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Middle Beast Tour: Bassem Youssef Down the Street From the White House 

posted on: Feb 21, 2024

By: Malak Hassouna / Arab America Contributing Writer 

YALA YA BASSEM!! One of the most memorable moments of the Arab Spring and its aftermath was Bassem Youssef’s. His show, Al-Berameg, brought laughter to many of our homes. Throughout its three-year run, Al-Berameg attracted more than 30 million viewers per week. However, political pressure forced him to cancel the program after he was detained for allegedly insulting Egypt’s president. His unorthodox start as a surgeon to a now comedian happened during the 2011 uprisings in Egypt. Where he describes feeling a calling to say something about what is happening, not knowing it would lead to the most watched program in the country, his detainment, and exile from his home country. When no one dared to be outwardly political during a regime change, Bassem Youssef pushed the boundaries of free speech in his country, which led him to reside in Los Angeles, California. He is on the Middle Beast tour, which our writer Malak Hassouna enjoyed attending at Warner Theatre in DC. 

Bassem has been a hot topic in the news for a while, especially since October 7th. His two interviews with Pierce Morgan have gone viral, leading to a spark in his fame in the West. He holds the Palestinian issue very close to his heart, not only out of his humanity but also out of understanding what his wife’s family, who is Palestinian, is going through. However, one of the reasons he is one of the people who have gone viral during this time is because he doesn’t just use complex political jargon that no one understands. He mixes satire and breaks it down so kindergarteners can understand. He makes it relatable, funny, and a more approachable way of speaking on things.

During this show, he did not talk heavily about the ongoing violence in Gaza. He acknowledged that his crowd was mainly people who were very well informed on the matter and sympathized and shared a collective hatred towards Israel’s actions. His concern for the issue seemed genuine, but it was very much appreciated that he did not make the entire show about it. He acknowledged that his audience needs a break from what is happening before us. That’s why his set was centered around the antidote surrounding his life.

The show at Warner Theatre brought so many Arabs and non-Arabs from across the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) to see him perform in English. One of the neat things about Bassem is that he performs shows worldwide in English and Arabic to cater to his audience. Some of the show’s funny moments included him interacting with the “few white individuals” at the show, but it would not be fair to talk about the show without talking about his opener.

Malik Elassal is a young Lebanese Muslim comedian who made sure that the crowd was warmed up for Bassem before he got on stage, asking for the crowd demographic as well as cracking jokes about his journey with religion, but also speaking about how discrimination can impact the ones we love, the story he shared about his mom’s hijab and his use of comedy through that was pure magic. He is someone that should be watched for in the future. 

He has always been outspoken about the necessity of freedom of speech, especially in the media, because that is one of the reasons his shows were canceled in Egypt. One of the most significant portions of his set was dedicated to his six-hour-long interrogation with police officers. His jokes turned into a writer’s room because when they recalled all of them, that was evidence of how he insulted the current president; he was thinking of ways to improve it. He also talks about the Immigrant experience and arriving in the United States, how many expectations he had, and how they were met. He also raised two kids in the United States. 

One thing that sticks out about him is how authentic his experience feels and how relatable he is. Most of his audience was indeed Arab American immigrants he played into his background, but it came off so genuine and so relatable it feels like it’s someone that you can sit and have dinner with. He doesn’t feel so out of touch or Out Of Reach. He went through the same experiences that most of his audience went through. It was a genuinely great experience to witness so many generations of Arab Americans in the audience, including teenagers and grandparents, laughing at these jokes.

In no way did the show disappoint the political satire, and his continuance advocacy for free speech, especially during a time when Arab Americans are not allowed the same privileges as their counterparts in the United States, is something that stood firm during the show he even stated: “To be doing this down the street from the White House is the biggest hoorah of it all.” While he performs in Los Angeles and the Orange County area a lot as a native of California, Malak never got to see him due to him being sold out; now we understand what the hype is about. The Middle East Tour just kicked off in February. Still, he is touring domestically in the United States and internationally throughout the rest of the year, so be sure to check out what the brave comedian has in store for his audience. 

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