where there are certain rules and regulations, then you just have to obey them and honor them. 

Otherwise, don’t go. It’s like if you go to if you go to, you know, a country and they say, you know, the speed limits 60 miles an hour, but you want to drive 100 miles an hour and you get pulled over and you get a ticket, you can’t complain that you’ve got the ticket. You knew going into the situation that speeding in that country was was going to get that ticket. 

So now learning my lesson going into certain countries and they say, don’t say this, don’t say that. It’s a little bit of a hindrance artistically, but you respect it and you and you try to just being there is edgy enough. 

As far as America is concerned, until they change that whole freedom of speech thing, say whatever the fuck you want. 

I mean, seriously. And, you know, it’s it’s I mean, that poster right there, you know, speaks volumes. 

I mean, it’s it’s it’s a poster of Martin Luther King with a quote from the I Have a Dream speech in front of it in D.C., in front of probably what a million black people know, the Million Man March or something like that. But anyway, I know I just feel like, you know, the one good thing about being Middle Eastern Muslim raised guy, Mohamed Ahmed is I couldn’t do what I’m doing right now anywhere around the world. And America has given me the opportunity to come out publicly on stages around the country and say I’m a Muslim. 

Deal with it. I’m from the Middle East. Deal with it and and poke on those little fears and make people laugh even if they laugh with fear. And that’s the beauty of it. And as far as college campuses are concerned and, you know, people that that don’t want to hear what, you know, a comedian has to say, don’t come to the show or don’t don’t attend the program. You know, you might be offended. So just don’t show up. 

You know, it’s like I’m going to put my hand out the fire. I know I’m going to get burned, but I won’t put it out there anyway because I just I want to see what’s going to happen. You’re going to get burned every time if you’re one of those people. And I say stay home. 

All right. Ahmed and Bassem, how is that? 

Ahmed and Bassem battered in debate. Yeah. Nice little book. 

Thanks. Thanks. Inveigle appointment guy. Thank you. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.