Thursday, March 26, 2020

Stay At Home Festival: Film Thirty Seven: TICKLING GIANTS (2016)

As we are locked away in our social distancing bubble perhaps we need to ponder what may happen if the far right/left and right and the various cancel cultures prevent us from saying/thinking what doesn't go with their agendas. Perhaps the best place to do that is with portrait of  Bassem Youssef who was once the "Jon Stewart of Egypt" and who uses humor to bring us together and deflate the pompous and the stupid.

Here is my original review from when it played Tribeca four years back.  It is currently streaming on Amazon.

For me the idea of free speech is an important thing. Being able to tell our leaders to eat shit and die is vital to a free society. Its why seeing people such as Donald Trump calling on his followers to silence the opposition is terrifying. The world has become stupidly reflexive  to the point that no one can take a joke. Everyone takes offense at everything. People have forgotten that while we have many rights, we do not have a right not to be offended. If we aren't allowed to make fun of things, and of offending those in power then we have lost a basic human right. Being able to do so helps prevent the authoritarian bond because it brings the demagogue and tyrants down to earth.

For the time being, the Unites States is still a free society. We can still speak our minds and make jokes (as long as we are not on a college campus or Trump rally). In theory we can still more or less say what we mean. If we say something, we are not, ipso facto, going to die. However where Bassem Youssef is concern the wrong joke could get him killed.

TICKLING GIANTS is one of the best films at Tribeca. Its at the top of the heap as to the recent run of films about humor and free speech. It gets to the top because where other films deal with the ideas in the abstract this look at Bassem Youssef, the Jon Stewart of Egypt is what happens when you make fun of dictators.

Youssef is not a comedian by trade, he was and is a surgeon. However then the Arab Spring happened he and a friend started doing an internet program in the style of Jon Stewart. As the government changed Youssef was offered a weekly TV series doing what he had been doing on line. His show was so popular that over 30 million people tuned in each night (Stewart's peak nightly viewership was only 2 million). As the political climate changed yet again Youssef found himself in deep trouble as the network dropped him and there were serious calls for his assassination.

Charting the run of Youssef's show from internet hit to TV hit to political target with death threats TICKLING GIANTS shows us very clearly what could happen if we lose the right to speak up. A wonderful brother to CAN WE TAKE A JOKE? which looked at humor and censorship, GIANTS reveals what will happen when censorship come knocking, fear and death. This is not abstract ideas or people arguing in the streets, this is people with bombs and guns trying to silence the opposition. Its terrifying. It is this real world practicality that lifts the film over some other similar docs.

GIANTS is also very funny thanks to Youssef's refusal to stop making jokes about things. Yes he gets serious but he always seems to find a joke in there somewhere. Life may get dangerous but the jokes just keep on coming.

TICKLING GIANTS moved me. Here is a stunning portrait of a man who refuses to back down and shut up. Youssef's inability to buckle puts him high in the pantheon of those who fought for our human right to speak our minds. While Youssef has avoided the price that Lenny Bruce paid (so far) there is still a heavy price that he is paying.

This is one of the best films of 2016 and and an absolute must see. You must see what a the lessening of free speech will bring.

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