Saturday Night Live: Comedy Show To Air In Egypt? Can They Take A Joke?

Tabloid! Gulf News already Tweeted about the Saturday Night Live adaptation in October of last year,

According to AP News, the first episode was shot on Tuesday as fans laughed their way through the entire live performance. Saturday Night Live Arabia host Donia Samir Ghanem — one of Egypt’s top female comedians — helped keep the audience’s sides in stitches as she joked about her own short comings.

Some other subject matter relevant to the Middle Eastern crowd revolved around different stereotypes of different Arabic countries on Saturday Night Live Arabia.

Components of the U.S. SNL were there as an underlying template for SNL Arabia, also.

These elements included:

  • celebrity guest
  • music performances
  • live sketches
  • videos and parody news

However, one element was missing from the Arabian Saturday Night Live: Political satire.

Staff writers and cast members of Saturday Night Live Arabia played it safe but when it came to poking fun at the government and establishment the New York-based Saturday Night Live often does.

Saturday Night Live Arabia producers already feel like they are walking on eggshells after witnessing Egypt’s version of The Daily Show being taken off of the air in 2014.

Bassem Youssef, known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart,” said that the reason for the cancellation was that the “political climate was no longer conducive to satire” as the satirist was forced off of the air.

 U.S. Mideast Satirist, Bassem Youseff [AP Photo/Amr Nabil]

Secular activists and prominent figures, like Youssef, were prosecuted after Abdel-Fattah el Sissi won the Egyptian presidential office in 2013.El-Sissi even went as far as to jail thousands of members of the old regime and threatened to capture more who dissented from his views.

Youssef instantly lost viewers after airing an episode where he mocked El-Sissi’s landslide election victory by poking fun at his overly zealous supporters and the president’s radicalism.

Youssef fears that Egyptians may not be able to take a satirical joke if it is aimed at them; hence, they wouldn’t be able to handle a “Saturday Night Live” in the same way that America does.

It will be interesting to see how El-Sissi will react to Saturday Night Live Arabia, depending on how far the comedy show will push the envelope with their content.

On the contrary, many Egyptians now complain that there is a lack of satirical humor in their media, with all of the political turmoil that the Middle Eastern country has faced.

Lead writer on Saturday Night Live Arabia, George Azmi says this of the challenge.

“It’s a challenging time for anyone who writes in Egypt. Everyone is antagonized… You cannot make a decent joke without offending someone. Never mind the regime… the people themselves are very antagonized, both right and left. And at the same time a lot is happening (politically) so if you ignore this completely you will also appear out of tune.”

Nevertheless, two comedians from Youssef’s show, Shady Alfons and Khaled Mansour, have joined Saturday Night Live in Arabic.

But even they tip-toed around the touchy subject of politics, avoiding anything deemed too provocative.

Saturday Night Live in Arabic will be broadcast via the Egyptian satellite service OSN. This means that most Egyptians will not be able to see the Arabic Saturday Night Live until it is broadcast on CBC three months from now.

Even Egyptian fans of the U.S. SNL are unsure of how their own country’s Arabic spin-off will work. Saturday Night Live New York fan, Ahmed Hegazy, expressed his reservations.

“I’m skeptical about it because most of the stuff that gets remade here gets ruined. If they do it right, it would have the potential to replace Bassem Youssef.”

In a catch-22 type of scenario, doing so, i.e. making the show like its American counterpart, could come with backlash and Saturday Night Live Arabia might suffer the same fate as Youssef’s show if the public and government do not lighten up.

[Photo via Getty Images/NBC]