He rose to fame under the glaring light of Egypt’s revolution in 2011 and has left his mark to this day. When the country’s future was mired in uncertainty in the midst of flames and huge protests, political satirist Bassem Youssef discovered the power of satire and humour in the fight for democracy. Adopting a new identity as the Jon Stewart of the Middle East, Youssef, a cardiac surgeon by profession, turned the political uncertainty that engulfed the country into Egypt’s first live political satire show. In his unique style,, Youssef developed his own brand of commentary, which he likes to call ‘tickling the giant’. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After Youssef’s start on YouTube in the heady days in Tahrir Square, his fans grew exponentially and soon he was offered to host the first ever political satire TV show in the Middle East. With the simple name, Al Bernameg (The Program), Youssef’s popularity continued to grow and he was courted by numerous TV channels to move his wildly popular show to their own channels. Eventually Youssef stepped up his game, constructing his own elaborate studio and performing his show with a live audience, just like his role model, Jon Stewart. His weekly show was a witty, humorous commentary on Egypt’s current political developments and was anxiously anticipated by viewers all over the Arab world. His satire was so powerful and his humour so incisive that officials dreaded his weekly show, for fear he would direct attention on them. Eventually, despite his continued popularity, Egypt’s political instability led to a heightened national sensitivity to criticism. Embattled officials faced with huge challenges and a weary Egyptian public began to lose their ability to laugh at themselves. While many believed the former doctor’s wit was a welcome light in the midst of a very dark tunnel, others saw him as nothing but trouble. The pressure on Youssef became too much and his program came to an end. It’s now been over two years since Youssef left Egypt and his program behind, yet his fan base remains huge, and his episodes continue to be watched avidly on YouTube. And Youssef has been keeping very busy around the world; he recently attended the Tribeca Film Festival premiere in New York for the documentary about his rise to fame, Tickling Giants. Youssef also stars in the Democracy Handbook, a US show where he follows the American elections from an Arab perspective, on the web channel, Fusion.
Since Youssef still remains an enigma to many of his fans and critics, eniGma Magazine invited him back into a new spotlight; this time, literally, on the international stages of London, Manhattan, and Los Angeles. Read on to hear all about our unforgettable experience during eniGma’s Bassem Youssef Tour.
On a surprisingly sunny April day in London, Youssef stepped out of the car in front of Curzon Mayfair Cinema, beaming his big Hollywood smile. A throng of fans had gathered hours before the 6pm curtain time, in front of the venue long known since 1934 as the beating heart of the London theatre district. An appropriate place for Youssef’s first dip into live entertainment in the UK. The fans were hoping to catch a glimpse or a selfie with the embattled star which he obliged with big, indulgent smiles. And Youssef did not disappoint them; or his detractors for that matter. His show galvanised the audience, eliciting boos from some, cheers from most and a standing ovation at the conclusion of the show. For 90 minutes, he retold the extraordinary story of his unlikely rise to fame, giving the audience a unique insight into the real Bassem Youssef. It was an amazing opportunity for Youssef to reconnect with his loyal fan base, which has obviously remained as strong as ever.
On his way back to the 11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel, where he and the team stayed, Youssef was relieved the show had gone well but wasn’t satisfied. Despite the success of the event, he was brooding. ‘The energy isn’t where it could be. I’m going to make a few changes,’ mused the former doctor. Pulling into the lane at the entrance of the hotel built by Lord Chelsea,’ Lord Bassem’ graciously held court with fans who caught wind he was staying in the elegant Victorian lodging. The staff ushered the star into the hotel’s stately library filled with a collection of historic and antique books, where Youssef sat still for a while; a rarity for the live-wire star. He was thinking, calculating, formulating. We regrouped later at the hotel’s serene outdoor terrace and discussed the rest of the tour. Changes were going to be made for the New York show, he declared as he paced. He went back to his lavish Sloane Suite, one of the hotel exclusive suites with a distinctive colour palette of regal gold, cream and black which reflects the elegance of the hotel. The doctor was back in his laboratory, overlooking the heart of traditional Chelsea from the room’s bay windows.
Bassem Youssef’s London show was a brilliant start to our international tour, thus an eniGma style VIP celebration was in order. Youssef‘s fans couldn’t wait to congratulate their idol and celebrate his success at the elegant London Langham Hotel, where the Langham and eniGma team hosted the classiest after party at the hotel’s stunning Palm Court. Youssef arrived punctually at the hotel, stepped on to the red carpet, where, true to his always friendly nature, he stopped to shake every guest’s hands, take selfies and mingle with each and every one in the room.
Bubbly drinks were flowing, live jazzy music was playing and the Langham hotel’s ambience couldn’t have set a livelier, positive vibe. Youssef, a true showman, made sure that the evening was enjoyed by all. Being the consummate entertainer, Youssef ended the unforgettable night with a beautiful speech, thanking his fans, the eniGma team and everyone who was a part of his tour.
New York’s energy was evident as soon as we landed. eniGma continued to be bombarded with messages from fans still hoping to get tickets to the sold-out April 24th show. Youssef, a true showman, took the stage at the Florence Gould Hall with thunderous applause and then started the show by posting a live selfie with his audience on Facebook. The audience stood, filling the venue with lively chanting as if a football match were about to begin. Youssef basked in the adoration for a moment, smiling with the look of a man with a trick or two up his sleeve. To a packed theatre, he recounted his climb to fame post the Egyptian revolution and the bumpy journey that followed.
Yet something was different in New York. Where in London we saw a reflective, autobiographical Youssef, New York brought a seen-it-all, street-wise man on stage. There was sharpness to his words, to the audience, to the vibe of the place. It was clear this was Youssef’s doing; and it was on purpose. This was the reaction he wanted, and like it or not, we were all compliant. “A room in the middle of New York full of Arabs, what can go wrong?” Youssef smirked with a raised eyebrow, dissolving the crowd into another wave of chants and cheers. He was soon proved right. The tour offered fans and audience members a detour from the typical style of Bassem Youssef’s brand of comedy – and the crowd loved it. As all the shows were designed to be interactional, this show also had its share of detractors. Yet as Youssef himself commented on stage, “the most beautiful thing about my show is that even the people who hate me come and pay for tickets.” The rocky evening concluded with much applause, a standing ovation and a loud appeal to Bassem Youssef from his fans to return to New York soon.
On the short cab ride back to the Loews Regency Hotel where we stayed, Youssef was on a high, analyzing the effect of his first show on American soil. “I loved the energy! It was amazing!” he exclaimed. “Did you see how many times the hecklers almost started a riot?” The clinician, Dr. Youssef, was once again in analytical mode. Surgical. Detached. Self-confident. It becomes apparent that everything Youssef does, from his hairstyle to his monologue, is intentional.
Centrally located, the Loews Regency is 15 minutes away from the esteemed Museum of Modern Art as well as New York’s amazing Central Park, providing an ideal location with all the benefits of midtown Manhattan just a few steps away. Since it opened its doors in 1963, the Loews Regency continues to set high standards in sophistication, first class service and provides its guests with an inimitable modern ambiance. Our rooms were enormous and lavishly appointed, and the room service was world class. Topping off our perfect stay at the Loews Regency was their Grill, serving delicious American cuisine which delighted our plates and had us asking for more. Not to mention the hotel’s fabulous and upscale salon, spa and fitness centre which worked wonders on our jet lag exhaustion, leaving us glowing and full of energy to complete the endless preparations for this tour. But what really made the hotel our home away from home was the amazingly warm and welcoming staff, who really made our all too short stay at the Loews Regency, a memorable one. This is one prime hotel we recommend wholeheartedly to would be visitors to the Big Apple.
Overwhelmed with excitement and enthusiasm after Bassem Youssef’s engaging show, the crowd couldn’t wait to meet the media star in person. Guests gathered in a friendly celebration at the French Institute Alliance Francaise beautiful sky room, with floor to ceiling windows to meet Youssef personally, take pictures with him and congratulate him on the success of his show. Many even stood in a long queue for this opportunity, and one die-hard fan told us how he saved up and flew in from Philadelphia, just to be able to come see his idol. It was truly an evening to remember, and Youssef’s fans were enthralled by him and the fact that they were actually hanging out with the man they had watched and admired from afar for so long.
In glamorous Los Angeles, Youssef wowed the crowd with an inspirational and flawless show that delved into his upbringing, why he chose this career, his unlikely rise to fame, and why it felt so great to be back on stage again. Held in the gloriously retro, old Hollywood setting of the Crest Westwood Hotel, the show took place on a stage truly befitting the event’s stature. During the show, Youssef was very forthcoming and seemed to relish the opportunity to return to his tried and true comedy roots after his earlier sabbatical. All of this brought back the enthusiasm and sheer joy that the famous satirist imparted on viewers on a weekly basis on TV, when his show Al Bernameg broke viewing records all over the Middle East. By crossing oceans and touring countries, it was clear that the demand for Youssef, his wit, humour and satire, was still going strong. His influence in the world was alive and kicking, surpassing even his inclusion in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People in the World’ feature. Indeed, Bassem Youssef proved that he still has what it takes to shine; and this tour demonstrated that he is more than just a talented satirist. Not to mention, all the shows on the tour were fully packed, tickets sold out quickly and demand for them continued to the last minute. Thus whether you love him or hate him, it is hard to argue that he is a significant voice of our time; a voice capable of reaching masses and making change.
After the conclusion of the show, and our tour, we knew this after party would be the one where we could truly let go and celebrate. Youssef, along with the VIP attendees and the eniGma team flocked to Byblos Restaurant for a boisterous celebration party. Guests were treated to the restaurant’s delicious Arabic food and flowing beverage offerings, in a fitting cap to a truly memorable tour. And one of California’s best wineries, Summerland, provided an endless flow of delicious red and white wine throughout the evening, making the evening that much more special and glamourous. As always, Youssef behaved like a true rock star, mingling and taking pictures with virtually all the attendees, after doing red carpet interviews with select media.
As the tour came to an end, we finally had a chance to take in the historic nature of what we just accomplished. A question lingered: What is it about Youssef that draws so many people to him? What makes them pay for expensive tickets just to listen to what others believe to be controversial stir ups and ‘taboo’ dialogue? Some perceive him as the voice of Middle East’s silenced majority; others disagree with his satirical and witty expressions. Regardless, Youssef knows how to handle his spotlight like a true rock star.
Whether the attending guests showed up out of admiration or disdain for Youssef is open to debate. What’s not, though, is that Youssef still has serious box office pull amongst his fans all over the world. Truth be told, no other Egyptian artist, satirist, or columnist has ever pulled off an international tour of such magnitude, where guests pay top dollar just to hear them speak. In fact, had the tour been expanded to other locations, Youssef could have sold out shows in many other big cities. As proven by his tour, Bassem Youssef’s days of ‘tickling the giant’, are definitely not over.
We couldn’t have done it without you! Special Thanks To…
British Airways (London & New York):
We knew the world’s leading airline, British Airways, was the ideal airline sponsor for this exciting tour. With several long distance trips in total, several of them cross the Atlantic, Bassem Youssef and the eniGma team members were profoundly impressed with the airline’s top-notch service, comfortable seats, endless inflight entertainment, yummy food (we loved the English scones especially) and the quiet and spacious cabins.
Matar Ventures (London & New York):
Founded in 2006 by Ali Matar, Matar Ventures have been raising equity for projects through capital management companies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. With over 15 years of media and entertainment experience between the United Kingdom and the UAE, Dr. Ali Matar has been involved in business ventures raising capital for real estate projects and entertainment productions. Matar Ventures partnered up with us to make this event happen in London and New York, supporting us with organisation, awareness and logistics. And Ali Mattar was an entegral part of our team and success!
Known for their high quality digital video productions across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Tarmak, the international film and digital media agency, were the consummate professionals as they sponsored our London show with their amazing video and photography services. Not only did they capture still moments from our London show but they also filmed and edited the show in its entirety, using their professional expertise to create a special, high quality video of our event.
The Langham Hotel:
Known as Europe’s first ‘Grand Hotel’ The Langham Hotel was a great supporter of our Bassem Youssef tour. Since 1865 the Langham Hotel has enchanted its guests, with a legendary glamour and top class service. The luxurious hotel graciously sponsored our notorious classy soirée in tribute of our star and the team’s success. Our guests delighted in the Langham’s amazing setting, starting with the dazzling ambience of the hotel’s Palm Court, the live jazz music, and the never ending flow of sumptuous food and beverages. Thanks to the amazing team at The Langham Hotel, our London show ended with a truly memorable celebration.
Florence Gould Theatre:
The Florence Gould Hall Theatre hosted the Bassem Youssef New York show, with its large capacity of 361 seats; all of which were filled with Bassem Youssef’ excited fans. With state of the art sound and light equipment as well as a colossal stage, this distinguished NYC stage befit the Bassem Youssef show and the energy of the hall made the night unforgettable.
Arab America (New York & Los Angeles):
Arab America, the website that is defined as the ‘bridge’ that connects the diverse Arab American Community, played a huge role in our events. Through its promotional banners and announcements, as well as its cultural encouragement of our event, Arab America reached its vast swath of the Arab American Community in New York and L.A, thus providing essential support to the tour to reach Bassem Youssef’s fans in the U.S. For Arabs around the world, the site also provides great articles, exclusive interviews and all the latest news that matters to the Arab community.
Nebil Zarif, the Turkish American entrepreneur and his legendary Summerland Wines can be found at all the best locations around the US. The California winery is known for its high quality white and red wines and their unique first class service. Thus we were truly honoured when Summerland once again supported us by providing all the wines at our celebratory after party in the City of Angels.
During our Los Angeles event, our organising efforts were aided tremendously by our cooperation with LA’s famous Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP). The national, volunteer-based organis vation connects Arab professionals throughout the US, through their online platforms and networking events. NAAP’s LA branch played a massive role in promoting the event in Los Angeles, enabling us to reach so many members of our target audience.
Boasting with Lebanese flair, Byblos, the Mediterranean Restaurant and Hookah Bar, located in the heart of Westwood Blvd in Los Angeles, was the perfect place to end our L.A evening. Celebrating the success of the show as well as the end of a remarkable tour, guests at Byblos were graciously treated to the restaurant’s incredible food and beverages as well as mind-blowing Middle Eastern entertainment. And the venue’s Egyptian owner, the ever gracious Amir Mikheal, made us feel right at home.
The renowned Hollywood photographer, Santosh Peters, widely known for his professional album cover shoots and photojournalistic works, helped shoot some of the most priceless moments of our LA events. With his unforgettable smile and his photographic talent, Tosh is our “go to” photographer in LA and a true joy to work with.