The studio lights come up, illuminating a stenciled graffiti panda behind the anchor chair, and the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, bounds onto the stage. The onetime candidate for Egypt’s presidency seems to have buffed up and grown taller, while the eyes behind his familiar tortoiseshell frames are today an unexpected blue. Stagehands stand around giggling and snapping photographs as the impostor is revealed; his laugh is unmistakable, loud, high, and infectious. ElBaradei is in fact television host Bassem Youssef in makeup and a bald cap. He quickly hushes the chuckles, adjusts his lapel microphone, sits down, and addresses camera two in ElBaradei’s quiet, measured tone.
It’s the fifth of seven impersonations Youssef has done during a 14-hour day of filming for an upcoming episode of his TV show. For a man who claims to be new to the art of mimicry, he seems to be doing a pretty good job. His take on a Salafi presidential candidate is sufficiently bearded and intense, while the arrogance and evasiveness of a former Hosni Mubarak lackey is uncannily accurate. The camera operators regularly snort in recognition.