Poking Fun at the Dear Leader

Whether portrayed as a hopelessly lonely egomaniac or a wannabe Batman, Kim Jong Il has long been a favorite target for comedians.

The death of Kim Jong Il has inspired a flurry of reflections on the North Korean leader’s reign and analyses of what the future holds for the impoverished nuclear power. But it’s also prompted people to reminisce about the many spoofs of the idiosyncratic ruler over the years. References to Kim’s appearance as a puppet dictator in the movie Team America are trending on Twitter today, and the actress Elizabeth Banks felt compelled to respond to her Twitter followers when they inquired about whether Kim’s death would alter a storyline on the NBC show 30 Rock in which Banks’ character, Avery Jessup, is kidnapped by the North Korean leader. “Appreciate all the concern over Avery Jessup’s fate now that Kim Jong Il has died,” she wrote. We’re at a pivotal moment in history.” 

Yes, while Kim Jong Il may have cultivated a personality cult at home, he also cultivated a great deal of comedy abroad. Here’s a look at the top 10 moments in Dear Leader parody. 

Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things

In October 2010, João Rocha, a 26-year-old art director at Y&R Lisbon in Portugal, created the Tumblr “Kim Jong-il Looking at Things” after seeing pictures in the Boston Globe of the North Korean leader criss-crossing the country with his entourage to deliver “field guidance.” The popular blog features photo after photo of Kim, almost always sporting shades and wearing either his trademark jumpsuits or a winter coat, fur hat, and mittens, inspecting mundane objects ranging from sausages to persimmon trees (he’s checking out a steel factory in the picture above).

While propaganda is usually used to “make someone seem larger than life,” Rocha tells the Wall Street Journal today, the North Koreans use it to make Kim “look like he’s in touch with the regular people. A god amongst men, that’s probably the angle they’re going for.” On Monday, Rocha announced that he will continue posting images and captions in the present tense as long as his photo archive lasts. “Much like [Kim’s] father still is, and forever will be, the ‘eternal president’ of North Korea, so will Kim Jong Il forever look at things on this site,” Rocha wrote.  

AFP/Getty Images

Team America

In Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s 2004 film Team America: World Police, Kim (in marionette form) stars as a crazed, power-hungry dictator who tries to unleash weapons of mass destruction and clashes with actor Alec Baldwin and Hans Blix (the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, whose name the puppet Kim has a hilariously difficult time pronouncing). 

In the clip below, Parker and Stone mock Kim’s isolation, English-speaking skills, and destructive attention-seeking behavior with the song “I’m So Ronery.”

Here’s a collection of Kim Jong Il’s other memorable scenes in the movie:

YouTube user KraterosUltimatum

The Onion

Over the years, the Onion has served up a slew of classic Kim Jong Il headlines — ranging from Kim Jong Il Unfolds Into Giant Robot to Kim Jong-Il Interprets Sunrise As Act of War to North Korea Releases New Paintings Of Healthy Kim Jong Il. But their video reports have been equally biting. In the clip below, the Onion News Network reports that Kim, a cinema lover who once kidnapped a South Korean film director, had agreed to end his nuclear program if the U.S. State Department would grant him a lead role in the next Batman movie.

In another segment, the Onion News Network tackles Kim’s plan to capture the moon and bring it home to North Korea:

Then there was the time that an Onion panel discussed what might be behind Kim’s approval rating plummeting to 120 percent.

And, finally, a look at how diplomatic tensions rose after North Korea destroyed all of Asia:

The satirical news outlet hasn’t disappointed today. One of Monday’s headlines: “Kim Jong-Un Privately Doubting He’s Crazy Enough To Run North Korea.”

The Onion


The former screwball Fox sketch comedy show MADtv took several jabs at Kim Jong Il. In the clip below, Kim (played by Bobby Lee) hosts a mandatory late-night talk show and has Donald Trump (played by Frank Caliendo) on as a guest. Kim shoots members of the audience and his Political Prisoner band who don’t laugh at his opening monologue, compares Trump’s hair to a “mushroom cloud,” and boasts about his own reality television show, The Inferior Apprentice Servant Who Is Lower Than A Dog.

In another segment, P. Diddy (Aries Spears) and Kim Jong Il (Bobby Lee) perform the rap “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb” (warning: footage involves Kim Jong Il pelvic thrusts):

Other sketches involved Kim struggling to film a clueless nuclear scientist at work in order to strike fear in the hearts of Americans and, yes, the North Korean leader participating in a dating game alongside Saddam Hussein:

YouTube user Justinplace


In 2009, DFDTV released a short film on the website FunnyorDie.com in which Kim Jong Il (played by Rex Lee from the show Entourage) tries to secure an American baby from an adoption agency as part of his search for a successor — a sketch that seems particularly relevant today. When the screening committee asks Kim if he’s from the “bad Korea,” the North Korean leader retorts, “the bad-ass Korea.”

YouTube user gravitygiant

Saturday Night Live

MADtv wasn’t the only late-night comedy show to spoof Kim Jong Il. In this cold open from Saturday Night Live, the North Korean leader (played by Horatio Sanz) declares that, in defiance of the “gun-slinging buccaneer George Bush,” North Korea would continue to pursue its “wise policy of cheating on all international agreements, then indignantly denying this when we are caught.” Kim then holds forth on his psychological ailments — a laundry list that amounts to virtually every entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


Saturday Night Live

30 Rock

In season 5 of the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy’s wife, TV journalist Avery Jessup, is kidnapped by Kim Jong Il. In the scene below, Kim (or “Johnny Mountain,” played by Margaret Cho) delivers a weather report: “North Korea. Everything’s sunny all the time. Always. Good time. Beach party.”

“Even though the role was comedic,” Cho writes in the Wall Street Journal today, “I felt sick and sad for the people on the North Korean side of my family who died without ever getting to know me, or hating me because we happened to live on one side of the border. My heart broke for a country cut off from the rest of the world, whose only representative is a crazed megalomaniac.”  

YouTube user Bowserfire

The Simpsons

In the first episode of The Simpsons this year, a former CIA agent (played by Kiefer Sutherland) befriends Homer and recalls how he was imprisoned in North Korea and forced to write a musical about Kim Jong Il entitled, “Being Short Is No Hindrance to Greatness.”


Funny or Die


Next Media Animations

Taiwan’s Next Media Animations (NMA), which catapulted to fame after animating the Tiger Woods sex scandal, has released several videos satirizing Kim Jong Il. In this clip in honor of Kim’s 69th birthday in February, NMA ridicules the mythology surrounding the North Korean leader, including claims that a double rainbow and early spring materialized when he was born, and that he made 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf (another NMA video today provocatively questions the claimed outpouring of grief in North Korea over his death).

Next Media Animations

The Borowitz Report

The comedian Andy Borowitz has frequently invoked Kim Jong Il on his satirical news site The Borowitz Report, often as a way to point out when U.S. politicians are being ridiculous. When Bill Clinton made a series of gaffes while campaigning for his wife during the 2008 presidential election, Borowitz cited the North Korean leader as saying the former president was acting “like a madman.” When Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in 2011, Borowitz had Kim calling the Texas governor an “unhinged lunatic.”

But Borowitz has aimed his satire directly at Kim as well. In a 2007 article, the Dear Leader kicked Iran out of President Bush’s Axis of Evil because they were “not evil enough.” Borowitz isn’t impressed with how the United States has responded to North Korea either. In 2009, the comedian wrote:

One day after North Korea launched a successful test of a nuclear weapon, President Obama said that the United States was prepared to respond to the threat with “the strongest possible adjectives.

KNS/AFP/Getty Images

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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