“The Interview”: Evolution of Comedy as Social Commentary

Like many Americans, I eagerly supported first amendment rights and streamed “The Interview” on Christmas Day. Albeit loaded with unimpressive, inappropriate homophobic, sexist and crude jokes, “The Interview” succeeded in one area: mocking Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s living conditions.
In the movie, directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg portray Kim Jong-un as an insecure, Katy Perry obsessed man-child. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Rogen stated he aimed to make Kim as ‘adorable’ as possible.
The movie mocks the starvation and hunger in North Korea. In one scene, Skylark (Franco) and Rapoport (Rogen) see a beautiful market. Only later, as Dave Skylark (James Franco) throws plastic grapefruits in disgust, the market is revealed for what it is: a disguise, masking the starvation in North Korea.
Russia condemns these scenes and this movie as scandalous. Many Americans remain fearful. Colbert points out these fears stating to Rogen, “It’s going toe to toe with the North Koreans in thermonuclear conflict.”
Does this mean The Interview should not have been created and aired? We forget the history and role comedy plays in telling the hard truth about current atrocities, stigmas, and taboos.
Humorist Mary Hirsch writes “Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.”
Comedy puts a mirror to the audience confronting realities otherwise ignored. Comedians push boundaries. The laugh takes away the sting of a very harsh reality.
This becomes apparent when Dave Chappelle plays blind white supremacist Clayton Bigsby in his long-running sketch-comedy, Chappelle’s Show. Bigsby claims to be white but in fact is black. He denounces African-Americans with racial slurs and stereotypes. The dramatic irony of Clayton Bigsby and his racial remarks address otherwise difficult race relations in the United States.
Jokes about race and other groups reach as far as Medieval Europe. Court Minstrels mocked the literal stench of the Visigoths. Messages from Medieval European times warned specific jesters to tame their jokes about the Habsburgs. They were going too far. They are affecting political relations.
At the brink of World War II in 1940, Charlie Chaplin wrote and produced The Great Dictator, a silent film mocking Adolf Hitler. The Great Dictator focuses on Jewish barber fleeing from dictator of Tomania, Hyrkel’s, reign–a figure who sports eerily similar to Hitler. People worried it went too far. German Consul George Gyssling wrote Joseph Breen (head of Production Code Administration), warning filmmakers trying to make Hitler a comedic act. The film aired anyway.
The Interview is not the first controversial comedic film, spurring worries over possible conflict. People criticized Dave Chapelle’s skits as offensive and perpetrating negative stereotypes. The Great Dictator and court minstrels‘ jokes sparked the equivalent of possible “thermonuclear attacks” during their respective times. Yet these comedies are necessary.
The Great Dictator became the second most profitable American film in 1941. More Americans became aware of Nazi atrocities. Court Minstrels touched the untouchable Habsbugs Court. The Interview, like these past comedies, show reality, in this case famine and tyranny in North Korea. The $5.99 movie generated over $15 million in revenue the first 4 days of release. It has been downloaded over 2 million times worldwide.
Seth Rogen told Colbert, “I personally think it is appropriate to make jokes about real things …We thought maybe we could inject some slight relevance.”
Defector and activist Park Sang-hak wants North Koreans to watch the movie. Ironically and not surprisingly, it’s illegal in North Korea. Sang-hak plans to use balloons and air drop 100,000 copies in his homeland. His goal, as Rogen and Goldberg emphasizes in the movie, is to show Kim Jong-un as an imperfect person. “North Korea’s absolute leadership will be crumble if the idolisation of leader Kim breaks down,” he says. The balloons are set to drop in late Janruary. “We have to let the world know about the atrocities in North Korea and help our brothers and sisters there.”

Elizabeth Mack is a third year English major. She can be reached at emmack@uci.edu.