President Obama is not the only one thinking about the precedent set when Sony decided not to release the comedy The Interview. Around Hollywood, the action drew immediate rebuke as celebrities took to Twitter — like director and producer Judd Apatow:
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel agreed, writing, “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”
In writing rooms and comedy clubs in Los Angeles, however, the conversations are more nuanced.
“I feel like there’s been like a schizophrenic range of reactions,” says Rob Kutner, a writer for comedian Conan O’Brien who has also worked for The Daily Show and Dennis Miller. “Because I feel like in the sort of public realm, like in social media, people are saying like, ‘This is an outrage and it’s so stupid of Sony and so cowardly.’
“Nobody censors us,” says Stephanie Striegel, an independent producer who’s worked for Spyglass and New Line Cinemas. Like Kutner, she’s been following the Sony story for weeks.
“We get to watch what we want, read what we want, produce what we want,” she says. “You know, that whole First Amendment thing.”
But, Kutner says, “I feel like in private conversations … in the calm of, ‘What would I do?’ there’s a little more trepidation.” What if we did show the movie, and something happened — a bombing or a shooting?
Or nobody comes because they’re scared of something happening, Striegel points out. “That could be the other thing.”
Striegel worries Sony’s decision could have a far-reaching effect on Hollywood.
“From a creative point of view, if you’re a producer, or you’re an actor, you’re a writer, you know, it feels like the margin’s narrowed about what kind of movies Hollywood will be making,” she says.
The effect may ripple beyond Hollywood. At Flappers Comedy Club in beautiful downtown Burbank, Calif., comedians like Greg Kashmanian are taking cracks at Kim Jong Un.
“Part of me wants to believe that he’s like a super big cinephile and he was like, ‘Oh, they’re doing a movie about me? Who’s in it? James Franco? Oh, he’s good,’ ” Kashmanian cracked. “‘Who’s killing me? Seth Rogen? No. No, I saw Neighbors. Zero sex appeal.’ ”
But Flappers owner Dave Reinitz worries that these kind of jokes could provoke an attack on his business.
“We’re a tiny company, mom-and-pop place,” Reinitz says. “But we got a server, we’ve got a website and we need that for our business. So there is a chill effect when you feel threatened.”
Reinitz says that’s the scariest thing, because the world needs comedy. “Comedy helps open minds and that’s why they’re scared of it. That’s the real reason. ‘Oh, we’re insulted,’ — No, you’re worried that your people are going to see this movie and realize how hysterical and ridiculous your tinpot dictator is and maybe try to take some action to change that system.”
He just hopes that we don’t have to change ours. In the words of the incomparable Mel Brooks: “Humor is just another defense against the universe.”