Some argue that “laughter is the best medicine”. This idea is particularly significant within Tickling Giants, which is outrageous and fascinating from the get-go. For Bassem Youssef, the surgeon-turned-satirical-comedian, laughter is the weapon with which he chooses to fight for his country’s freedom. However, the battle will not be an easy one, as director Sara Taksler’s inspiring documentary makes evident.
Tickling Giants documents the many successes and downfalls of a nation trying to find its voice. Known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt”, charismatic TV show host Bassem Youssef and his daring creative team quickly earn themselves a reputation for their cheeky, unabashed criticism of Egyptian politics, and their ability to make people laugh even in the darkest of times. The television programme, simply called The Show, became a hit during the Arab Spring uprisings, following the defeat of the country’s dictator Mubarak. It went on to offer a joke-filled commentary on the turbulent set of political conflicts that would follow this, garnering the attention of the media and millions of people. As Jon Stewart himself argues within the documentary when he appears as a guest on The Show, if this kind of entertainment mocking the president was aired in America, it would be commonplace, and not an issue. However, as Bassem Youssef also points out, this is Egypt, where the authorities will gladly throw a person in jail for simply making fun of their leaders. It is just absolutely not done… Until now.
While The Show appears to make light of some genuinely horrific situations occurring in Egypt, and undoubtedly offended many people, Youssef and his team are consistent in their efforts to put out a wider and more serious underlying message to their viewers – that we should all be entitled to the freedom of speech and expression. Taksler’s film is equally careful to balance the comedy of Tickling Giants with its more sombre themes. Although the documentary features lighthearted animation, hilarious behind-the-scenes clips and interviews and, of course, a lot of jokes, the director also knows exactly where footage of violent rebellion and uproar, injured protesters, blood on the streets, bombs going off and buildings reduced to rubble should be placed, to remind us throughout of the bigger issue being addressed.
Fantastically edited and constructed, Tickling Giants tells a remarkable story in an immediately engaging way, being humorous, tragic and awe-inspiring all at the same time, and deserves a widespread following. The film is a lesson in remembering that the fight against oppression can take many forms – even comedy.
Tickling Giants is released nationwide on 31st March 2017.
Watch the trailer for Tickling Giants here: