My job is hard. I have to sift through pages of political- and media-themed satirical material from exceptional writers and figure out what amusing face I can make to accompany each jab. Then I must perform them, 22 minutes a day, four days a week, with only our caterer’s spread to sustain me. Bassem Youssef does my job in Egypt. The only real difference between him and me is that he performs his satire in a country still testing the limits of its hard-earned freedom, where those who speak out against the powerful still have much to fear. Yet even under these difficult circumstances, he manages to produce an incredible show: a hilarious blend of mimicry, confusion, outrage and bemusement, highlighting the absurdities and -hypocrisies of his country’s rebirth, all wielded with the precision of a scalpel, which, by the way, he should know how to wield because he’s a former heart surgeon. Yeah. And his family is beautiful and he’s a kind and generous friend. I am an American satirist, and Bassem Youssef is my hero.
A bit of context: Youssef, who hosts a popular news-satire show with a big following among secular and liberal Egyptians, was investigated earlier this year for supposedly insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsi during one of his comedy riffs. Briefly arrested a few weeks ago, Youssef was released on bail. A minor international/social media incident followed when Stewart’s “Daily Show” mocked Morsi for the arrest. And when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo’s unusually sparky Twitter feed linked to Stewart’s sketch, the Egyptian president’s office blasted the diplomats (via Twitter, of course) for the “inappropriate” spreading of “negative political propaganda” — prompting the embassy to briefly shut down its Twitter account. So there’s a well-earned history between the two comedians.
Also on Time’s eclectic power list: Jay-Z (with a tribute authored by Mike Bloomberg); Rand Paul (honored by Sarah Palin); Joe Biden (by Eric Cantor); Lindsey Vonn (by Danica Patrick); Marissa Mayer (by Eric Schmidt); Jennifer Lawrence (by Jodie Foster); Pope Francis (by Cardinal Dolan) — and Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun.
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