A.E. Stahl, an American living in Tel Aviv, holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc. in the History of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Aside from his incredibly impressive pedigree, he is also the creator of the edgy, provocative publication, the Mideast Beast. Referred to as The Onion for the Middle East, A.E. Stahl takes a comedic approach to news and story-telling with a special focus on Israeli-Arab/Israeli-Palestinian Conflicts. The online publication has become a must read for people, keeping the daily laughs consistent, no matter how sad or absurd the “real” news gets.
He was the guest of honor at most recent MySababa AMA (Ask Me Anything) to learn a little bit more about him and the publication. Here are some of the highlights of user questions and A.E.’s answers:
How/When did you get the idea for this? What made you think of doing the publication in humorous style?
A.E.: A friend and I actually decided to do this just before the 2014 war broke out. We went live with it during the fighting. We felt that was the best time to help people deal with the insanity.
Have you always wrote/edited comedy & satire?
A.E.: No, I didn’t always write/edit satire/comedy. I’m actually a publisher leaning more towards the academic world. But, after many years of that type of work (war studies), we just found too much on the political level funny…had to go for it.
Which side of the political aisle are you on? It’s hard to tell!
A.E.: We get that question a lot. It’s a tough one to answer because ‘right and left’ in Israel is not the same as in the U.S. But, ultimately, we don’t like to put ourselves in a category, except for satire. We poke at all sides.
Do you draw inspiration from the Onion?
A.E.: Sure, we love the Onion, it’s great. But, my personal inspiration came from two things: The Daily Mash (very UK-centric) and the regular news.
What is your favorite parody account to follow on social media? As a follow up, do you find any journalists/their social media accounts interesting?
A.E.: The Daily Mash and The Onion are great – we read their stuff quite often. But there are so many satire sites out there…we do our best to read them all. We follow real journalists, sure, but we’re not a fan of any specific one. The real news in general provides enough info for us to work with
What do you hope to achieve with the site? What’s coming next?
A.E.: Our ultimate goal is to bring some humor/comedy/lightheartedness to outsiders’ perspectives on the region. Articles are great and we will continue with those but we have plans for video shorts, among other things, as well. All in good time.
I spend a lot of time on your site then I go to my Twitter feed and it’s hard to separate what’s real from what’s parody. With the Middle East being as absurd as it is in real life, does that make satire more difficult? I mean, does the site need to be over the top to make it work?
A.E.: No, it doesn’t need to be over the top, though we do have some of those. We simply find what we feel is both easy to poke at and what’s trending and then play off of that. It is true that so much craziness takes place here…we simply make sure that people know it’s satirical by adding that extra bit of exaggeration.
Have you ever had any death threats from posting certain articles?
A.E.: Nope, never any death threats but definitely some nasty emails. Interestingly, the nasty emails tend to come after we post an article about Trump. Very passionate supporters, apparently.
Thoughts on the upcoming United States election, from the point of view of an American not living here?
A.E.: We thought we had it bad in Israel when all we could choose from was Netanyahu or Herzog. But now with Clinton and Trump….you have our sympathy.
Hypothetical – You get Trump visiting you in Israel…Exclusive interview for the Mideast Beast. What’s the first question you ask?
A.E.: How much money do you have in your wallet right now?
Why isn’t The Mideast Beast published in Hebrew? Would you ever publish in Arabic?
A.E: Honestly, satire is not like a regular news article that can be easily translated into other languages due to specific humor, slang, etc. Our main audiences are the US and the UK (also Canada). We won’t be publishing in any other language. There are many satire sites already in those languages, so there’s no real need. We are an English-based site and will remain that way.
How do you decide which issues to tackle or not tackle?
A.E.: Honestly, myself and the editor give writers creative freedom. They are very good at what they do – we are there for editing and support and to help with ideas from time to time. Stories that are trending (such as Depp) is one way we tackle subjects. We just put up a very funny piece about that today