Meet the Comedians Around the World Who Challenge Government Orthodoxy
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Jon Stewart, the premier political satirist of his generation, is one of a kind. Or is he?
In this survey of the Global Stewarts, Foreign Policy In Focus goes around the world to find the comics who would be Jon Stewart. It’s an interesting mix: a surgeon, a superhero, a mimic. In some cases, Stewart would welcome the comparison. But at least in one case, that of a French anti-Semite, Stewart would meet the anti-Stewart.
In all cases, however, these global Stewarts are challenging orthodoxy and making people uncomfortable. Gadflies have never been funnier.
Rick Mercer is the host of CBC Television's The Rick Mercer Report, a weekly half-hour comedy news show combining parody, sketch comedy, politics, and editorials in the style of The Daily Show and Canada’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Mercer has interviewed several prominent Canadians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and the former Leader of the Opposition, the late Jack Layton. Considered by some to be left-leaning, Mercer notably urged young Canadians to vote in the 2011 Canadian election.
Among his several accolades, Mercer has received over 20 Gemini Awards for his television work, as well as several honorary university degrees.
Mercer famously asked former President George W. Bush about his response to being endorsed by Canadian Prime Minister “Jean Poutine.” Of course, the prime minister at the time was Jean Chretien. Canada has a fast-food item called "Poutine" (originally from Quebec), which is an order of fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. Mercer’s “Jean Poutine” joke played masterfully on the widespread impression that the former U.S. president had a generally limited curiosity about the outside world.
Zhou Libo became a huge hit in Shanghai and the surrounding area in 2008. His material has focused on finding the humor in the trivial details of life. But he has also taken aim at difficult periods of the past, such as the earlier days of rigid economic planning. And he is willing to make barbed comments about current Chinese political life as well: “The difference between labor unions in China and in foreign countries,” he has quipped, “is that the Chinese ones organize people to watch movies together and foreign ones organize strikes.”
One of the popular segments on Zhou’s talk show involves his mimicry of the four generations of Chinese leaders — Mao, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Wen Jiabao — and how they would react to certain situations, such as the collapse of the stock market. Whenever he performs, Zhou is careful to present himself as a Chinese nationalist, which perhaps makes his political commentary more acceptable to the authorities.
Bassem Youssef, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is a political satirist who took to the airwaves of the country’s fledgling democracy. What started off as five-minute webisodes on YouTube during the Egyptian revolution turned into a fresh kind of programming for Egyptian television. His show, Al Bernameg (The Program), now appears on Egyptian satellite broadcaster ONtv.
Bassem had long been a fan of The Daily Show since he first saw it while on a visit to the United States. He longed for an Egyptian version of the show, but it would have been impossible prior to the revolution due to the nature of state-controlled television. Youssef describes his show as “the ghetto version of Jon Stewart,” but is currently trying to raise the funds to expand his show to include a live audience. It would be the first show of this kind in the Arab world. On June 21, 2012, Yousself finally appeared on the The Daily Show, where Stewart called Al Bernameg “sharp and well-executed.”