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Tickling Giants: Speaking truth to power

By Josh Lemoine on June 6, 2017

Are you brave enough to tell a joke?

It’s appropriate that the new documentary Tickling Giants is directed by former Daily Show senior producer Sara Taksler. The subject of the movie, Bassem Youssef, is widely known as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart.” You could argue, however, that it’s Jon Stewart who should be known as the American Bassem Youssef.

When Egypt went through a revolution in 2011, Youssef was working as a surgeon in Cairo. He noticed there was a disconnect between what what going on in the streets and what was being reported on television. A big fan of Jon Stewart, he started his own Daily Show-style YouTube show, which he filmed from his basement laundry room. It became very popular, very quickly.

His show soon got picked up by a major network, and became Al Bernameg (“The Show”), the most popular show in the Middle East, with 30–40 millions viewers per episode at its peak. Remember, Egypt is a country with a population around 80 million. Jon Stewart averaged 2 million viewers per episode of The Daily Show. On Al Bernameg, he poked fun at politicians and leading media figures.

Bassem Youssef. Photo courtesy of One World Film Festival.

Bassem Youssef. Photo courtesy of One World Film Festival.

“This show is about holding authority accountable,” Youssef says, “regardless of who’s in charge.”

The documentary screening at ByTowne Cinema on Wednesday June 7 follows Youssef and his program’s staff as they face ever-intensifying threats to their safety – and trying not to get arrested in a country where freedom of speech is not codified in law. Youssef eventually decided to end his show, and was forced into exile.

Despite the disappointing end to Youssef’s show, Taksler wants audiences to be inspired to think of how they can “tickle giants” in their everyday lives.

“The core idea in Tickling Giants is to leave audiences inspired. A team of ordinary people risked their own comfort and, by doing so, found a way to be heard and influence change.

Following the screening, there will be a post-film discussion with Merlyna Lim (Canada Research Chair) and Omid Milani (political cartoonist and law professor at the University of Ottawa).

Tickling Giants plays Wednesday June 7 at 6:30pm at the ByTowne Cinema (325 Rideau St). Tickets are available via Eventbrite or at the box office. Tickets are $12 and proceeds of the event will go to support One World Arts in delivering the 28th annual One World Film Festival, Ottawa’s longest running documentary film festival.