Tickling Giants

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Tickling Giants Movie Poster Image
Powerful docu follows story of "Jon Stewart of Egypt."
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 111 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes the idea that dissent, even when humorous, is a powerful step toward democracy -- or at least making the people's voices heard. The importance of comedy is also a central theme, as is the value of questioning, criticizing, and even lampooning authority in a way that encourages conversation. Themes include courage, compassion, and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Youssef gives up his medical career to do political comedy because he believes the Egyptian people need humor to help them examine their socio-political situation. His show's entire staff is brave for being willing to work on the comedy, and they face consequences for their decisions. Youssef's wife is supportive and loving, even though the stakes are high for their family.

Violence

Footage of violence at Tahrir Square. People are hurt, bloody, and even die. As a doctor, Youssef treats the protestors and goes to the scene. Extremists who disagree with Youssef protest in favor of his death or imprisonment. He and his staff are inundated with death threats.

Sex

A married couple embraces.

Language

Most of the strong language is in subtitles; words include "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "prick," etc. Occasionally verbal swearing in English as well. Also lots of insulting and threatening language calling for Youssef's death or imprisonment.

Consumerism

Brands/products seen include Apple, Comedy Central, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Scenes of Egyptians watching the show while in hookah bars; some patrons are smoking, while others are drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tickling Giants is a documentary about Egyptian surgeon-turned-comedy-talk-show host Bassem Youssef, who has been hailed as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt" for starting a political satire show during and after the Eyptian Revolution. The film includes footage of the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt in 2011 and the ensuing protests, which led to violent clashes with the military; footage shows people being hurt, bloodied, and even killed. Once Youssef starts his show, the documentary reveals how people at first embraced and later turned on him, calling for his arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. He and his staff are portrayed as being exceptionally brave to continue on in that climate/environment. Expect some strong language, both spoken and in English subtitles (words include "f--k," "s--t," and more), as well as some incidental smoking and drinking. The movie could provoke conversation and research about the Arab Spring, comedy as a tool for dissent, and more.

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What's the story?

TICKLING GIANTS tells the story of Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian surgeon who, in the face of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, decided to start a comedy show a la The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Directed by a Daily Show producer, Sara Taksler, the documentary chronicles how Youssef left his lucrative medical career behind and risked everything to start his edgy show, first out of a personal home and then out of a studio, backed by a network. Youssef and his staff face insurmountable odds after the military deposes Egypt's first democratically elected leader and returns power to a military general. When Youssef criticizes General el-Sisi, the military leader who eventually runs for president, some of his viewers turn on him, demand that he stop second-guessing authority figures, and even call for his death. But Youssef remains convinced that Egypt needs voices of dissent.

Is it any good?

This powerful story of the "Jon Stewart of Egypt" makes you think not just about how humor is important under despotic regimes, but also how it works in democratic ones. It's incredible to see Youssef shed his scrubs and try his hand at political satire. And he doesn't just try -- he thrives, striking a chord with mostly young Egyptian viewers who are thrilled to finally connect with someone who isn't afraid to poke a little fun at authority. 

But unlike Stewart -- who makes several appearances in the documentary to support his international protege -- Youssef doesn't have a  channel like Comedy Central backing his show or a democratic country filled with viewers who understand that political humor is not only allowable but sometimes necessary. In the end, Youssef realizes that questioning those in power comes with a cost, and he ends up having to pay -- not with his life (thank goodness), but with his and his family's safety. Regardless of whether audiences are familiar with Youssef, Tickling Giants is a must-see for any comedy lover.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence depicted in Tickling Giants. Do you think the depictions of fighting, protesting, and chants for death are necessary to the film? Why or why not?

  • How does Tickling Giants promote courage, perseverance, and compassion? Why are those important character strengths? Are Youssef and his staff role models?

  • What do you think about the idea promoted in the film that dissent is a powerful step toward democracy? Is dissent more or less powerful when humor is involved?

  • Why do you think Jon Stewart plays such a big role in the documentary?

Movie details

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