No matter what ideology you identify with or what theory you subscribe to regarding why humans are here and where we come from, there is really no denying that we are all connected in some way or another. The human race is so rich in diversity that we often get so hung up on our differences, we forget about the many fundamentals that bond us as people. There is a common goal that we, especially many “‘Muricans”, tend to forget and that is, that every person on this planet strives for freedom. More specifically in the case with this film, freedom of speech and expression. Tickling Giants, a documentary by The Daily Show senior producer Sara Taksler, aims to remind us that not only are many people still not afforded this right, but to never forget just how powerful it can be to have it.
While we struggle with the tyrannical actions of our democratically elected 45th president, many of us are looking towards people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart not only for comic relief, but for a voice of truth in a climate full of “alternative facts.” It’s no wonder that in a country like Egypt, with a long history of being under military rule, that they too would long for members of the media who aren’t afraid to call a lie a lie, who don’t dance around the real issues, and who will use comedy as a way to hold our so called leaders accountable. Enter Dr. Bassem Youssef, with a prescription for sarcasm and satire to almost literally be what the doctor ordered.
Named as one of the “100 Most Influential People In The World” in 2013 by Time magazine and known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Dr. Youssef has played a huge role in bridging the gap between what the people of Egypt are actually seeing in their nation and what they are being told they are seeing. After assisting in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution, he was inspired to created his first satirical comedy show in the form of 5 minute YouTube shorts filmed in his laundry room. After garnering a staggering 5 million views in just 3 months, Youssef was offered a deal from Egyptian station ONTV making him the first internet to TV conversion in the Middle East. He produced over a hundred episodes, creating a platform that enabled him to speak freely about the social and political climate in Egypt. Sounds like your average celebrity success story, right? Not quite.
With over 30 million viewers, he was getting a lot of laughs but also a lot of attention. It seemed the new elected President was none too happy about being regular fodder for the show and it becomes very clear as the movie progresses that his jokes were starting to piss off people who had the ability to do a lot worse than just spout off a nasty tweet about the doctor. As the nation struggled towards democracy, tensions were high and the powers that be seemed to be losing their sense of humor. Producing the show was about much more than just comedic relief, it was increasingly becoming one of the few places to find the truth about what was really going on.
At the heart of this documentary is a group of young Egyptian Muslim men and women, professionals who left behind jobs in the medical and law fields, to come on board and help produce something that will long be remembered as something much more than just a late night talk show. Tickling Giants exposes the world to what your average, next door Muslim looks like. This is not the kind of movie that 45 and his cabinet want people to see. They don’t want us to know that there are Muslims in Egypt fighting for democracy and freedom, living and working everyday lives just like you and I. Lives that have nothing to do with terrorism but more so fighting against it as well as oppression and an oligarchy system that leaves the poor to suffer while the rich fatten their pockets. They don’t want you to see the diverse group of people responsible for creating hilarious political skits that rip apart the wealthy hypocrites in an environment where questioning your leaders can be seen as denouncing your faith.
But this movie, just like its title implies, is meant to engage. At one point during the film, as power is changing hands and the government is falling back into military regime, Youssef talks about timing. During a debate with a few of his staffers he suggests that when protesting and confrontations don’t work, it’s time to try a different approach and that despite being angry, reaching out to enlighten and start a dialogue can bring about better results. Yes Americans, a Muslim man from the Middle East was taking a non-violent stance on fighting the government, go figure?
It doesn’t take more than a few searches on Google to find out that this isn’t a Hollywood rom com where everything gets wrapped up in 90 minutes and you get spoon fed yet another fairy tale ending. This is reality. In reality, this is a struggle that continues today. Youssef and the work he did on his show and with this movie put him in a position where he had to leave his country. He feared for his family and their safety and faced possible imprisonment for not being able to pay the enormous fines imposed on him after the show’s broadcasting signal was jammed and he was found to be in breach of his contract for not producing air-able content. Yes, you read that correctly.
It was hard to write this and not feel like I was reporting on a situation. In a way I was. We have to support movies like this, shows like this, whether it’s here or in other countries. What good is our right to free speech if we don’t use it to speak out for those that can’t? Tickling Giants shows you the story of a man doing just that, daring to coax the people that would use their power to oppress, to step back and have a laugh at how ridiculous they’ve become or perhaps to help those that are being oppressed have a laugh and remind them that there is strength in their unity and weakness in the willful ignorance of the elite. This movie is important not only for these reasons, but because it is a raw look at just how similar we all are and that despite the differences we all just long to be free.