Photo credit: Mustapha Azzab
Describe your latest book.
My book Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring
is exactly what the title describes: a guide for people who have absolutely no idea about the Middle East or the Arab Spring. It is strange that we get used to hearing and repeating things without really knowing what the hell they are. In the book, I try to explain the massive shifts that happened in the region while also explaining the changes that occurred inside me while I was working as a heart surgeon, when I switched careers overnight to become the host of the biggest political satire show in the region. It’s a personal story combined with a background of international events. And don’t worry, if you don’t know what political Islam, military powers, Muslim Brotherhood, or Sharia mean or do, well, you will get a totally subjective explanation of all of that!
But what is really interesting about the book was that, as I was finishing it, I saw a striking resemblance between the way Trump and tyrants and dictators and incompetent liars deal with the media and free speech. You will be surprised, very surprised.
What were your favorite books as a child?
’s books. What else?
When did you know you were a writer?
I am still struggling with this fact. Am I a writer? Really?
What does your writing workspace look like?
A comfortable couch, with a coffee table to stretch my legs out on.
What do you care about more than most people around you?
I care that no one acts like a jerk. Coming from a very conservative society, I observed many judgmental tendencies. Even working as a doctor, where we do nothing but judge, it was hard to drop the habit. I’m still working hard on it.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I used to write articles in an Egyptian newspaper, and I write my views on my official Facebook page. And let me admit that not many people like what I have to say, especially when I speak against the military or Islamic regimes in Egypt and around the world. But one time I was walking back to my home in Dubai (it was winter, because you can’t walk in the summer), and I noticed a guy stepping out of a car and running toward me. I was worried for a second but discovered that he just wanted a photo. Then, after we were done, he confessed that he trolled me a lot online and badmouthed me only because his father is an army general. But when he saw me, he couldn’t help but take a photo with me. It’s funny how one can have a totally different personality behind a screen than one does in person.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
I can’t admit it because I am too embarrassed!
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
Not a collection, but rather a theme. I like to read books about different cults and religions. It fascinates me how someone could bet his life, and afterlife, on a certain conviction.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
After medicine I decided to take a break for six months. I asked my dad to help me invest in a small chicken farm. I bought 10,000 chicks and hoped to make a profit. I didn’t. I failed miserably and lost the money. I paid him later, much later, by flying him business class to New York to watch me accept an award from Jon Stewart
What scares you the most as a writer?
The same thing that scares me as a speaker, comedian, satirist, or person: not being able to perform (and yes, that also means something else entirely, and as a man in his 40s, I am scared of that too).
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
Bassem Youssef: A Life in Limbo.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
“Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia,” from George Orwell’s 1984
. As simple as it may sound, it reflects the genius of his writing. Masses accepting right away a different reality and in no time becoming staunch protectors of the new reality.
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
This is something that I said to the so-called “men of religion in my country.” You see, they have a habit of making everyone feel guilty for speaking up against them and against their backward religious rhetoric. So one time I said, “Well, it is a very simple solution really; if you don’t think we are Muslim enough, we don’t think that you are scholars or have anything to do with religion. And if you continue bugging us about our doomed fate in hell, well, enjoy heaven alone, there is much more space for you.” (It sounds better in Arabic.)
Describe a recurring or particularly memorable dream or nightmare.
Finding myself taking an exam that I have not studied for.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
Myself; English is my second language. I destroy it on a daily basis.
Do you have any phobias?
The most common of all, a phobia of failing. But it is not a phobia; it’s more of a consistent concern.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Wasting my time on Facebook, even though it’s not even pleasurable.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Nobody cares about you.
When are you going to stop worrying?
Top Five Books:
by George Orwell
I think we all know what this is about.
2. Forcing God's Hand
by Grace Halsell
The first book I ever read about how a religious theory or conviction like The Rapture can affect political outcomes in some American circles.
3. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
by Patrick Süskind
Fiction. I enjoyed the book more than the movie, of course.
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
Freaking hilarious. I read it when I was 15 and still laugh and giggle whenever I recall it.
5. The Starch Solution
by John McDougall and Mary Mcdougall
This has to do with my lifestyle. I follow a plant-based, whole-food diet, and this is one of the books that changed my life.
÷ ÷ ÷
was the host of Albernameg
, the first-of-its-kind political satire show in the Middle East from 2011 until the show's termination by the Egyptian government in 2014. Youssef is currently the host of The Democracy Handbook
, a digital series with Fusion TV, and now lives in the United States. Revolution for Dummies
is his first book.