Jon Stewart’s Egyptian doppelganger Bassem Youssef is getting the documentary treatment courtesy of The Daily Show’s Sara Taksler. Tickling Giants, a chronicle of how Youssef went from being a heart surgeon to hosting an immensely popular — and controversial — satirical news magazine, has already been filmed, with difficulty, in Egypt. Now it’s looking for completion funding via Indiegogo as it eyes the fall film fest circuit.
The making of the film was kept under wraps until shooting finished because of safety concerns for the crew in Egypt. The production says that when one cameraman was filming a viewing party for Youssef’s Daily Show-esque Al Bernameg, a person unhappy with the program beat him up and took his memory card. Because the government had begun checking hard drives, to get the last drive out of Egypt someone unrelated to the film had to fly the footage out of the country.
A daring public voice and equal-opportunity offender who used comedy to poke fun at the government and state of affairs in Egypt, Youssef first made international headlines in April 2013 when he was summoned for questioning by the public prosecutor on accusations he insulted then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Islamic faith. Charges were dropped, but he continued to stir up controversy on Al Bernameg which attracted 30M viewers per episode. Egyptian broadcaster CBC pulled the plug on the show in 2013 when Youssef joked about supporters of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former Army chief who went on to win the presidential election. Saudi-owned Egyptian broadcaster MBC Masr eventually picked up Al Bernameg last year, but ultimately cancelled it due to pressure.
Youssef has made appearances on The Daily Show, and Stewart also visited Al Bernameg while he was shooting Rosewater in the region. That film’s subject, Maziar Bahari, is a producer on Tickling Giants.
Taksler, a senior producer at The Daily Show, suggested the documentary on the day she met Youssef in 2012, but debated making the film for months. “I was scared to go to Egypt, especially since I couldn’t afford to bring a crew that I know with me.” When Youssef was called in for questioning, Taksler decided to take the risk, “I didn’t want to not do something that I think is important out of fear,” she says. Since then, tensions have grown over freedom of speech especially in light of the Sony hacking and the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, making this film a likely candidate for the fall film festivals it is eyeing.
Tickling Giants has raised nearly a third of its $150K goal for editing and translation. Here’s the trailer: