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From Escape to Comedy

Comedy and political satire turned Bassem Youssef from the "Egyptian Jon Stewart" to wanted man. This weekend in Miami the former heart surgeon details the humorous side of his robust life.

by Chuck king

DORAL – Having worn a mask at work for years, Bassem Youssef struggles to understand why some people are so opposed to wearing them during the pandemic.

He’s shocked by the reason often given.

“I don’t know why masks would become political.” Youssef said. “When people here say they are taking away our freedoms, they don’t even know the first thing about what they are talking about.”

Youssef understands the fight for freedom. He’s been on the front line. As a cardiologist, he volunteered to help the injured in his native Egypt during what became known as the Arab Spring uprisings.

In doing so, Youssef surprisingly launched a new career. He began producing humorous internet videos critical of the actions taken by the government during the uprising. Those videos led to a nationally broadcast television show that led to Youssef being called “The Egyptian Jon Stewart” – a nod to the American comic who at the time hosted The Daily Show.

More than 30 million videos watched Youssef’s comedy and political satire on a weekly basis.

Not everyone was a fan. The military grabbed control of the Egyptian government, and in 2014 Youssef escaped the country ahead of imminent detention, barely having time to pack a bag, ultimately settling in Los Angeles. Without a television show to occupy his brain, Youssef elected to give stand-up comedy a try.

“I’m very happy to go into this journey of reinventing myself,” Youssef said. “I’m trying to get myself back into the game, but through a different door, from a different space.”

The sudden career change hasn’t exactly been smooth.

“I’m doing stand-up comedy in a second language, in English, and it was difficult at the beginning,” Youssef said. “It was terrifying, I have to say.”

It’s been about three years since Youssef emigrated to America. As difficult as the transition has been, Youssef isn’t interested in returning to his career as a cardiac surgeon – and that has nothing to do with wearing a mask.

Even considering those struggles, he isn’t considering a return to the long hours and stress of an all-day surgical stint.

“It’s a very thankless job,” Youssef said, adding that his wife supports the career change.

While COVID-19 precautions keep Los Angeles in lockdown mode, Youssef remains busy. Youssef recently published his second book – a children’s book titled “The Magical Reality of Nadia.” He’s also in conversations with producers interested in creating a one-man show about his life experiences.

Anyone interested in learning more about those experiences will have a firsthand opportunity to do so this weekend when Youssef performs five shows in three days at the Miami Improv, beginning Friday.

“My show is stand-up comedy-slash-story telling-slash-one-man show,” Youssef said. “It’s basically my own journey.”

Whether discussing life as a surgeon, television celebrity, wanted man, or stand-up comic, Youssef’s vat of tales is overflowing.

“It’s been a wild ride,” he said.

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