Washington University alumna Sara Taksler is a senior producer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where she has pitched stories and jokes, and researched footage for the iconic funnyman for more than a decade.
Taksler also is a filmmaker. Taken together, it makes perfect sense that she decided to make Tickling Giants, the stirring documentary she directed and produced featuring Bassem Youssef, the “Jon Stewart of Egypt.”
Stirring…and funny, just like the subject.
For the unfamiliar, after the Egyptian Arab Spring, Bassem Youssef decided to leave his job as a heart surgeon to become a full-time comedian.
At the time, it didn’t sound that crazy to Youssef. During the uprising, he volunteered his medical service to Egyptians injured during clashes with the government. In just 18 days, the people overthrew the 60-year dictatorship of Mubarek. According to Youssef, this produced a brief “honeymoon” period when it was possible to go on the air and satirize the government. Before this, he had gained nationwide popularity by posting satirical videos on the Internet. When he was offered his own TV show, Youssef jumped at the chance.
Unfortunately, that relaxation of an authoritarian regime not taking itself too seriously soon slipped away, and Youssef found himself in hot water with Morsi’s government. He was accused of insulting the government and Islam, among other things, which in Egypt are criminal offenses. After much harassment and a threatening interrogation, Youssef fled his homeland, and in 2016 he debuted his new show, Democracy Handbook, in his new home, America.
On Friday, April 7, Taksler will be on campus to show the film and lead a discussion with the audience. The event will begin at 3:30 with an informal “meet and greet” with Sara Taksler, then a screening of the “Tickling Giants” documentary at 4, followed by a discussion with the audience.
In Tickling Giants, Taksler unfolds Youssef’s fascinating journey, and brings home a clear message for those of us who take our freedom of speech (and action) for granted: Stand up and speak out for your rights, no matter where you live or who you are. And, if possible, do it with humor and grace. Her message is beautifully articulated on the Tickling Giants website:
Use your words.
They are louder and more articulate than your fists.
Jokes are words put together in a funny way.
Anyone in power who is threatened by a joke is not really all that powerful.
When you’re thoughtful and honest, humor can be cathartic.
And, unlike beating people up, it’s totally legal.
Are you brave enough to tell a joke?
Take a feather and tickle the foot of a giant.
Will the giant laugh or stomp on you?
It’s a risk, to bring peace and beauty to an otherwise hard moment.
Draw a picture. Sing a song. Say something.
Have your true self known.
When you are at your most authentic, others will be, too.
When you believe in something, speak up.
When someone is being taken advantage of, advocate.
Giants come in all sizes.
Big and small,
We should all, in our own ways, be
Sara’s favorite way of Tickling Giants: Using comedy to find cathartic ways to process major bummers!
This is Taksler’s third feature film and was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016. With film partner and WashU alumna Naomi Greenfield, Taksler also created TWISTED: A Balloonamentary. TWISTED, which debuted at South by Southwest in 2007, is a hilarious and heartwarming look at the world’s premier balloon-twisting convention.
She calls her first film, Stop the Ignorance: The Beauty That Is New Jersey, a tribute to her home state.
Read an interview with Taksler about the film and its fit into the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.