The movie poster elicits thoughts of humor and while comedy is an underlying concept of the film, the message is one of grave seriousness: democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech. The very basics upon which our country was founded. This film takes place in Egypt over the course of several years in the life of Bassem Youssef, cardiac surgeon turned professional comedian and talk show host—the Jon Stewart of Egypt.
As the opening credits roll, you’re already laughing as the narrator (Youssef) is warning the audience that “…speaking out against oppressive regimes may cause side effects such as…” and the list is filled with ironically humorous possible scenarios. Little do you know, some of these side effects are an actuality in Youseff’s future. (He doesn’t seem to suffer from vaginal dryness, thankfully.)
We meet this charismatic star of the talk show “The Show” as he strolls through the streets of Cairo during a revolt against military rule. Donning a surgical mask, he and his cameraman interview protesters as we witness
the effects of military intervention. It’s shocking, to say the least. But what is even more shocking is the fact that he is documenting the truth of the events while the media spins it in a completely different way. The parallel lines and similarities to events in our own country do not go unnoticed.
Just 10 months earlier, patients were visiting Bassem for heart surgery. Now his slicing is one that is verbal. Sarcasm and speaking out against the government allows him to cut “..without spilling any blood.” His journey begins on Youtube and then on to television which garners tens of millions of viewers each week. As his show grows over just a couple of years, we see the rise and fall of one dictator, the promise of democracy, and then the installation of another dictator. The film captures the danger and the need for humor and truth within any institution, but the dangerous situation he places himself, his family, and his television crew prove to be insurmountable.
While we laugh at Youseff and his antics, there’s another side to this daring, intelligent and thoughtful man. He candidly reveals his fears and his sometimes crushing responsibility to the people who have come to depend on him. His love of his country, his family, and his want for his daughter to live in a free world are an integral part of this man. His comparison to Jon Stewart seems to be quite accurate and he is a guest on the show. Their camaraderie is endearing to us, but more than that, it is inspiring to the people of Egypt.
Inspirational and brave individuals like Youseff don’t come around often. “Tickling Giants” allows us to know this man and those that support and surround him. While there is devastation everywhere, the film beautifully integrates humor and hope with its behind the scenes footage and interviews of regular people. Counterbalancing that are the news reports, “talking heads,” and the hatred of this man who in many ways is leading the dictator’s opponents with his hope and humor.
“Tickling Giants” is a must-see as it is perhaps a look into a crystal ball for countries who have leaders with less than admirable aspirations for its people. It’s also a reaffirmation that the people need to be heard, democracy is needed, and above all, freedom of speech is a necessary right. (Hundreds of journalists are still behind bars in Egypt for speaking their minds.) Unlike many documentaries tackling serious issues, the film is entertaining and informative as it allows us to laugh while we learn about a small country in Northern Africa. Stick around for the credits because the film starts with humor and ends that way as well.
For a list of upcoming screenings, go to ticklinggiants.com