Bassem Youssef nearly lost his life for telling the “wrong” jokes.
Youssef fled his native Egypt in 2014 after his “Daily Show”-style program cut too close to the truth. His rise from a heart surgeon posting satirical takes on state-controlled media to an exiled comic living in Los Angeles would make a great movie.
It already earned him the nickname “Egypt’s Jon Stewart,” even if he hasn’t been able to duplicate his Egyptian success stateside. At one point his program, “Al-Bernameg” (The Show), drew 30 million viewers. That’s roughly one-third of his country’s population.
Now, Youssef is mimicking Stewart in a new, unflattering way.
The comedian spoke to The Khaleej Times about his life, comedy and Cancel Culture. It’s the latter that stands out, considering the satirist’s take on the freedom-snuffing movement.
In short, it doesn’t exist.
Cancel culture is a myth. You find it on Twitter, it is just like a lot of loud voices. But at the end of the day, who has really been cancelled, you know? I mean, look at Louis C.K., he was cancelled for something that was supposed to be a crime, an assault. He’s back and doing what he used to do, he just sold out Madison Square Garden a couple of months ago. Dave Chappelle, they tried to cancel him. Where is he now? So the whole thing about cancel culture, I think it’s more of like noises. But I think very few people actually get cancelled. And if they do, they get cancelled because of something that is much more than what they say.
Those comments eerily mirror what Stewart said last year on the subject.
“People that talk about cancel culture never seem to shut the f*** up about it,” offered Stewart. “Like, there’s more speech now than ever before. It’s not ‘you can’t say it,’ it’s that when you say it—look, the internet has democratized criticism. What do we do for a living—we talk s***, we criticize, we postulate, we opine, we make jokes, and now other people are having their say. And that’s not cancel culture, that’s relentlessness. We live in a relentless culture. And the system of the internet and all those other things are incentivized to find the pressure points of that and exacerbate it.”
Here’s the truth.
Cancel Culture exists. It’s a terrifying, nonstop attack on free expression that impacts far more than just comedians. Stand-ups suffer the most direct result from it, though.
Need examples? Here’s just a short list.
- Dave Chappelle’s completed documentary still can’t find a distributor because he told the wrong jokes on stage.
- Chappelle was attacked last year at the Hollywood Bowl for telling the wrong jokes on stage.
- Comedians like Anthony Cumia and Josh Denny have to hide the names of the venues they play lest Antifa members force the shows’ cancellations. Why? They tell the wrong jokes on stage.
- Roseanne Barr shared one ugly, racially charged Tweet and saw her “Roseanne” sitcom taken from her, along with the millions it earned for her.
- Kevin Hart lost his Oscar-hosting gig for jokes he told a decade ago.
- Popular comics like Desus & Mero “self-censor” for fear of career repercussions.
Perhaps Youssef fears losing his professional connection with Stewart. He also might be absorbing the warped reality of life in Los Angeles.
Either way, he does himself, and those who care about political satire, a disservice by echoing Stewart’s deep state of denial.