Interpreting the news

The Theatrical Fine Art of Tackling World Affairs with Humor: John Oliver (US), Bassem Youssef (Egypt), Miao Fu & Wang Sheng (China).

Researchers have found that humor and videos with positive high arousal emotions motivate people to positive action. The question is, how can they be used to motivate people in solving various problems of society.

A research team at Stanford University found that funny cartoons activated a cluster of areas in the brain deeply involved in the regulation of dopamine, which positively impacts motivation and mood. (Read more)

The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia, has proven that videos that elicit positive high arousal emotions are shared more in social media than videos that elicit high arousal negative emotions. Most videos are in the low arousal categories of amusement, calmness, pleasure, surprise and happiness. But it is the High Arousal videos that elicit Astonishment, Elation, Inspiration, Hilarity, Exhilaration – that have the most shares in social media. (Read more)

US: John Oliver


John Oliver’s net neutrality rant caused an FCC site crash. News releases on the topic resulted in 4000 letters to the FCC. Oliver’s program brought 47,000 to the site to support net neutrality.

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Egypt: Bassem Youssef

Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian heart surgeon, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg (“The Program”), a satirical news program (2011-14) that reached 30 million viewers, broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. He became the most popular man in Egypt. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef’s YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.

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As Youssef says, “Nobody can hinder creativity. One can put up many barriers but they can only succeed if people decide to accept these barriers.”

Articles by Bassem Youssef

China: Miao Fu & Wang Sheng

China Daily reported that an anti-corruption storm swept China last year and the public saw the effects during the annual Spring Festival TV gala on February 19. At least three pieces in the China Central Television (CCTV) gala had anti-corruption themes. A stand-up routine, “It’s not mine,” performed by young comedians Miao Fu and Wang Sheng from northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, depicted an corrupt official who took bribes including a car, a house and also a woman, if a woman can fairly be described as a bribe. It was labelled the “most sarcastic stand-up comedy in three decades of galas.” Miao told the Beijing News that the Shaanxi provincial discipline inspection commission helped them a lot by telling them tales of typical corruption cases across the country. At the end of the sketch the “official” decided to turn himself in to the graft-busters. The show was widely praised on the Internet with the only complaint being that it was not funny enough.


China File reported, Corruption is finally funny — at least, according to the Chinese Communist Party. That’s because comedic performances of China’s annual New Year Gala, a variety show on China Central Television (CCTV) made fun of corrupt officials, another sign that the party is determined to reap propaganda value from its relentless anti-corruption campaign.

A crackdown on the party and the government’s pervasive graft has become the signature program of China’s President, Xi Jinping, who has described corruption as an issue of “life or death” for the party. The campaign has claimed powerful officials, like ex-security czar and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, previously thought to be untouchable because of their position and connections. Even organizations shrouded in secrecy, like the People’s Liberation Army and the intelligence service, seem to be fair game after army leader Xu Caihou and spymaster Ma Jian became disgraced by graft charges.

The party is eager to cast the anti-corruption campaign as a monumental achievement in order to bolster Xi’s public image, and to dispense with the notion that the campaign is the pretext for a power struggle among party elite. The annual Chinese New Year Gala, the country’s most watched, most talked-about, and most analyzed television program, seems to be the perfect platform to sell this notion to the public.