UAE: Bassem Youssef says viral Gaza interview was his 'way of changing narrative'

'Piers Morgan himself approached me; my manager said it would be a career suicide, but I just knew I had to say something'

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Photos: M Sajjad/KT
Photos: M Sajjad/KT

Published: Fri 10 Nov 2023, 11:13 PM

Last updated: Sun 12 Nov 2023, 2:49 PM

When British journalist Piers Morgan first approached him to talk about Gaza, Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef was warned by his manager that it would be a career suicide. “Piers Morgan himself approached me and asked me three times if I was sure if I wanted to talk,” he said, speaking at the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) on Friday evening. “My manager said it would be a career suicide. But I just knew I had to say something. Someone had to change the narrative.”

Speaking to a packed room, Youssef addressed several topics including his viral interview with Piers Morgan, his parenting philosophy and how he spent several months unable to get work after moving to Los Angeles. Hosting his session was entrepreneur and renowned Arab interviewer Anas Bukhash.

Despite all the warnings, Youssef, often called 'Egypt’s Jon Stewart,' decided to go ahead with the interview where he dropped truth bombs wrapped in his trademark comedy. The video went viral racking up over 20 million views- becoming the most watched episode of the show Piers Morgan Uncensored. This prompted Morgan to invite Youssef for a second round of chat- this time in person.

Steady preparation

Youssef said that he agreed for the second interview with a clear goal in mind. “I did not want to argue,” he said. “I wanted him to listen to me. Piers Morgan has this tendency to push the buttons of his interviewees and use words to irritate them so that they would react. I knew this. So I put my ego aside when I went.”

Youssef also knew that this interview was his one shot at delivering important information so he left no stone unturned to prepare for it. “I created three teams of researchers from around the world,” he said. “Some of them were from Gaza itself who gave me information from on the ground. In the days leading up to the interview, I divided my day into two parts. During one part I would learn and during the other part, I would practice my talk.”

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Youssef’s second interview with Morgan was aired earlier this month and has racked up over 10 millions views on YouTube. It has been described as a masterclass in the history of Palestine.

Parenting and becoming an author

Youssef also spoke about how he learns every day from his children. “I always encourage them to listen to their heart and stay to true to themselves,” he said. “We have different stories and different perspectives. I share my experiences with them and don’t force them for anything. I feel like that is how you can break the chain of negative parenting.”

He also said that his book The Magical Reality of Nadia was inspired by his own experience of and what his daughter Nadia had faced when she started school in America. “The book is all about accepting others for what they are,” he said.

Youssef said that after moving to Los Angeles five years ago, he spent several months without work. “I did not want to use a certain kind of language,” he said. “And that was difficult. I had no offers for months. I did not know whether I could do it but I took one step at a time, not compromising on anything. Things started falling into place after a while. It was a learning experience for me to take my time and not rush into anything. Be patient and good things will come to you.”

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