In a night of satirical political humor, comedian Bassem Youssef hopes that his one-man show at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater will make Chautauquans laugh, of course — but also think a bit about things that connect them across divides.
“I hope (the audience) will laugh with me and at the same time, think and get to know my story,” Youssef said. “Despite the fact that we come from different backgrounds, I think we’re pretty much the same. We have more similarities than we think.”
An “accidental” comedian, Youssef was a cardiothoracic surgeon in Egypt. He posted a “Hail Mary” YouTube video which garnered attention for imitating Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” and went viral.
“(I was) bringing parts of the Egyptian media looking bad,” Youssef said. “Before I knew it, I’m offered a show on television. At the time, I was getting ready to leave Egypt because I got the fellowship in Cleveland.”
The fellowship was in pediatric heart surgery, but came just as his comedy career was gaining momentum. At first he took a two-year leave of absence, then eventually had to submit his resignation to do comedy full-time.
Although political and satirical, Youssef said he prefers “deep, thoughtful (and) intelligent” comedy, is an element of freedom of expression, coinciding with the Week Eight theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy.”
“The more or less expression of freedom a country has will reflect on its comedy,” Youssef said. “The comedy in the Middle East is stifled (and) smothered by digital space and marginal freedom.”
In its programming, the Institution “intentionally looked” to have a comedian for this week, said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer.
“Historically, comedians have played such an essential role in expressing themselves freely, in commenting on society and politics, in a way that builds community versus breaking it down,” she said.
Moore said she thinks Chautauquans will learn a lot from the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World” ’s perspective and humor.
“He’s not only funny, I think he’s edgy,” she said. “He finds a way to express what the week is about: freedom of expression and imagination.”
Laughter, Moore said, reminds people to engage in freedom of expression and consider other people’s perspectives.
“Some of us might laugh at things that other people don’t and vice versa,” she said. “Stand-up comedy, historically, has been a critical part of freedom of expression in America.”