Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Can International Organizations Be Funny?

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are developing a tv show for CBS focusing on the behind the scenes people at the United Nations.  The folks involved are quite funny, including the Sklar brothers (who had a great apperance on GLOW), Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers and other stuff) and so on.  But I can't help but wonder a couple of things:
a) is there much comedy in the daily grind at the UN?
b) if one is going to make a comedy about an international organization, is this the right one?

Sure, banging shoes on podiums was good for a laugh way back in the day during the Cold War, but I am trying to think of what might be funny among the lower ranks.  Interpretation/translation errors can be a recurring theme, of course.  Making fun of the latest underqualified American Ambassador might provide some comic fodder.  But debates about arcane rules, failures to get consensus, talk about Article VI and VII, and such don't sing of comedic potential.  Maybe my friends who study the UN can help share what would be so funny about the institution.  To be sure, this has been done in movie form (thanks to Sara Mitchell for reminding me): No Man's Land.  Which is kind of funny--UN peacekeeping in Yugoslavia for some laughs.

What other candidates would there be?
  • NATO?  Well, War Machine was partly a NATO movie, and it was not that funny, despite my efforts to give the producer some material
  • The International Monetary Fund or the World Bank? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
  • The World Health Organization has much potential: M*A*S*H meets Office Space meets ebola!  It sings of comedic chaos as the WHO agents run around the world dealing with all kinds of strange diseases and varying levels of corruption and incompetent governments.  
  • The International Telecommunications Union?  I just mention it here because it is the oldest AND I had to do research on its earliest forms when I was a first year grad student research assistant.
  • The Warsaw Pact?  It could be the IO equivalent of Hogan's Heroes--looking back at something fairly tragic and finding comedy in it?  So easy to think of the bumbling Communists of Eastern Europe making mistakes and trying to hide them from the visiting Soviet commissars.  
  • International Civil Aviation Office?  The usual effort to save money by producing in Canada would not diminish the realism since the ICAO is in Montreal.  All kinds of hijinks can ensue between an organization which has promoted English as the language of air travel in a province that can be a bit dogmatic about French first plus having to deal with the new regulations of the post 9/11 environment could provide humor?
  • The International Criminal Court?  Nah, that might be good for a dramedy but not for a Seth Rogen comedy.  I mean, did anyone see The Interview?  Genocide is only funny twenty years later (see Hogan's Heroes) and not even then.  This show's recurring theme would be "Too soon?"
  • The European Union?  Sure, Monty Python could probably have lots of fun with heaps of bureaucracy, and the various strange coalitions in the European parliament could provide for some sitcom fun.  But how many jokes can one make about standardized toasters?  Oh, but we now have that Brexit plotline that will be the gift that keeps on giving.
If I had to choose, I'd pick either the WHO or the EU.  What would you choose as the basis of an IO sitcom?

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