Bassem Youssef on his interview with Piers Morgan: Someone had to change the narrative

Heba Abdelsattar in Sharjah , Saturday 11 Nov 2023

Egyptian standup comedian Bassem Youssef discussed his viral interview with Piers Morgan on Israel's war in Gaza at a “public dialogue" with the Emirati entrepreneur and interviewer Anas Bukhash.

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef


Youssef's remarks came Friday evening during his keynote discussion at the Sharjah International Book Fair, before an audience of 1,300.

Youssef discussed his book "The Magical Reality of Nadia" and shared insights into his creative journey. Youssef spoke about spending months without work after moving to the USA and the challenges he faced during this transition.

Following the event, Youssef engaged with the audience by signing copies of his book. Visitors to the book fair queued up hours in advance to attend Youssef's session, some wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh in solidarity.

He recounted the circumstances leading to his interview with Piers Morgan about the war on Gaza. Despite warnings from his agent that it could be career suicide, Youssef insisted on the interview, feeling the need to change the narrative. 

“Piers Morgan himself asked me three times if I was sure I wanted to talk. My agent said it would be a career suicide. But I just knew I had to say something. Someone had to change the narrative,” he said.

Youssef, who received a warm reception from the audience, justified his decision, saying "When I started to look into things more, I felt provoked and that the image presented about us was wrong. The image in the media was very bad, and it was a good idea to come out to talk about another side instead of what others were talking about.", he said.

The comedian said that he agreed to the second interview with a clear intention to have a serious conversation about facts and history.

“I decided I wasn't going to get into a fight, I did not want to argue, or tell jokes. The idea was to listen and force him to listen to me. No matter how confrontational the person in front of me is, or wants to score goals against me. Piers Morgan has this tendency to push his interviewees and use words to irritate them so that they react. I knew this. So I put my ego aside when I went,” he said.

Youssef criticized the news coverage of the events, explaining: “The problem with news is that it now passes through news presenters. The news industry has turned into an entertainment industry, and the characters are more important than the plot, as in a soap opera.”

“The thing that enabled the famous American series Friends to continue for ten seasons is its characters, not its plot,” he continued. 

“The neglect of plot moved to the news, and it became focused on the presenters of that news, which turned it into a circus, as the news became about the news presenters and their inflated selves.”

Youssef revealed that he built three teams to help him in the second interview. “I created three teams of researchers, academics, and historians from around the world. Some were from Gaza itself and gave me information from on the ground”, he said.

Youssef made headlines after his interview with Morgan on Piers Morgan Uncensored, which became the most-watched episode since the show was launched last year. The interview amassed more than 20 million views on YouTube in only 13 days

Through satire and dark humour, Youssef drove home some important messages during the interview.

After the immense popularity of the interview, Morgan and Youssef had a second face-to-face interview. The interview has over 10 million views and sees Youssef delivering a brief history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Youssef also addressed how he is a democratic father who learns every day from his children. " I share my experiences with them and don’t force them anything on them. I feel like that is how you can break the chain of negative parenting.”, he said.

Youssef on parenting

In Sharjah, Youssef also explained that his book "The Magical Reality of Nadia" was inspired by a personal experience of what his daughter Nadia faced when she started school in the USA as a child of immigrant parents. “The book is all about accepting others for who they are,” he said.

Regarding the challenges he had faced when he moved to the USA,  Youssef said that he spent several months without work.

“It was difficult. I had no offers for months. My first English shows were depressing. I did not know whether I could do it but I had to go on. I wanted to break out of the formula of my famous political satirical program, “The Bassem Show” which had made me a star,” he explained.

“I resorted to the English language, to distance myself as much as possible from the show, because if I presented any content in Arabic, comparisons with the show would become immediately apparent," he said. “But things started to change after a while. It was a whole new learning experience for me."

Finally, he advised his audience " My main advice for you is to be patient, and good things will come to you. Life will come to you as you want”

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