HitFix

‘The Interview’ and precedence: On dictators in comedy movies, TV and online

The fate of comedy “The Interview” is looking grim, after Sony has canceled domestic and international theatrical release this week.

The James Franco and Seth Rogen-starrer had been in the works for half a decade. In it, a tabloid news show host and his producer are roped into an assassination attempt on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un via the urging of the FBI. While the plot sounds somewhat serious, it looped its way through plenty of weiner and butthole jokes, and also grounded its digs in North Korean propaganda, the criminal dehumanization of its people and the un-deifying of its Dear Leader (through dick and butt jokes, of course, plus violence).

But cutting down a tyrannical world leader is no new feat, of course. “South Park” and “Looney Tunes” took down Kim Jong-Il and Hitler in cartoons. “Arrested Development,” “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” brought abroad baddies to their knees for the small screen. Adept internetters have co-opted cinematic despot despair for meme-making. “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Dictator,” “Bananas” and “The Great Dictator” ripped into historical wrongdoing with caricatures, physical comedies, gaffes and gags to take the legs out (sometimes literally) from those who inflict torture and suffering on their own nations and others.

In this particular circumstance, Rogen and cohort Evan Goldberg wrote a live-action movie aimed at a current enemy of the United States who is lampooned simply by humanizing him, doing the opposite of the state-produced media feeds its citizens. And in this case, it seems the North Korean government has reacted by inflicting cyberwarfare on Sony. And now audiences, for now, won't see it.

Read below for an expansion on the precedence of comedy and dramadies taking on brutal dictators — how they were presented, cut down to size and what it says about approaching their atrocities before and after they're around.

“Springtime” for “The Producers”
Mel Brooks has a long-standing fascination with comic portrayals of Hitler, and while some might see it as a trivialization of someone who did very real evil in the world. Brooks has always used his humor to try to steal back the power from Hitler, making him small and ridiculous, and he did a great job of not only mocking Hitler with the musical-within-the-movie of “Springtime For Hitler,” but also mocking anyone who treated Hitler with any reverence at all. Imagine the look on the faces of that audience the first time Brooks cuts to them watching in shocked horror. Now keep in mind that when that film was made, it was less than a quarter-century after the end of WWII. Brooks proved with his film that humor can be found in even the darkest corners of our culture. – Drew McWeeny

North Korea kidnaps Elizabeth Banks on “30 Rock”
“The Interview” wasn't even the first time that Kim Jong-Un had been depicted in an unflattering comedic light in an American comedy.

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