Why North Korea Doesn’t Find Seth Rogen Funny

Comedy can be an incredibly powerful political weapon and tool. Satire, in its own way, has been as effectively devastating as the best ad campaigns out there. Ask a person on the street who Jay Carney or Josh Earnest is. Undoubtedly, some will recognize the names of our past and present White House Press Secretaries, but probably far fewer would recognize Steven Colbert or Jimmy Fallon. Comedians often find themselves walking a thin line with political comedy between what is needlessly offensive and divisive and what is purposefully ridiculous and intelligent, one example being The Dictator. There’s likely to be a fair amount of discussion over where Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s movie, The Interview, falls after news on the international front.

The movie, directed by Goldberg and Rogen and starring the James Franco and Rogen comedy team, is about two journalists who manage to get into North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un and are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate the dictator. The script saw changes, according to Rogen, who spoke with Yahoo. The film script had to be changed after the death of Kim Jong-il, and turned into the movie scripted today.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson recently released a statement via state media (Korean Central News Agency) saying that a film — unnamed by the spokesperson — with the same plot as The Interview would be considered an “act of war” if released and that there would be “merciless” reprisal for the film, according to the BBC. “Making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated,” said the spokesperson in the KCNA, calling the it “reckless U.S. provocative insanity” with a “gangster filmmaker” that had led to “a gust of hatred and rage” in the population and military of North Korea.

The backlash is timed with some reports of cruise missiles shown in North Korean propaganda videos, however, the legitimacy of such concerns are debatable and uncertain at present. Rogen spoke earlier this month in an interview with Yahoo on the opposition within the film industry, specifically with their studio Columbia Pictures. “It was kind of similar to This Is the End,” said Rogen, referring to a previous film, “where they didn’t want us playing ourselves. Now we can tell them, ‘The thing that you guys are the most afraid of is always the thing that people like the most about the movie.’ At this point, it almost is discomforting if there’s nothing about the ovie that they’re desperately trying to get us to change.” He claimed the film will be well researched and based upon as much real input from experts, journalists, and government officials as possible. Rogen claims the truth is “so crazy you don’t need to make anything up. It’s an unlimited supply of craziness.”

He also mentioned that the idea for the film stemmed from the “hypothetical discussion about how journalists have access to the world’s most dangerous people, and they hypothetically would be in a good situation to assassinate them.” According to The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 2013 was the second worst year on record for the imprisonment of journalists worldwide, with a total of 211 imprisoned — most seen in Turkey, Iran, and China. North Korea presently has three Americans imprisoned, though their offenses appear largely unrelated to journalism. The most recent prisoner was a tourist named Jeffrey Edward Fowle who is accused of leaving a bible at a hotel and was subsequently arrested.

This is not the first time that the U.S. film industry has elicited a negative response from North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-il, father to the present leadership, was angered by Paramount Pictures’ characterization of him in Team America. At the time, there were some reports that the North Korean Embassy in Prague attempted to prevent the film from being shown in the Czech Republic. For his part, Kim Jong-un does plan to watch the film upon it’s release, something Seth Rogen responded to in a tweet:

It’s likely he will not, at least based on statements from Kim Myong-chol, the executive director of The Centre for North Korea-U.S. Peace and an unofficial spokesperson for the regime in Pyongyang. According to The Telegraph, he said in an interview that, “There is a special irony in this storyline as it shows the desperation of the U.S. government and American society. A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. And let us not forget who killed Kennedy — Americans,” said Myong-chol. “In fact, President Obama should be careful in case the U.S. military wants to hill him as well.” Since the news of North Korea’s response broke, Rogen tweeted the following:

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