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May 10, 2018

STAY TUNED: Live from the Apollo (with Bassem Youssef)

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Before the Egyptian revolution, Bassem Youssef was a heart surgeon who moonlighted as a political comedian. He went on to become the Jon Stewart of Egypt, poking fun at the regime with an audience of 40 million people. Then he was forced to flee the country. Preet spoke with Bassem live on stage at the Apollo Theater about his journey from doctor to comedian to, now, podcast host in America. Bassem’s show, “Remade in America,” launches later this month.

Plus: Preet reflects on the accusations against former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — and what might happen next for himself.

Do you have a question for Preet? Tweet them to @PreetBharara with the hashtag #askpreet, email [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 and leave a voicemail.

Live from The Apollo (with Bassem Youssef)

Air date: 5/10/18

Preet Bharara:

Now let me introduce a guest that I’m so pleased and excited to bring out, Bassem Youssef. I’ve been tweeting about him for a while. Yeah. I don’t know anyone who has more courage and more fortitude combined with humor and grace and intelligence than Bassem Youssef. He began as a cardiothoracic surgeon. Not began. I guess at birth, he didn’t have his medical degree. Although I don’t know, this guy might have. And quickly became, almost overnight, a sensation when he decided to mock and satirize the Egyptian leadership, which landed him in a lot of trouble. Ultimately what’s good for us, is that it landed him in America and we have the benefit of his wisdom and his performances. Ladies and gentlemen, Bassem Youssef.

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Hi.

Bassem Youssef:

It’s [crosstalk 00:27:31]-

Preet Bharara:

That’s quite an entrance.

Bassem Youssef:

It’s the Apollo. I mean, I’m sorry. Your mom is listening.

Preet Bharara:

The world famous-

Bassem Youssef:

… I can’t-

Preet Bharara:

The world famous-

Bassem Youssef:

Your mom is listening and I don’t want to swear.

Preet Bharara:

You can.

Bassem Youssef:

But it’s [crosstalk 00:27:44]-

Preet Bharara:

This is not Egypt, buddy.

Bassem Youssef:

Believe me, you can swear in Egypt, but you can’t-

Preet Bharara:

Not at certain people. You can swear down.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Not up.

Bassem Youssef:

Thank you so much for coming. Oh my God, look, I mean it’s amazing.

Preet Bharara:

You filled it up.

Bassem Youssef:

It’s amazing. Yeah. I mean, you know how amazing it is. These people are paying tickets for a podcast they can listen to for free.

Preet Bharara:

I [crosstalk 00:28:05]-

Bassem Youssef:

Thank you so much guys.

Speaker 6:

[crosstalk 00:28:10].

Bassem Youssef:

All right.

Preet Bharara:

I didn’t invite those people.

Bassem Youssef:

That’s cool. They’re just people shouting Arabic thing, scaring the shit out of white people. That’s why [inaudible 00:28:20]. It’s fine. It’s just like this is-

Preet Bharara:

The story of your life.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Right?

Bassem Youssef:

That’s why Arab people they avoid first class because they want to be as far as possible from the cockpits. They want to be back there.

Preet Bharara:

They’re the anti-Scott Pruitt.

Bassem Youssef:

Cool.

Preet Bharara:

Can we start at the beginning?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Not birth.

Bassem Youssef:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Preet Bharara:

You became a surgeon, a heart surgeon. Is that the hardest kind of doctor to become?

Bassem Youssef:

That and brain surgery, yes.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. Why’d you do that?

Bassem Youssef:

To please my parents.

Preet Bharara:

Yes, you’re a better son than above all. Although then I never became a comedian.

Bassem Youssef:

Well, the thing is, if you are in Egypt, you’re allowed only three choices. To be a doctor, an engineer or a disappointment. And-

Preet Bharara:

That’s very similar to India [crosstalk 00:29:10]-

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah, exactly. This is kind of the status of middle class families in Egypt. My son, the doctor, my son, the engineer, that’s it. All is left now is to get them married.

Preet Bharara:

Right. What was it like growing up in Cairo back when you grew up in Cairo?

Bassem Youssef:

We were a middle class as I said. Among few who were privileged according to a country like Egypt, a developing country like Egypt. We went to good schools. I was a nerd. I went to the school, got high grades, went to do medicine. But even when I was doing medicine, I felt that there was something missing. Because I didn’t really like to be a doctor because all doctors have a God complex. They’re assholes, and I didn’t want to be associated with them. Then I always wanted to have my own social life outside of medicine. I always played sports and had hobbies. Hobbies that don’t really go with being a doctor.

Preet Bharara:

What kind of hobby does not go with being a doctor?

Bassem Youssef:

Dancing.

Preet Bharara:

Dancing?

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah, I did salsa for 10 years and then I did tango for another a considerable amount of my time. I did salsa and tango, yes.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. I mean, that’s great.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. I [crosstalk 00:30:20]-

Preet Bharara:

Was there a lot of opportunity?

Bassem Youssef:

As I was a resident in heart surgery, I had the biggest salsa class in YouTube. I had like 50 people coming to my classes each class.

Preet Bharara:

You were teaching salsa?

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah. I was a bad ass.

Preet Bharara:

I wouldn’t use the past tense, Bassem.

Bassem Youssef:

Well, but here’s the thing, this was frowned upon. This was criticized by people in my circle as doctors. They would say that it’s not something a doctor would do. I was judged not because of my work or my level of expertise as a doctor, but because I went out there and danced. The reason why I mention that is, people take salsa and tango and dancing lightly. But the thing about judgment in a certain place in the world, dictatorship doesn’t start from tyranny. It starts from judgment and infringing on your personal life. Telling you what you can and cannot do, and what is appropriate and what’s accepted by society or not. This even before the revolution, even … Thank you. I’m going to start my classes 52nd street very soon. And-

Preet Bharara:

Did you ever see the movie Footloose?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. I just-

Bassem Youssef:

But the thing is, this is a way that when the revolution happened and those young people took to the street, most of the discussion for the older generation was they were disturbed because they didn’t like this kind of disruption of the status quo. Anything that disrupt the status quo is frowned upon. Whether this was calling for the fall of a dictator or going out and dancing and doing your own thing. Even after the revolution, when I had my show, I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but my Facebook profile was public. I’m a regular guy and my pictures were there. The Islamists and later on the pro-military TV stations, started to go in and pick up private photos of me during dancing.

Preet Bharara:

In compromising tango positions?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes, in compromising … I mean, Hey, it’s like before horizontal tango there is vertical tango and starts from there.

Preet Bharara:

I’m just going to tell my son, just keep doing the Rubik’s cube, buddy.

Bassem Youssef:

The thing is, this was actually a big issue used by propaganda against me. As, he is not good enough to speak about democracy because the democracy that he wants is about sexual freedom and douchebaggery. That-

Preet Bharara:

Wait, I’m sorry. What?

Bassem Youssef:

That means being a deviant, sex hungry, whatever. Anyway, that was used-

Preet Bharara:

Which you were?

Bassem Youssef:

Absolutely. But this is the way they attack. They don’t attack your ideas, they don’t attack what you propose concerning democracy or freedom of expression. They will go to the private life and they will try to compromise you. Even if that is just like, we’re dancing, we’re not doing anything. But that was enough for people to use that against me and other people to tell them, “This is the kind of freedom that they want to bring to the country.”

Preet Bharara:

Right. Before we get to the moment where you decided to start doing satire and comedy, especially with respect to the leadership of Egypt. Before you did any of that, were you a funny person? Did you make jokes in the operating room over the beating heart? I mean-

Bassem Youssef:

No. There is one-

Preet Bharara:

What were you doing?

Bassem Youssef:

There is one rule in the operating room, which is, the senior surgeon makes the jokes and everybody laughs. You cannot not laugh. That was [crosstalk 00:33:55]-

Preet Bharara:

You were the senior surgeon?

Bassem Youssef:

No, I was …

Preet Bharara:

Okay.

Bassem Youssef:

I’m the one who’s doing the laughing. But you have to imagine, these are operations. These go to five and six hours. People are not there discussing Kafka. They are actually cracking jokes and talking about stuff. Actually some of the best jokes are tracked into the operation room. But I was not exceptionally funny. I was not the guy who goes in and … I was a nerd. I went to medical school. There is-

Preet Bharara:

Over countless operations you learned at the feet of the head surgeons?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Who you had to laugh at?

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Okay, all right.

Bassem Youssef:

That’s my experience in comedy.

Preet Bharara:

That’s good training.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Then you get to this point where you decide to make YouTube videos on a lark. What happened?

Bassem Youssef:

Well, I’m going to go back a little bit to why did I decide to do the YouTube videos? Because when the revolution happened … I mean, I was not a political activist.

Preet Bharara:

But remind people what year the revolution was when.

Bassem Youssef:

The revolution was 25th of January, 2011. Like many people, I was surprised by the fact that there are people in the streets calling for the fall of the regime. That was something that I’ve never seen in my life. I mean, 30 years of my life I’m under the same president. Which gets a little bit comfortable, repetitive. I always say, in the middle East, we have a longterm relationships with our dictatorship and it’s a family thing. It’s kind of like, I always answered, this is the difference between you and us. Every four years you’re kind of changing your president like a Tinder date, you swiping at the left. We have stability more. What happened was that I was not an activist, but I was, like many people, fed up with the same president. There was news about him giving the president to his son. I went there. I didn’t try to protest or throw rocks. I just went there as a doctor trying to treat people in the square. There’s one night where kind of I wanted to do a more active role.

Bassem Youssef:

There was kind of a line of a confrontation between the people in the square and the thugs that were pushed by the government in order to get them out of the square. They were throwing rocks at each other. I wanted to be active and I said like, “You know what, I’m going to just collect my courage and I’m going to get a rock and I’m going to throw it to the other side.” Then I got it and then I threw it and it slipped and it hit one on the back of our side. Thank God I was wearing a white coat, so that gave me protection. I just turned around and just went back to fixing wounds instead of causing them. That was the 18 days. I mean, the 18 days, I mean, we were happy. We celebrated the removal of the dictator, Hosni Mubarak, at that time. During the six weeks after the revolution, people started to collect the videos of the Egyptian media. I remember I was in the streets, in the square seeing a certain reality going back faced by a different reality on television.

Bassem Youssef:

That was a reality that was totally made up. I mean, if you talk about fake news, I mean we’ve got it. I said, “Somebody needs to remind people what was the media doing while they were in the streets.” I started to collect and edit the videos and did these videos in my laundry room, and I just released them. I said, “Yeah, maybe 10,000 people will watch [inaudible 00:37:35].”

Preet Bharara:

Right. How many people watched?

Bassem Youssef:

In five weeks, actually six, seven weeks, there were 5 million people watching. 5 million is how much your cat gets, but at that time, 5 million was a big, big number back in Egypt. Suddenly every single TV network started to contact me to start a show on a TV. At that time I was already accepted in a pediatric heart surgery fellowship in Cleveland and I was waiting for my H-1 visa. I know under Trump that would be a distant memory, the H-1 visa. But I was waiting for the H-1 visa to come. When it arrived, it arrived the same day wheN I were having the contract that will give me a one year contract to do a TV show. They came on the same day and I had to make a choice. Should I continue healing people’s hearts or should they choose money? I chose money. Yes. I did.

Preet Bharara:

You were destined for America?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. Then there’s the issue of my mom. She’s going to be deprived of saying, “My son, the doctor.” We made a deal. She was happy that I would stay and she said, “But if you’re going to stay, you have to continue being a doctor.” I continued doing my shifts. And-

Preet Bharara:

You were moonlighting-

Bassem Youssef:

I was moonlighting-

Preet Bharara:

… doing another show?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. Or moonlighting being a doctor. But I would attend the operations and I would give the lectures because at that time I was an attendant surgeon. It was difficult actually to try to explain thoracic injuries in the ER while people are laughing from last night’s show. It was difficult, but I continued doing that for a year and a half. Then I chose to continue with entertainment.

Preet Bharara:

That show became a runaway success?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Ultimately, your viewership per episode was what?

Bassem Youssef:

In the second season, 30 million. In the last final season it was 40 million.

Preet Bharara:

40 million?

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah, 40 million.

Preet Bharara:

What does that tell you about what people in Egypt and other Arab countries were hungering for that 40 million people were tuning in to watch this former doctor make fun of the regime?

Bassem Youssef:

Well, in Egypt we have a very long tradition of comedy. But most of the comedy was either social comedy, and if it would talk about authority it would talk about it in an indirect way. This was the first time that we go and actually make fun straight ahead, in your face, speaking about whether religious authority or military authority. For them, this was … Even people who didn’t agree with you, would still watch because that was interesting. Under the Muslim Brotherhood, I would make fun of the Muslim Brotherhood and the presidency. My show would show on Friday. The next day on Saturday there were four or five religious channels, they are replaying bits of my show. Then they come back as like, “This is not acceptable.” But one time as they came back, actually you could quote one of the guests laughing. I had kind of a free rerun on the opposition channels. I think the 30 or the 40 million people, I think half of them were hate watching the show. I really have to thank them for the rating.

Preet Bharara:

When did the death threats start?

Bassem Youssef:

It happened under the Islamist when a group that were fanatic supporters of a certain Islamic leader started to threaten they’re going to come and burn the theater. Then there were phone calls getting to me from people warning me that they heard this and that. You don’t know which one is real and which one is not. Then it became even worse under the military when there were people coming and putting the theater under siege. You don’t know if these people are paid or they’re real people. But you don’t know in a moment of anger what could happen. I took a decision when I was doing the show that I should not worry about this. Because at the end of the day, you have a show to do. You cannot be affected by that.

Preet Bharara:

You didn’t cut back on your comedy or on your criticism in the face of threats?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. Because if you do, the people watching the show will feel it. They don’t give a rat ass what is happening to you, they want a good show. At the end of the day, the people watching, they need to have the same exact quality every time. At one point when I was arrested for the general prosecutor and I was going to be interrogated. Everybody in my show was like, “Were going to come to you, we’re going to stand in [inaudible 00:42:04].” I was like, “No, no, no, no, guys, guys, we have a show after tomorrow. If you come with me and I’m back with you here, there will be a very bad show. If I go there and get arrested, we have no show.” We have to focus on the work. Nobody will say, “Oh my God, he was threatened. He was under pressure. The jokes were not nice because he was stressed.” Nobody cares.

Preet Bharara:

Right. You either do it fully-

Bassem Youssef:

I know that-

Preet Bharara:

… or you don’t do it all.

Bassem Youssef:

I know I’m painting you guys like kind of a bunch of zombies who don’t care. But I’m talking about the general people who watch television, they don’t care.

Preet Bharara:

Ultimately-

Bassem Youssef:

Which is not you.

Preet Bharara:

Ultimately, there was a campaign against you by the regime. You were threatened, you were fined, you were interrogated. Tell us about the interrogation. How do you interrogate a comedian? I have some familiarity with interrogations and I’m curious.

Bassem Youssef:

I woke up one day and actually I found that from television. Somebody is calling me, he’s like, “Bassem, you have to turn on the television right now.” I watch and it said like, “The general attorney …” Which is like I think the district attorney here or something. Is that they have issued a warrant of arrest against me. Not a subpoena, but an arrest. I was in the theater with the rest of my team. I called the lawyer, I was like, “What does that mean?” He was like, “I don’t know, but it seems that you have a warrant for your arrest.”

Preet Bharara:

He was bad.

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah. There were four accusation, insulting the president. That was under motion, insulting the president, insulting Islam, spreading false rumors, and disrupting the fabric of society.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a little broad.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. How can you disrupt the fabric of society? That was right after an episode where president Morsi at the time wore kind of a funny hat when he was receiving an award. I wore a much bigger hat, and that was it. I mean, I didn’t do anything. I just went in and then they removed it and that was it. That was kind of at night. I called my wife and I said like, “Get, Nadia. ” This was my daughter that she was two. I said like, “Go to your parents’ house.” The lawyer said like, “Don’t go back to your house because you don’t know if the police are going to come show up. Tomorrow you just stay in the theater, stay over and voluntarily turn yourself in.” Which I did. But as I go, I talked to the prop master, I said like, “Get me the hat.” We went with three different cars and a pickup trunk especially for the hat. We rented a pickup truck and the hat was there and I went there. I went into the persecutor office with the big hat.

Bassem Youssef:

Then the funny thing is, as I go into the office, the police officers who are there started to take selfies with me. Then the people who were working with this persecutor started taking selfies with me. He said like, “All right, come on. We need to start the interrogations.” Everybody [crosstalk 00:45:06]-

Preet Bharara:

With the hat [crosstalk 00:45:07]-

Bassem Youssef:

No, the hat is outside because it couldn’t fit into the door. Then, I tell this story a lot, the guy said like, “All right. We’re having four accusation. With these accusations, there is a certain episode that is involved and we have the episodes on DVDs. We’re going to play these on this computer over there, and we’re going to walk you through it and you’re going to comment on the accusations.” Then they were trying to play the CDs on an outdated 1995 desktop, and they cannot for 15, 20 minutes. I was getting bored. I stood up trying to help them playing the evidence against me. And-

Preet Bharara:

You’re good at computers too?

Bassem Youssef:

No. But I was starting to ask them, “Do you have Media Player? Do you have VLC? Usually VLC plays this stuff.” I kind of made a joke, I was like, “Why is the keyboard so sticky? Mr. prosecutor, what do you do here at night?” He said, “Okay, it is not working, we’re just going to pretend that it worked and we’re going to ask you from the script. But you have to pretend that it’s working. Is that okay?” I told him, “Do I have a choice?” He said, “No.” I said, “All right, let’s go.” He started to ask me, he would ask me, “What is the certain joke? What did you mean when you said this and this about the president?” Of course I’m playing stupid, “I didn’t mean anything.” He started to tell me, “Why is this funny?” It’s like, “I don’t know. You have to ask the people.” He started to go, “But people are laughing in the theaters.” I was like, “Well, you need to ask them why they’re laughing.”

Bassem Youssef:

The thing is, to be questioned about your jokes is the most demoralizing thing can ever happen to you. Then after six hours, I was let on bail 15,000 pounds at that time and I went home. Actually I went to the theater and the whole thing about me going to that, I started my episodes recreating that image going in to the stage. That was a big moment because, just it was obvious that the regime at that time embarrassed itself trying to go after a joker.

Preet Bharara:

You had to deal with propaganda against you because they were trying to discredit you?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

What was one of the craziest propaganda theories against you?

Bassem Youssef:

When I brought Jon Stewart on the show, of course, “He’s bringing this Jew on the show, which is like a hidden message.” He’s like … But the greatest conspiracies that was ever written about me is that, Jon Stewart was hired by the CIA in order to recruit me to teach me how to satire to bring down the country. That was written in black and white. This was written in black and white in a big newspaper. That was under the Muslim Brotherhood, but it was written by a pro-military author who repeated the same conspiracy under the military.

Preet Bharara:

But how cool if that were true?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. Maybe this is why we don’t see Jon Stewart right now.

Preet Bharara:

He grew that beard and it was a whole thing that … Then ultimately, it came to an end.

Bassem Youssef:

It kind of ended a few times.

Preet Bharara:

Well, the ultimate end when you left, they fined you?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

How much was the fine?

Bassem Youssef:

A hundred million pounds. That was an arbitration case between me and the channel that actually canceled the show.

Preet Bharara:

Who was your lawyer, Michael Cohen?

Bassem Youssef:

I mean, I wish that he would give me the same services that Trump had with him, but that was a totally political decision. Because you see, the new regime kind of learned from their predecessor. They’re not going to go and interrogate me for the jokes. They have to find a proxy, someone else to go in and it’s like, “It’s a financial dispute. The regime have no problem with Bassem, but it’s a financial dispute.” But they can use that in order to even put me in a no flight list or put me in jail. The verdict came out 11th of November, 12:00. The the lawyer called me and said like, “I have already booked a plane for you. You’re leaving the country in four hours.” I jumped on a plane and I left. That was 11, November 2014, and I never came back.

Preet Bharara:

The interesting thing about that is that, the regime could have at any point arrested you. Not just interrogated you, shut down the show, ordered the show shut down. There’s all sorts of things they could have done in that authoritarian environment. But they didn’t it, as you say, they had to choose a proxy. On the one hand, they didn’t want to take the strong step against you, but they wanted still you to go away. What were they afraid of?

Bassem Youssef:

It’s appearances. They need to maintain their appearances in front of the Western world. We have a parliament. Everybody knows that this parliament doesn’t do anything, but it’s the appearance of the parliament. They’re not coming after me heads on because of appearances. When they ask Sisi, “Did you stop him?” “No, we didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Preet Bharara:

They still want to deny it. But I think that comes as a surprise to a lot of people who think, “Well, if it’s an authoritarian regime, they do what they want. They like to exert power, they like to flex their muscles.” But there is still a part of them, and maybe this is true a little bit in Russia and other places as well, that do all these underhanded things and these anti-democratic things and these anti-individual liberty things. But they still want the West to think there is some semblance of democracy and freedom. Is there some strength or some approach that the West can take in knowing that that is true, that we’re not taking?

Bassem Youssef:

Well, here’s the question. Don’t you think that the West really knows? I mean the West knows. I mean this is … I mean, they’re not fooling anybody. Now, you have to forgive me for the seriousness of this. But when I talk about how horrible it is, the dictatorship back in Egypt, and how this is beautiful and we wish we have your democracy guys. Let’s not forget that all of these dictators, they buy their weapons from the West and they get the military aid from the West. The congressmen and the senators who sign these deals, they know exactly what is happening there. They’re doing this just to boost their arm sales. So they know. It’s just like it’s a dance. “If you want to oppress your people, just do it in an elegant way. Don’t do it North Korea style. Do it our style.” But I mean, what is the difference between some of the oppressive regimes in the Gulfs and Iran and North Korea and Egypt? It’s just like, “He’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

Bassem Youssef:

It’s the same thing. France, for example. France is a huge country that is vocal for human rights. But once you pay the money and you get their jet fighters, there is silence. The same thing with Britain, the same thing with Germany, and the same thing with the United States. They just don’t want it to be too much on the surface, too much apparent. We’re going to give you the aid, we’re going to give you the weapons, but just don’t make us look bad in front of our constituents. Who don’t really care. The constituents care more about the healthcare and tax cuts and other things. They don’t care about it. They just don’t make too much noise as you are stifling people’s voices. It’s a dance at the end of the day and everybody’s in it.

Preet Bharara:

Let me ask you a question about the state of democracy in America. A lot of people criticize the president. It’s their right to do it. They say he sounds like an autocrat and he sounds like someone who likes despots. How do you rank Donald Trump given his rhetoric and actions against the people that you know are actual autocrats in the world, including Egypt?

Bassem Youssef:

Well, I think Trump is trying hard. I think in the Arab world he will be more of kind of a tree hugging liberal. But again, it’s not about Donald Trump. It’s about the system doesn’t allow him to go further. I mean, I think if Donald Trump didn’t have the system to stop him … I mean, I think if it was up to Donald Trump, he would fire you and put you in jail next to Hillary Clinton. But the system doesn’t allow him to do that. And-

Preet Bharara:

The system matters.

Bassem Youssef:

It’s the system, not the person. This is the thing. In other parts of the world, the system is an accomplice. But here it’s supposed to work as a safeguard. This is why when you see Sisi visiting the white house, you see that this look of adoration of Trump he’s like, “How do you do it? How can I put all of these people in jail?” And-

Preet Bharara:

Or when Erdoğan visits.

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah. But we keep speaking about individuals, and it’s the system that makes a difference.

Preet Bharara:

But do you think then that Americans should relax and not get so carried away-

Bassem Youssef:

No.

Preet Bharara:

… because the system stops him? No.

Bassem Youssef:

No. It’s like there’s two way to do it. There’s the humorous way. It’s like, “Come on, don’t bitch and whine. You don’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world.” You can do that. But it really comes down to, you earn this kind of level of democracy that you should always fight for. That’s the big difference. You can’t say just because of the rest of the world is falling apart, it’s like, “Thank God we can still vote in the midterms.” You’re fighting for a level of excellence and a level of democracy that should always be there. If somebody is violating this kind of system, you should fight to restore it. That’s the difference.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. (silence)

Bassem Youssef:

Having said that, I still can’t believe that the Democrats … I mean, we talk about the Republicans and Trump and we talk about democracy and everything. But there are stuff that are happening in this system that boggles me. How come it’s so apparent that there are people in your Congress and your Senate that voting for stuff that is absolutely against the welfare and the interest of the American people because they were paid by lobbies?

Preet Bharara:

Great question.

Bassem Youssef:

This boggles me.

Preet Bharara:

Good question.

Bassem Youssef:

This boggles me because, yes, you have democracy, but at the end the day you have people who … I mean, I’m sure that there’s not a single person in this country would ever vote to kill net neutrality. Yet there were people who are unelected who gathered in a room who killed net neutrality because they were paid by big players in the iTech. There’s absolutely … I’m sure that there’s no one in this country would vote for increasing the military budget for another $60 billion. Who by the way, the Democrats voted for it with the Republicans. I’m sure that they would put this $60 billion in healthcare and in education, and yet you find that. This is the part [crosstalk 00:56:28]-

Preet Bharara:

It’s even worse. You even have a member of the cabinet who says forthrightly in front of hundreds and hundreds of people this week openly, “If a lobbyist was going to pay me, I might meet with them.”

Bassem Youssef:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Right. It was interesting. Another thing you’ve said about the commonality among people who are dictators, is that they don’t have a sense of humor.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes, they are very thin skinned. In your case, orange skinned. I say this [inaudible 00:56:53]. I said it.

Preet Bharara:

How can people use comedy and humor here for political good and satire? What’s your advice to people who are doing satire-

Bassem Youssef:

Advice?

Preet Bharara:

… in this country?

Bassem Youssef:

You want me to give advice?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, of course.

Bassem Youssef:

Me, out of all people, I would have benefited from my advice-

Preet Bharara:

We’re in the Apollo, man. You’ve-

Bassem Youssef:

Well, here’s the thing, I mean there’s no advice needed because we’ve seen that under Bush. The people who did comedy and satire did the same with Bush, they’re doing the same with Trump. I don’t really think that satire changes the political scene. It is people who change the political scene. As a matter of fact, some people who would watch the late night comedy shows might think that they have done their job. When it comes to midterm, they don’t go vote and we’re all screwed. Then the one who are laughing at the end are the other side. I think the biggest value of comedy is to bring more people to the table to discuss otherwise very dull topics like healthcare or education or veteran affairs. So people will be more aware about these issues. Comedy in itself doesn’t change the world. It is really up to the people to stand up. Last year when we have the big Women’s March 750,000 people took the streets in LA. Then two weeks later there were regional elections, only 12% showed up.

Bassem Youssef:

It’s like … That’s why we say like, “Come back and do the show.” It’s like, it doesn’t help if you do not have the will to change things yourself. Someone said, prayer don’t change things. Prayer change people and people change things. Same with comedy. But at the end of the day, it’s the people who’s going to do it. Not you laughing and falling off of your couch watching Trevor Noah or Sam Bee or John Oliver. It makes you more aware of what’s happening, but it’s really up to you to make the change.

Preet Bharara:

Why America? Why did you come to America?

Bassem Youssef:

Because I know the language. And it’s-

Preet Bharara:

You could have gone to the UK-

Bassem Youssef:

And it’s easier to get a green card here.

Preet Bharara:

Was.

Bassem Youssef:

At my time. But now I have a nine month old son. He’s my anchor baby, so I’m not going anywhere, bitches.

Preet Bharara:

You care about the issue of immigration. One thing that I’m very excited about and I want to tell folks about is that, you’re launching our second podcast under CAFE.

Bassem Youssef:

I’m going to have my own podcast, people.

Preet Bharara:

That’s right. It leads me to an observation. You tell me if it’s true. I used to have a lot of authority, I had subpoena power. I had to leave that job, not of my own choice. Then I launched a podcast. You had 40 million viewers, a very powerful voice. You were basically run out of Egypt and you launched a podcast. Is it true then that the arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends towards podcasts?

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. The name-

Preet Bharara:

That’s what I thought.

Bassem Youssef:

Yes. The name of the podcast is Remade in America. I love it.

Preet Bharara:

What do you think of the state of immigration and immigrants? But wait, look, by some noise, who here is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant?

Bassem Youssef:

I always say, I kind of say, how many Arabs are here? The FBI is coming.

Preet Bharara:

No, they’re not. This is the Apollo. Final question, are you optimistic about the future of America and the world?

Bassem Youssef:

I mean, here’s what gives me hope sometimes in the city that I live in now in Los Angeles. I think this is what will make the change. When people tell me, “What do you like more about Los Angeles?” First of all they say like, “Oh my God, Los Angeles. How about the traffic?” I say like, “I come from Cairo, what traffic?” But here’s what maybe it gives me hope in Los Angeles. My daughter goes to kindergarten in a public school next to us and she is in a 20, 25 student class. In that class there are Koreans, Chinese, white people, Jewish people, black people, Indian people. All kinds of spectrum, the human spectrum, is they’re in a mix. Her best friend, her name is Chloe. Her mom is a Jewish woman from Chicago and her dad is a Catholic from Côte d’Ivoire. That you have her our other best friend is Korean. When you ask my daughter, Nadia, “What does Chloe looks like? What does she look like?” She doesn’t tell you that she’s dark or she’s brown. She’s like, “She has two little things on her hair.” “What does Sarah look like?”

Bassem Youssef:

Which is the Korean. She’s like, “She wear glasses.” They do not see their differences. This is one of those moments that like, “I made the right decision to come here.” I know it sounds very corny when people say like, “Children are the future.” But maybe it is. When you see it in those classrooms, you see it in the wonderful students of Parkland who are kind of making veteran Congress people shitting their pants. Maybe this is where there’s hope for this. We criticize democracy and the system in America. But what is good about this country, it’s dynamic, and there’s always a chance to change. I hope it will change for the better. But I think it really comes down to the younger generation. Maybe this is the future. Maybe saying this back in the middle East, it sounds, and it looks horrible and it looks disappointing. But the young people there, they are questioning everything. This is the one thing that has changed after all of these years of destruction. They’re questioning everything.

Bassem Youssef:

They are rethinking everything that they’d been told about the military, about the religious authority. Maybe it is, at the end of the day, as corny as it sounds, maybe children are the future.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t think it’s corny. I think it’s true.

Bassem Youssef:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

That’s actually a great segue into my close of the show where I always end by talking about something that struck me this week. There has been a lot of sort of public policy discussion about how to treat teachers in this country. There have been places where teachers have walked out because they’re not getting paid enough money. They’re not being given enough respect. They’re not being treated in the way you would want to treat people who are going to lead and teach and mentor the next generation that’s going to do all these great things that we want for our country and for the world. Those are discussions that happen in the newspapers, but often these things are very personal. I was at a dinner, a big fancy dinner on Tuesday night. Someone got up, an honorary got up. Usually people get up and they say nice things about their family or about some professional mentor. This person got up and he spent his entire time talking about a teacher he had in high school who encouraged him to be everything that he could be.

Preet Bharara:

Without whom, he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he got to get this honor at this big dinner where lots of people were looking on. It occurred to me that I had sometimes forget to honor and remember and appreciate the teachers that I’ve had. Literally, in the middle of the dinner, I emailed the best teacher that I ever had in high school, Mrs. Tomlinson. Who was my literature teacher, my history teacher, and she was also the advisor to the school newspaper of which I was the editor in chief. I hadn’t spoken … Okay. Mr. Cardiothoracic surgeon, also does salsa and I’m a standup comic and had 40 million … Okay. You just settled down over there. Let me finish my nice little thing. I just sent her an email, which I should do much more often, telling her that I appreciated her and inviting her to the summit we had today. Inviting her to the Apollo tonight, she wasn’t able to come. She was also the reason the first cause for me to do anything that in any way it could be considered brave outside my family.

Preet Bharara:

She was the best teacher in the school and she’d been fired for reasons that didn’t seem right to me. I was a skinny, pimply-faced 17 year old high school senior and I marched into the … Marched? I waited outside sort of trembling, there was no marching. I knocked and I got admitted to the headmaster. It was a private school, it had a headmaster. Into his office. I basically told him off and was summarily kicked out of his office. She was the first person who got me to think about a certain kind of courage that you can have. Not just someone who taught me how to write a paragraph or how to report a story or how to think about history or how to read a great book of literature. The best teachers are the ones who do that. I don’t think we honor them enough. I don’t think we think about them enough. I don’t think we pay them enough, and we should have more of that. (silence).

Preet Bharara:

The close out, my final thought is, I don’t think you would be where you are, not withstanding the loving family that you had and that I had. We wouldn’t be where we are either without the teachers we had. Let’s honor them and God bless the teachers. Thanks everybody. (silence)

STAY TUNED WITH PREET

STAY TUNED: Live from the Apollo (with Bassem Youssef)

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