Middle Eastern comedian comes to Mission Creek

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Bassem Youssef is no stranger to the powers of a ruling government. When an arrest warrant from Egyptian police was put out for him, he complied and turned himself in, spending five hours under questioning. His crime? Comedy.

What began as a five-minute YouTube political-satire show turned into an opening that landed him a spot in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2013. Youssef’s show, “Al Bernameg,” was the first of its kind to go from online to television in the Middle East.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Youssef will be at Hancher as a part of this year’s Mission Creek Festival. The festival is organized by the Englert and features venues all over Iowa City.

Youssef’s biographical documentary, Tickling Giants, will be shown at FilmScene, 118 E. College St., at noon Saturday, where the star will be in attendance. Youssef, who practiced cardiothoracic surgery in Egypt for more than a decade before moving into comedy, has appeared on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, as well as hosted Stewart on his own show. He also hosted the International Emmy Awards Gala in 2015.

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This event is the only Mission Creek event to be held at Hancher this year, and it is the second year the auditorium has been involved with the festival.

Rob Cline, the Hancher director of marketing and communications, said in an email to The Daily Iowan that the staff were excited to collaborate with Mission Creek, which has been going for more than a decade.

“This year, we wanted to find something that would naturally feel like a part of the festival, and we were also interested in connecting the event to our Embracing Complexity Project, which highlights Islamic art and Muslim artists,” Cline said. “Bassem Youssef fits the bill perfectly.”

Embracing Complexity, funded by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, seeks to build appreciation and understanding for Muslim culture through Muslim guests and events at Hancher. This is the second year Hancher has been involved with this program. Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said the theme of the grant was timely for the country and for the world.

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“This fits right in line with the work we do in terms of bringing diverse artists to our campus, to our community, to our regent, to our state,” Swanson said. “The arts are a great way for people to learn about other cultures, for people to really learn and understand more about each other, with the ultimate goal of people getting along better.”

UI communication-studies Professor Kembrew McLeod said Mission Creek, along with the Witching Hour Festival, which takes place in the fall, tends to do a good job at curating diverse acts. For a long time, minority comedians stood in the margins of white male comedians, but that is starting to change.

“Clearly, there are enough really talented non-white male comedians out there,” McLeod said. “And it doesn’t take that much effort to fill out a lineup that much more diverse than what Hancher and other venues had previously been doing.”

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