Kumail Nanjiani and the impossible-to-top satire of Idiocracy
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Idiocracy. King of the Hill creator Mike Judge’s comedy is about a humble man who wakes up in a future where the average IQ has surpassed single digits. Judge’s sequel to the cult-classic Office Space was released in 2006, but it was relegated to less than 200 theatres. Re-watching the film today will show you why 20th Century Fox’s studio executives might not have been thrilled about being associated with it. Its worldview is scathing, profane, and caustic.
Judge is not afraid to speak out about his disgust for rampant consumerism and willful ignorance. The world of Idiocracy has a movie about a man’s sex. Carl’s Jr. makes you pay if you don’t have the money, and the President is an ex-pro wrestler who waters crops with Gatorade. This is not exactly a four-quadrant blockbuster.
Yet, Idiocracy was yet another favourite cult movie in Mike Judge’s canon. This is even though the world has been moving closer to Judge’s vision of a society with no empathy.
My co-host Jonah Ray is back with his Meltdown Show cohost, Academy Award nominee and one of the stars in Marvel’s Eternals. This week’s episode on Galaxy Brains sees him reunited with Kumail Nanjiani, his former Meltdown show cohost. We talk about the greatness and dangers of Idiocracy, as well as the state of satire today.
This conversation was edited to be slightly less bizarre, as usual.
Dave:Does itIdiocracyWe know how awful it can be. So, we are going to play differently. Is it because it is more cathartic to watch a movie during such a historic moment in history?
Kumail:It was definitely more difficult for me. It was just that I felt more disappointed because it hadn’t been there in a while. It was so much fun. It was so funny. It was actually a better movie than I had remembered. It was funny moments, amazing scenes and jokes. The beats work. They really do work. It was a bit disappointing to see it. This is where we are now.
Dave:Although we don’t yet have Starbucks giving out hand jobs, we are making progress.
Jonah:This was perhaps the best thing about that futuristic world.
Kumail:Enjoy full-response lattes
Dave:Mike Judge was a great partner.Silicon Valley. Why is his satire so successful? These are the themes that resonate across many genres. How is it possible for him to do this? Did you ever discover the secret to his success?
Kumail:He is just a strong anti-authority person. And he thinks authority is hilarious. It’s strange that you might think his animating emotion is anger. But it’s not. This stuff is really stupid. One of my favourite jokes is “Welcome To Costco, I Love You.” It really demonstrates how corporations want to be your friends and how people are loyal to their brands. People feel a connection with large corporations if they follow them on Twitter. It’s truly bizarre. It’s only gotten worse since then. Mike is a master at understanding how people react to bad systems. This is Silicon Valley: it’s a crazy, bad system with people trapped within it. His approach is to really understand the corporate systems and have empathy for those who are trapped within them.
Dave:This is something he shares with Charlie Brooker who, I believe, is also a great satirist of his time. It’s empathy but also that kind…not anger but amused by it. It’s like,Why is it like this?? The question is being asked. I don’t believe satire should be considered an angry thing. It’s a common misconception that you have to be angry and pissed to be a good writer or comedian.
Jonah:But there must be some condescension. Yes. You must love what you are parodying. It will show and it will come off if you don’t. You have to dislike satire. It’s impossible to love it at the end.
Dave:You can’t be a fan if you are satirizing. There’s no bite. Jonah, I believe you are absolutely correct. One of the greatest challenges in satire is getting your point across. How can you keep satire entertaining, funny, interesting, and engaging while ensuring that your audience does not misunderstand what you are trying to convey?
Kumail:This is something I have thought about a lot and decided to say: it’s not the artist’s responsibility to ensure that the audience understands it. If you are making satire, all you can do is to make great satire and make your points. It’s up the audience to decide if they get it. One great example isFight Club. Many people saw that movie and thought “Oh, I should join that fight club?” This is exactly the opposite of what the movie was trying to convey. It was easy to misinterpret satire as supporting the negative things that the piece was satirizing. This used to upset me. Now I think it’s the people’s responsibility to understand it. If they don’t understand, the artist is limited in what he or she can do.
Galaxy Brains is a podcast that provides more galaxy braining information on Star Wars, Free Guy and The Suicide Squad. It also includes the movie in which Vin Diesel plays an angel who drives cars.