Tickling Giants tackles sarcasm and media in a repressive regime

Doc looks at Bassem Youssef, who created a Daily Show knockoff during Egypt’s Arab Spring


TICKLING GIANTS (Sara Taksler). 111 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (July 7). See listing. Rating: NNN 


Tickling Giants, getting a commercial run after screening here in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival earlier this spring, looks at the unlikely media stardom of Cairo heart surgeon Bassem Youssef. 

A massive Jon Stewart fan, Youssef reinvented himself during the Arab Spring as a political satirist on YouTube, which led to his own comedy program on Egyptian television: The Show, a Daily Show knockoff so shameless that it even replicated the design and colour scheme of Stewart’s set. 

Youssef’s material wasn’t exactly sophisticated, but the mere fact that he and his writers dared to make light of authoritarian leaders like Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was revolutionary. And they were entirely unprepared for their silly show to become a target of the repressive regimes, which becomes very clear as protestors surround the studio on show night and call for Youssef’s head.

Filmmaker Sara Taksler – a producer on the real Daily Show – tags along with The Show on its rollercoaster ride, and if Tickling Giants never digs as deep as it could, it’s still a fascinating look at a culture just beginning to understand the power of sarcasm.

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