Heckling Hitler: 15-plus attempts to make the Führer funny
- 13 Arrested Development quotes to summarize reactions to the new episodes
- “Illusion, Michael. A trick is something a whore does for money”: 20 inept magicians in pop culture
- It’s not TV—and it’s not available on HBO Go: 27-plus HBO originals unavailable from the streaming service
- The adventures of Tookie De La Crème: 13 surprising celebrity novelists
- The hand that rocks the puppet: 13 pop-culture attempts to make puppets appealing to adult audiences
1. The Producers (1968)
Adolf Hitler was a madman, a bigot, a dictator, and a cautionary example of how one man can induce a genocidal mass hysteria. So what, we can’t laugh at the guy? Popular culture is packed with examples of comedians trying to rob the Führer of some of his mystique by openly mocking him. In one of the most meta instances of Hitler hilarity, Mel Brooks wrote and directed a film he originally wanted to call Springtime For Hitler, after the name of the show within the show. The movie—renamed The Producers at the behest of skittish backers—stars Zero Mostel as a bumbling Broadway producer and Gene Wilder as an accountant who comes up with a plan to make money by soliciting investors for a surefire flop. The two partners decide to stage the pro-Nazi musical Springtime For Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf And Eva At Berchtesgaden, but are undermined by their leading man, who plays the material so outrageously that the audiences take the play as a bold, uproarious satire. Similarly, The Producers was hailed by many as one of the funniest movies ever made, in large part because Brooks was willing to risk “tastelessness” in the name of scoring some good jokes at the expense of one of history’s greatest monsters.
2. “Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942)
Say good morning to Donald Duck in Deutschland, awakened by a Nazi band—Goebbels on trombone! Göring on piccolo!—marching by his home, cheerily playing “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” Donald chokes down a breakfast consisting of wood carved into the shape of a loaf of bread, coffee brewed from a single bean, and a spritz of Eau De Bacon And Eggs, then after his requisite morning skim through Mein Kampf, he’s is drafted to work “48 hours a day for the Führer,” handling quality control on artillery shells while suffering through a ceaseless stream of Nazi party propaganda. Although he continues to heil heartily all the while, the pressure grows too much for Donald. Then, on the precipice of a psychotic break, he wakes to realize that it’s all been a horrible, horrible dream and quickly clutches his miniature Statue Of Liberty, quacking, “Oh, boy, am I glad to be a citizen of the United States Of America!” Propaganda? Sure. But that doesn’t make the “no place like home” arc of this Disney cartoon any less satisfying.
3. To Be Or Not To Be (1942/1983)
It’s 1939. Do you know where Adolf Hitler is? When director Ernst Lubitsch kicks off the original version of this Nazi-skewering comedy, it appears that the Führer is taking a stroll around downtown Warsaw. In fact, it’s a man named Bronski (Tom Dugan), who plays Hitler in the local theater company’s latest endeavor, and goes for laughs by arriving onstage with the words, “Heil myself.” Later he gives the performance of a lifetime, helping his fellow actors—including stars Josef and Maria Tura, played by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard—escape from Poland to Scotland. How convincing is Bronski as Hitler? After taking off from the airport in Poland, he orders the two actual Nazis on the plane to jump, and even before checking for parachutes, they’re out the door and falling to their deaths. (“Two very obliging fellows,” muses Bronski.) Mel Brooks remade To Be Or Not To Be in 1983, tweaking the story somewhat in order to play both the star of the show—alongside real-life wife Anne Bancroft—and Hitler, too. Brooks’ adaptation can’t compete with the gravitas of Lubitsch’s version, which was made while Hitler was actually in power. But it surprises by shining a sympathetic light on the persecution of homosexuals during World War II, not to mention providing the first documented occasion of Adolf Hitler’s gifts as a rapper in an accompanying music video.
4. “Mr. Hilter,” Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1970)
You’d think that after faking his death, Hitler would put a bit more effort into a new identity than simply transposing the third and fourth letters of his name. But never underestimate the ability of British tourists to overlook the obvious. When Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are introduced to the fellow residents of their boarding house in Somerset, they don’t bat an eye when introduced to Dickie Hilter and his pals Reg Bimmler and Ron Vibbentrop, even though the trio is sporting Nazi regalia. Though Hilter is ostensibly planning a hike to Bideford, Mr. Johnson notices a slight error in his map selection, observing, “This is Stalingrad, you want the Ilfracombe and Barnstaple section…” Hilter storms out of the room, presumably to continue work on securing a victory in the North Minehead by-election (he’s the candidate for the National Bocialist party), leaving Ron to apologize for his friend’s behavior: “He’s a bit on edge. He hasn’t slept since 1945.”
5. “The Germans,” Fawlty Towers (1975)
Fawlty Towers co-creator John Cleese has said that this episode of his classic sitcom was intended to skewer the excessive gentility of the English, as exemplified by the usually acerbic hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty insisting that his staff not bring up World War II in front of their German guests. But what most people remember about “The Germans” is the sight of Cleese as Basil goose-stepping around the hotel dining room with his finger under his nose. It all comes about because Basil suffers a head injury and finds himself saying one inappropriate thing after another in front of the Germans. Still, when Basil sniffs that his guests have no sense of humor, he has a point. If the people who were bombed by the Nazis can joke about it now, why can’t the people who did the bombing?
6. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
It’s no wonder that, having only just narrowly escaped from a band of motorcycle-riding Nazis, Indiana Jones has little interest in following his father’s demand that they head into the heart of Berlin to find the elder Dr. Jones’ Holy Grail diary. After a few stern words from the old man, Indy grumpily revs up his ride, and the father-and-son archaeological team rolls into a Nazi rally in the center of the city. Indy retrieves the journal from the clutches of the despicable Dr. Elsa Schneider, then is caught up in the bustle of the crowd, where he abruptly finds himself face to face with the Führer. Hitler glances down at the book in Indy’s hands, takes it into his possession, and sternly motions to the Nazi soldier at his right, who promptly produces… a pen. Instead of keeping the journal and potentially winning World War II, Hitler instead signs his name, hands back the book, and strolls on. And that’s why we don’t all speak German today.
7. Heil Honey I’m Home! (1990)
It’s hard to imagine what the British satellite channel Galaxy was thinking when it gave the go-ahead to this series, which re-imagined Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun as a harried sitcom couple living next door to a Jewish couple, Arny and Rosa Goldenstein. Although the show was intended by writer Geoff Atkinson as a blindingly obvious parody of American sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners (it’s hardly a coincidence that Hitler delivers his lines in a voice reminiscent of Ralph Kramden’s), some viewers were so outraged at what they perceived as insensitivity to past Nazi horrors that Heil Honey I’m Home! lasted only one episode before getting yanked from the airwaves.
8. “Pinkeye,” South Park (1997)
It’s Halloween in South Park, and the kids are all decked out in their costumes: Kyle’s going as Chewbacca, Stan’s dressed as Raggedy Andy, and Cartman, ever the iconoclast, puts on a Nazi uniform, sticks a black rectangle under his nose, and goes as Adolf Hitler. In spite of Cartman’s convictions that he looks “bad-ass,” Chef is appalled at the costume, and a horrified Principal Victoria quickly hustles Cartman into her office and sits him down to watch an educational video that assures viewers that “Adolf Hitler was a very, very naughty man.” Unfortunately, all Cartman takes away from the proceedings is how awesome it would be to stand in front of a crowd and have them all swear allegiance to him. Changing tactics, Principal Victoria offers to make Cartman a less controversial costume, but the damage has already been done. Cartman’s obsession with Hitler has since proven to be a recurring theme on the series, to the point where, in a later episode, he asks a fellow classmate, “If you had a chance right now to go back in time and stop Hitler, would you do it? I mean, I personally wouldn’t stop him, because I think he was awesome, but…”
9. “Cloning Hitler,” Mr. Show With Bob And David (1998)
Everywhere you look nowadays, it’s Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. That’s because of the joint effort between the United Biotechnical Institute and the Committee for Holocaust Reparations to produce hundreds of thousands of Hitler clones. Why? “Upon hatching, each Hitler begins a life of servitude to the relative of a Holocaust victim, and quicker than you can say, ‘L’Chayim,’ Hitlers have become an integral part of Jewish life.” By day, Hitler clones do everything from serving dinner to serving as playmates for little girls, but at night, they tend to congregate and drink away their sorrows together, with the younger ones bemoaning their fate as the older ones recite back their long-standing mantra, “Get used to it, Hitler.” At present, any clone whose master dies is released from his servitude, but given that one of the newly independent Hitlers has plans for world domination scrawled across the various maps pinned to his wall (“Lazy man’s wallpaper,” he shrugs), don’t expect that to last.
10. “A Clone of My Own”/“The Late Philip J. Fry,” Futurama (2000/2010)
To lure Professor Farnsworth to his surprise sesquicentennial birthday party, the deans of Mars University bait him with a letter claiming that he’s being brought up on disciplinary charges. The offense: transplanting Adolf Hitler’s brain into a prime specimen of Carcharodon carcharias. “Everyone’s always in favor of saving Hitler’s brain, but when you put it in the body of a great white shark, oh, suddenly you’ve gone too far,” jeers Farnsworth. In spite of this apparent interest in preserving Hitler, in a later episode, the professor can’t resist taking a shot at him—literally—while traveling through time. Although the assassination is successful, an attempt to return to the year 3010 is not, and upon looping back around to Nazi Germany, Farnsworth misses the Führer, somehow taking out Eleanor Roosevelt instead. (Strangely, this appears to have no effect on history whatsoever.)
11. “8 Simple Rules For Buying My Teenage Daughter,” Family Guy (2005)
When Meg becomes fed up with babysitting, Lois hires a lovely young thing named Liddane to serve as Stewie’s occasional caretaker. Stewie falls head over heads in love with Liddane, but he’s crushed when she arrives one evening with her boyfriend in tow. Undaunted, Stewie slips out one evening, bashes the boy over the head with a tire iron, tapes his mouth shut, and tosses him in the trunk of Brian’s car. But when Stewie shifts from comforting Liddane to fondling her breast, she rebuffs his advances. Depressed, Stewie bemoans the loss of his dream that he and Liddane would go out in a blaze of glory like Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Cue the quick cut to Hitler and Braun kneeling in the Führer’s bunker, teasing each other as they prepare to take their suicide capsules. “Okay, all right, this time we really have to do it,” giggles Hitler. “You want me to kill myself, and you’re not going to,” laughs Braun. “You suck!”
12. “Triumph Of The Ill (Hitler Rap),” Whitest Kids U Know (2006)
Once again reinvented as a rapper, Hitler’s “driving down the street in a fancy car” with a red-headed hottie by his side, giving it to us gangsta-style about how much he’s changed since we last saw him. Between the cadre of soulful singers spelling out his name during the chorus, Hitler rhymes, “What I bet ya’ll didn’t know is now I’m down with the Jews / The gypsies, homosexuals, and retards, too / ’Cause I stopped burnin’ people, started burnin’ CDs / Stopped battlin’ the world, started battlin’ MCs.” Far less funny is Whitest Kid Zach Cregger, who claims (on audio found here) that “some dumb idiot” in Germany pretended to be his fellow Whitest Kid Trevor Moore, and after excitedly taking credit for writing the song, was promptly murdered. “How many other sketch groups can actually kill a Nazi with their comedy?” asked Cregger. “I’m dying to know.”
13. “Blood Of The Father, Heart Of Steel,” The Venture Brothers (2009)
“Bad news, Dean: your dog is the spawn of Hell, and you must kill him.” So says Dr. Orpheus, and it’s a fair cop: Dean Venture’s hound—called Giant Boy Detective, after the book series of the same name—houses the soul of Adolf Hitler. Though the tale of how Hitler’s essence took up residence in a pit bull in the first place remains untold, the beast finds its way into Dr. Venture’s care when a group of Nazis attempts to strong-arm the doctor into building a new body for the Führer. Venture refuses to get involved (“I’m not cloning Hitler! Get out of here!”), but the dog takes a liking to Dean and loiters just long enough to take a ceremonial knife in the chest from Brock Samson, who completes the deed by cheerily declaring, “I can cross ‘stab Hitler to death’ off my list of cool crap I thought I’d never get to do!”
14. Michael Jordan’s Hitler mustache, Sports Show With Norm MacDonald
Countless stand-up comics over the years have made the joke that Hitler’s personal grooming style ruined that particular look—previously associated mainly with Charlie Chaplin—for everyone else, forever. But NBA legend Michael Jordan apparently missed the memo, since he popped up recently in a Hanes ad with a little inch-wide scruff of hair under his septum. In keeping with his usual policy of “cutting all the cleverness out of a joke” for enhanced comic effect, Norm MacDonald took on Jordan’s ’stache on his Sports Show with typical bluntness, telling Hanes: “You have Michael Jordan, which is excellent. And the commercial is effective in this way: It makes people think about underpants. That’s the good part. But it also makes people think of the Führer of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler. That’s not so good.”
15-plus. Innumerable viral clips featuring Bruno Ganz from Downfall
Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 2004 film Downfall wasn’t a comedy: It explored the last days in the life of Adolf Hitler, as played by Bruno Ganz. A few years later, however, some genius had the idea to take one of the film’s key scenes, where an enraged Hitler launches into a loud, lengthy diatribe on the state of the war, and add humorous subtitles about everything from the last episode of Lost to the death of Michael Jackson. Contacted by New York Magazine’s Vulture, Hirschbiegel admitted to having seen almost 150 different re-subtitled versions of the scene, and laughing out loud more than a few times. “The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality,” said Hirschbiegel. “I think it’s only fair if now it’s taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like. If only I got royalties for it, then I’d be even happier.” Although Constantin Films, the studio that made Downfall, didn’t initially share the filmmaker’s enthusiasm, requesting a removal of the videos, it has since backpedaled, resulting in even more hilarious harangues from Hitler.