Bassem Youssef slams "Genocide Joe," says he lost "Superman" role after speaking out about Palestine

Bassem Youssef Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Bassem Youssef
Bassem Youssef Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Bassem Youssef
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Jon Stewart is back on air hosting "The Daily Show" — but only one day a week. Meanwhile, Bassem Youssef — the man known as the “Jon Stewart of the Middle East” — is working every day to both make people laugh and educate them about the horrific humanitarian tragedy in Gaza. I spoke to Youssef, whom I have known for many years, on "Salon Talks" about his current comedy tour, his exchange with Piers Morgan about Gaza that went viral, losing work in the entertainment industry after speaking out about Palestinian humanity and more. The former heart surgeon turned wildly popular comedian did not hold back.

The Egyptian-born comedian, who has become friends with Stewart and appeared many times on "The Daily Show," believes that Stewart “will always be relevant” even though he was away from the show for nine years. He wonders if younger people will embrace Stewart since so many get their news from social media, as opposed to cable television.

Youssef, whose current tour is selling out 3,000-seat theaters, became very passionate when talking the situation in Gaza, calling it the “worst genocide” that “we're seeing it in real time” yet, he frustratingly added, “Nobody is doing anything about it.” And Youssef, who became a US citizen several years ago, also slammed President Joe Biden for in his view allowing this to happen on his watch. As a result, Youssef made it clear that he’s no longer, “Vote Blue no matter who.”

But speaking out about the Netanyahu administration’s actions in Gaza does not come without price, as Youssef explained. The comic shared that he lost a role as a villain that he had been offered in the upcoming James Gunn-directed "Superman: Legacy" movie. While Youssef noted that the official reason given was a script change, the timing coincided with others in Hollywood being fired for championing Palestinian humanity. To him, the real reason was apparent. (Salon reached out to Warner Bros. for comment, but did not hear back. According to a Variety report on Friday, a source close to production says no formal offer was made and the character had been written out "prior to Hamas' attack in Israel, and before the writers strike began.")

Despite the intensity of our conversation about the Middle East, Youssef’s live comedy show does not touch on Gaza. Rather, it’s autobiographical about his life and the challenges of doing comedy back in Egypt under a dictatorship where the leader can’t be mocked. Depending on the election results this November, that experience may be training for what we see in the United States come 2025.

Watch our full "Salon Talks" conversation here on YouTube or read a transcript of our conversation below.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Jon Stewart is coming back. You're friends with Jon, you've been on his show countless times.

I'm so happy for him, man.

He came to your show in the Middle East when you were doing it there. It’s his first time back hosting "The Daily Show" after nine years. You think it'll be as relevant and as news-making as he was nine years ago?

Jon will always be relevant, but the thing is, is the genre of the parody news, that maybe younger children might not be familiar with, because we grew up with that. We were the generation that got our news from “The Daily Show,” which according to Jon himself, it's ridiculous. But this is how we actually knew the news.

I don't know how the younger generation will react because they get their news from elsewhere, from TikTok, from people dancing, I don't know. It's different. But because we grew up with CNN, with MSNBC, with Fox News, Jon was the mirror parody of that, so it resonated with us. I don't know how the younger people would feel about it, but who cares? Who cares about younger people? They have TikTok; we have Jon.

I remember talking to you years ago, and you said something that stuck with me. You said the White House Correspondents dinner, where the president would go and get mocked, said so much about the United States of America, and that it was one of your favorite things.


Then Donald Trump refused to go. What does it mean to you that Donald Trump refused to go to the White House Correspondents dinner in the past? Now running for president, lashing out against anybody who mocks him, and is this similar to what you saw in dictatorships?

It is very worrying because even if it was an empty gesture, the White House Correspondents dinner was even a symbol that you can go and you can mock the strongest man in the world, right in their face. That was a tradition, that even the biggest enemies of the United States would look at that, and it's like, "Oh, that's amazing. That's incredible."

When Donald Trump came, for four years, he parted with that tradition. The only other president who didn't attend the Correspondents dinner was Ronald Reagan and he was shot and he even called in from the hospital. This is how important it was. So it kind of worries me because there's so many signs of being an authoritarian or a dictator, but the fact that you don't let anybody mock you, or you despise that, that's a very worrying sign.

I wonder if Jon Stewart will get under his skin. Jon used to, to the point where Donald Trump, before he ran for office, would smear him, would attack him online.

But Donald does this. Donald is a bully. He talks to people who like to see pigs fight in the mud, and they like that. It's like the savage battles of the Coliseum. "Donald, kill him, kill him." He likes that, this kind of raw anger. He knows his audience. His audience, his constituents, are angry, because of the economy, because of whatever there is. So he knows that this is a great outlet for them. He used to do that on “The Apprentice,” to get people down, push people down. So he knows that this is like fodder for them. This is entertainment. There's entertainment.

People say, "With Donald Trump, the cruelty is the point." But that should be a comma. Because it's not cruelty to the point, in the sense of, "Only be cruel." It's because the base loves it. His base loves when he's mean, when he's cruel, when he attacks people. 

A lot of people actually vote for him, not because they like him, but because they hate the liberals. A lot of people actually, they don't care about even voting for anybody, but they hate the other side because the other side gives them a lot of reasons to hate. We have to admit. They do.

Well, I'm on that side. I am glad to give them a lot of reasons to hate. That's my goal. Look, you're Bassem Youssef. You think they love you? You're a Brown guy selling out theaters, 3,000 seats, and in their mind, you've stolen their job.

They always say, "Oh, we're good with immigrants, but it has to be legal." But they don't understand that many of the people who come from our part of the world are actually mostly legal. They have a problem with people coming from Latin America, and it's not about even the immigrants, it's about what do they think about their mind and their image?

You cannot blame them because their media tells them that this is a danger to America, and you need a common enemy. You always need a common enemy. How do you do that? You have to find that enemy, and the enemy will have to be an outsider. Whether you are a Jew in Germany, whether you're a Palestinian in Israel, whether you are a Hispanic in the United States, a brown person in Europe, you have to have an enemy because how can you unite all of these people and get a common enemy because there's no solution? There's always something to be worried about.

What you just went through is really the academic definition of what a fascist movement is, where it's never about solving problems. It's about ginning up anger, and then picking a minority to make the target for all of your problems. 

You lived in Egypt and you had to flee because of your comedy, making fun of certain people in power at the time. From living under that, and seeing where Trump is going, what are your concerns? What can you share with fellow Americans about what life could be under a true authoritarian?

I have to say that I don't care.

You don't care what it's going to be like? Tell me why. 

Because I was one of those people who would vote blue, no matter who. I voted for Bernie Sanders, I voted for Joe Biden, and Joe Biden came with all of the liberal promises of equality, of rights for minorities, and then we see him supporting a genocide. So why would I vote for him?

Honestly, the whole thing about blackmailing us with Trump, so we have to vote for Biden, it doesn't work. If this has to be, America, so, enjoy, guys, because Joe Biden delivered the worst genocide in history, and I don't really care about voting in the United States elections anymore.

I hear what you're saying. I don't think it's the worst genocide in history, but it is horrific.

Well, it is the worst genocide as we are seeing it. I mean, it's not a competition. All right, there are worse genocides, but at least it's the only genocide that has been filmed, live, and we're seeing it in real time. Maybe other genocides, we knew about it after they were done, but now, we are living it, day by day, and we're seeing it, and nobody is doing anything about it. So honestly, I don't care about Joe Biden, and I call him “Joe Geriatric Genocide Biden.” That is him, because he doesn't even have the honor to be Genocide Joe, because he's a geriatric, he's senile, he's old, and he doesn't know even what he's doing. He's the worst mockery of a genocide enabler in history.

I mean, even other genocide people like Mussolini, whatever, they had charisma, but that guy has nothing. He says, "Who? Blah, blah. President of Mexico. Blah, blah."

So you're a campaign operative for the Biden campaign, clearly.

I don't care, but you know what's funny? I came here to America, took the American citizenship, I'm voting, I'm so happy that I'm voting now, and it took America four years to make me check out of elections, so good job, America.

But is it one person’s [fault]? It's Joe Biden's policy in the Middle East?

I don't want Trump to win, but I want Joe Biden to lose.

And that's the screwed-up system we have, right? When I say it's not the worst genocide in the world — I'm Palestinian heritage. It is the worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life. — But I just want to put it in context, because I don't think we have to, in any way, be hyperbolic about how bad it is. This is the worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life play out. The cruelty, the collective punishment, the killing of children and of women by the Israeli military, in response to a terrorist attack. 

You made a lot of headlines going viral with Piers Morgan, and you’ve talked to him several times. You guys are like buddies now. There have been serious speakers about the Middle East a lot, but you went viral. Is it something about comedy? You were an Egyptian guy talking about Palestinian issues. Is it something about comedy that you think elevated that?

I didn't do comedy. I've just repeated their talking points to them. They said, "How many Palestinians should we kill?" I was like, "Kill more." Because this is what they do. This is what happens. "We're just going to go to the north of Gaza.” “Now, we're going to do Khan Younis.” “Ah, it's just in Rafah.” “We are not going to bomb any hospitals." Every hospital is bombed. "We're not going to bomb any schools." Every school is bombed. "We're not going to bomb any university." Every university is gone.

The thing is, they are wasting time by asking useless questions like, "What is the proportional response?” “What can they do?" While they're stalling to give them time to do the killing. It was the worst exposed cover-up in history because we see what they're doing, and they're playing them, and then they come and they lecture us about liberalism and democracies and equality.

I said it on Piers Morgan, I'm saying it again: Israel has corrupted the West for a hundred years to come. It has morally corrupted the West. The West has absolutely no right to come and lecture us about equality and human rights anymore because human rights, for them, it really depends on the color of your skin and who's doing the killing. So it's very hypocritical, and it's sad.

It's not like America's reputation on the world stage was pristine, especially after the Iraq war and Afghanistan, especially the Iraq war. Are you saying the U.S. is essentially . . . 

I'm not saying the U.S. I say the U.S. administration because there's a lot of good people in the U.S. that do not approve of that.

Right, but do you think the United States' reputation is greatly tarnished? It's destroyed in the world from this? Give me a sense. How do you and the world see it? In the Arab world?

I've always heard people from the American administration complaining, "Why do these people hate us? Oh, they hate us because of our lifestyle." No, we hate your policies, because the way that you blindly support a genocidal, murderous, terrorist regime like Israel doing whatever they want, and I don't know, how is this actually helping you?

Basically they choose this regime over hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East, and the Islamic world and the Arab world that could be more beneficial to them, but they have chosen people who actually do exactly what was done to the Jewish people in the Second World War, so I don't understand the logic.

I recently interviewed Bernie Sanders, and he said, "We are now complicit," and he said, "If we give more aid, we are even more complicit."

And it doesn't matter, because they will call him a self-hating Jew. Because that's what they do. They called Jon Stewart a self-hating Jew. This is the thing, if you're not Jewish, you're antisemitic. If you're Jewish, you're a self-hating Jew, and this is the worst gaslighting I've ever seen. It's like gaslighting as the textbook gaslighting.

Well, look, we're American citizens. Are we complicit too? That our tax dollars are being used?

I mean, if you don't pay taxes, the IRS will come and get you. I mean, at least we speak about it. We speak up about it. I hope we're not. At least we have something to say about it. But what is complicit, really, is the authority and the media.

So is that then the burden on you and us, to talk about it? What motivates you to be so passionate about this?

Listen, you can go to my social media. I'm not an activist. I don't tweet or post every single day. I get invited to places. I get asked about the matter and I tell my opinion because I don't want to be again involved as an activist in this because I have been burned in Egypt when I had my show and it's just very difficult to be put in that position, where people tell you, "Go, speak, be our voice," and then you get burned. So I'm trying to focus on my comedy, but when I get asked about these things, I can't avoid it.

You mentioned to me though, you went on Piers Morgan and went viral. You've been very outspoken on behalf of Palestinian humanity, and that you lost a role in the new “Superman” movie and some other projects. What do you want to share? What do you feel comfortable sharing about?

I was a little bit bitter about losing the role, and I was kind of very sad, like why, in the United States of America, you can talk about Joe Biden, and you can talk about Donald Trump, but you cannot criticize a foreign government? Which is kind of very sad.

Because of that, I was cast in the movie, “Superman,” and then they told me, "We changed the script," after this Piers Morgan interview. I want to assume good faith. I want to know, I want to believe that this is true. I was a little bit bitter, and I wanted to go, I was like, "Oh, screw DC, screw Warner Bros." But then I understand, I understand the emotional burden that those people have. I mean, those people have a connection with Israel. I understand. For them, Israel is not a place, it's not just a country, it is an emotional connection because those people and their ancestors went through generational trauma that I understand. So for them, the whole world, when they give up on them, they have a place, a strong place that can defend them. So I understand that connection.

And I understand maybe the people who are in charge, that took the decision, looked at me and didn't want to have me. And maybe I understand. If I'm an Arab Muslim, I was the head of Warner Bros., I wouldn't like a pro-Zionist or a pro-Israel to be in my movie if he attacked my people. I understand. This is the thing that we need to dissect: when I attack Israel, I attack its policy, I'm not attacking Jewish people. I want to tell those people, "I'm not a danger to you." Because that dream, that idea that you long for, and it's important to have, the right-wing government in Israel has spoiled that dream. It has ruined it, and you should not feel obliged to continue supporting something that's so heinous and hideous.

If you look at the facts, I think Israel is the biggest threat to Jewish people all around the world. Those people don't have to feel connected to defend, or obliged to defend Israeli action, the same way that I don't feel obliged to defend ISIS' actions. And yes, I have just compared ISIS to Israel, and I don't care.

And same thing with Saudi Arabia. Do we feel compelled to defend Saudi Arabia? I don't want Islam to be defined by Saudi. I call out Saudi all the time.

People attack Saudi Arabia and Iran and Egypt, and I never call them Islamophobes.

Right, exactly.

Because they are governments, and governments should be criticized for anything. But the thing is, when I criticize the government, I'm not attacking the Jewish people. As a matter of fact, if there is Jewish hate in the world, and there is, a huge part of it comes from the actions of the Israeli government, and they need to understand that it is never about a problem with Jewish people. Never.

It sounds like a broken record, but what Israel is doing is a big disservice to the Jewish people all around the world, because nothing that Israel does goes with the principles of the religion of Judaism, and I don't think it's right for Jewish people.

I agree with you. It's not like Netanyahu, before he orders a missile strike, looks at the Old Testament.

Netanyahu is friends with all the antisemitic Congress people. Netanyahu is friends with people who said the most horrible things about Jewish people, but at the same time, they support Israel, which is a crazy paradox.

So when you're doing your comedy, do you process this passion that you have for getting the word out about the Middle East on the stage?

No. In my comedy, I have my hour, and this is the same hour that I've been doing before all of that broke out, and I do the same as it is, because we tour the same hour until we're able to sell it, so I don't want it to be a big part of my show because I don't feel comfortable talking about it in my show when it's still going on. If you're coming to the show, don't expect that I'm going to do the jokes about Piers Morgan. It's the same show. It's a good show.

Are you doing jokes about Biden?

Oh yeah. A lot of them.



You perform your show, you do some tours in Arabic and some tours in English. This one's in English right now. You're in Jersey, D.C., you're sold out all over the place. Is there a difference in content?

Yeah, yeah. It's totally different shows. My English show is my journey from being a doctor, and to coming here to the United States and staying. It's kind of like my story between being a doctor, going to the show, having my show, being interrogated for my jokes, and then coming here to find myself in a totally new, different environment. The Arabic show is before that. It is my life growing up until I became a doctor. It's different, because the Arabic show, for me, believe it or not, is three times more difficult than the English show.


The English language is a unifying language. Everybody can come and understand you. In Arabic, as you know, there are 22 dialects, and the Arabic dialects are very different. It's not like the difference between Texas and New York. You're talking about the difference between someone in Alabama and someone in Wales or in Scotland. It is just different, and the humor is different, the reference is different. A big part of it is how to play with the dialects, with people from Morocco and from Tunisia, and from Saudi Arabia and from Egypt, and from Syria and from Lebanon. It's a very difficult show, and it's part of the show, playing with these dialect differences.

And it's also challenging that there's words in Arabic that mean so many different things. 

That's part of the show.

So look, I so respect your passion for the Palestinian people, being of Palestinian heritage, and you put your neck out there, and you've suffered a backlash as a result, and you've canceled some things, and I know that you're upset with Biden administration, but you're a unique person. You lived in a dictatorship, you live in autocracy, and I know you don't care right now. 

I want people to know what life would be like — not just comedy, but even comedy, if you wanted to touch on that — if Donald Trump were to get back in, and I'm not telling you to advocate for Biden or Trump, just so people understand. Because again, you're unique. You lived under a dictatorship.

We all lived under Trump for four years. People have already seen that.

But this guy's gotten worse. This guy's in a different place. He's running on retribution and revenge.

Yeah, let's do that. Let's see it. Let's bring it all down. This is going to be interesting. I really don't care.

So you just want to see it happen.

I really don't care. If you don't care about what happened to people getting killed, I really don't care about what happens here under Trump.