Henry Kissinger, as Seen, and Skewered, by Comics


In a November 1976 episode of “Saturday Night Live,” Gilda Radner, in her recurring impression of Barbara Walters — a.k.a. Baba Wawa — interviews Henry Kissinger, played by John Belushi. After inquiring about his “silly, silly” accent, which she says “really, really irritates” her, Radner asks Belushi to repeat after her: “I am a really, really fat, roly poly diplomat.” He does.

The sketch includes a joke about Kissinger’s German-Jewish background. In a 1987 episode of “S.N.L.,” his religion comes up again in a sketch called “The Assimilated Jew’s Hanukkah.” In it, Al Franken imitates Kissinger, who is selling an album of Jewish Christmas songs. “Dozens of your favorite Christmas songs with lyrics a responsible Jew can feel comfortable singing,” he says — songs like “Silent Eight Nights” and “White Yom Tov.”

After Kissinger’s death on Wednesday at 100 years old, Franken posted a memory on social media that referred to an American bombing campaign in North Vietnam in December 1972: “Kissinger called SNL once late on a Friday night looking for tix for his son. The Stones were playing that week. I told him that if it hadn’t been for the Xmas bombing, he’d have the tickets.”

It is of little surprise that Kissinger, a polarizing figure who advised 12 American presidents and was the most powerful secretary of state of the postwar era, has been skewered and caricatured by comics for decades. His pronounced accent and manner of speaking were primed for satire, as was how he would regularly make statements that he seemed to think were quite profound but many found trite or ingratiating. (“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” for instance.) He also appeared to be an irresistible target to those on the left in particular, who perceived him as an attention-seeking egotist and seemed to relish taking him down a peg by casting him as silly, albeit sinister.

In the 1980s, the British comedy troupe Monty Python released a song titled “Henry Kissinger.” Among its lyrics: “You’re the doctor of my dreams/with your crinkly hair/and your glassy stare/and your Machiavellian schemes/I know they say that you are very vain/and short and fat and pushy/but at least you’re not insane.”

In 1983, on “SCTV,” Eugene Levy took a drunken, stumblebum approach to Kissinger in a sketch that had him appear as a guest on a fictional late-night show hosted by Sammy Maudlin (Joe Flaherty). “I don’t want to talk about Watergate,” he says belligerently. “I don’t want to talk about Richard Nixon. He was a great president. He will go down as one of the great presidents in history. What do you know about Richard Nixon?” he yells, slamming his fist on the desk.

At the start of the 2015 documentary “Call Me Lucky” about his life, the comedian and political satirist Barry Crimmins is seen giving a speech at an antiwar rally in Boston Common in 1990. “They tell us it’s not another Vietnam, and then they wheel out Henry Kissinger to tell us about it!” he yells before asking, “What, was Goebbels unavailable that day?” in reference to the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Switching into a Kissinger voice, Crimmins says, “We must be very careful or war will be averted.”

In 2015, Crimmins told The New Yorker that he was once in a green room with Kissinger, where he avoided being introduced. “I have a policy about not shaking hands with war criminals,” Crimmins said.

Aside from being a guest in 2014, Kissinger himself made appearances in sketches (which drew pointed criticism) on “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert’s satirical news program on Comedy Central in which he portrayed a conservative blowhard caricature for nine years. In 2013, Colbert danced to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” through various scenes that featured several stars and notable names, including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Bridges, the Rockettes and Kissinger, who picks up the phone and calls security.

Years earlier, in 2006, Kissinger weighed in on a rock music contest in which Colbert and Peter Frampton competed against the Decemberists. In the episode, Kissinger said, “It’s time to rock,” and “I think the American people won.” In 2013, in an event at the New York Comedy Festival, Colbert said that Kissinger was also supposed to say, “Where are my pancakes? I was promised pancakes,” but he didn’t appreciate the line. “We have the tape of him reading the copy,” Colbert said, “and then he goes, ‘That is too much,’” quoting him with his accent.

Jason Zinoman contributed reporting.



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