Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il is dead, and the confirmation of this is something I had been waiting for, as I have long suspected that he had actually died years ago, and that the miracle of photoshop and an outsourced Hollywood publicist had kept him alive, rather than heart and lung machines. We had no way of truly knowing. There is no way of knowing what happens in North Korea and what doesn’t.  What happens in North Korea stays in North Korea.

It keeps its lurid secrets within its borders, the strange armies with their Rockette’s kicking walk, looking like soldiers from another time, a time that is not now.  They are fairly comical, a militant vaudeville. when I see the North Korean border guards with their straight legs march, I half expect them to get in a line and link arms as the camera swings to an aerial view so we can watch them go around in a circle as a grand finale.

North Korea is an unsolved mystery. I once had family there, and now the family ties, cut for so long because of the separation of the Koreas into north and south, have healed over into non-existence. Perhaps there is a scar there, an infinitesimal tear in some great grandmother’s conscience, but I don’t even know her. No one in my family remembers her name, so its like she never existed. We from the south and we from the north now are separate and at best, indifferent. At worst, hateful in the terrible way of civil war and the brutal animosity of a country divided is capable of. Do we despise ourselves more when we are ourselves?

When I got the part of Kim Jong Il in the fantastic television program 30 Rock, I approached the role with the zeal of Cate Blanchett transforming herself into Bob Dylan. I remembered once I heard a story of the celebrated actress Glenn Close being seen wearing dark glasses and waiting for a wheelchair in an airplane, feeling the air in front of her as if she were blind, and thinking this is what an actor must do to prepare. Live it. Do it for real.

Since I had no access to an entire nation of people I could force into simultaneously holding up pieces of cardboard in a stadium to create stunning, momentary, very large pixilated propagandist images that rival any sophisticated computer animation done in South Korea, I had to do a YouTube search. I found nothing. Kim Jong Il isn’t up on YouTube. Nothing. No one got anything of him – not nowhere. Not ABC, not BBC, not TMZ. No one got nothing on the guy.

Kim Jong Il’s image was tightly controlled to the point there was no way of finding out what he actually sounds like, at least in my usual suspects of search engines. Perhaps you have better search engines than I, but I looked for days and came up empty handed despite all the cursing I did and all the tapping I did with my cursor, so I decided to base my portrayal of him on my mother, which was a good enough guesstimate, as the episode for me went smashingly well.

Even though the role was obviously comedic, on what is one of the funniest shows on television (one scene imagines Kim Jong Il in Alex Baldwin’s famed coffee is for closers soliloquy from Glengarry Glen Ross) when I put on the fat suit (yes it’s a fat suit – that is not my gut) and Amy Poehler’s borrowed wig from SNL and no makeup because KJI and I have the same face (!), I felt tragic. I felt sick and sad for the people on the North Korean side of my family who died without ever getting to know me, or hating me just because we happened to live on one side of a suddenly come into existence line. My heart broke for a country cut off from the rest of the world, whose only representative is a crazed megalomaniac who fancies himself a polymath, like Leonardo da Vinci or Walt Disney or Woody Allen or Thomas Edison, a truly singular artiste, who can not only play the most incredible golf, he also directs films and is half man-half diety (also half size) as well as being a full time dictator.  Now that he is dead I would like to know what he really sounds like. Let me hear so I can truly do him justice.


21 thoughts on “Kim Jong Il

  1. Hi Margaret –

    Please allow me to disagree with you on one tiny thing – Your face is absolutely gorgeous – you do NOT have the same face as KJI (his initials spell “cagey”).

    Please accept my sincere condolences for the pain you have in relation to the separation from your family members in the North.



  2. Oh Margaret, how I love the way you can make me laugh and tear up at the same time!

    As a South Korean myself, I felt immediate apprehension for the entire country of Korea, North and South, when I heard the news. Time can only tell what this event has in store for both nations…

    Even more so, what’s going to happen for this upcoming season of 30 ROCK?!

  3. At some point, perhaps years or perhaps decades, from now, the North Korean regime will fall, and Korea will be one country. But unfortunately, I doubt it will go down without a fight, in which many N. Koreans will die. It is such a sad situation. Civil wars leave such scars! Just yesterday, my friend was telling me about how much S. Vietnamese hate the N. Vietnamese. I remember my mother and father having heated arguments over the American Civil War, his ancestors being Union, hers being Confederate. It seems human beings never stop finding reasons to hate one another. Thankfully, the opposite is also true. We always find reasons to love each other as well.

  4. This might sound a little crazy, but you know what I wish? I wish that South Korea would say to the North, ‘Do you have anything to contribute other than military threats? For instance, that tiny island you shelled- how would you run it if it were yours? Do you have any positive suggestions for that?’

    And then, invite North Korean economists, etc to the tiny island for public discussions on how things should be. Challenge them, in perfect friendship, to speak for all the world to hear. And if all they say is ‘Obey the Leader’, ask them the objective of the Leader’s plan and hear them say ‘It’s the betterment of the people.’

    And then everybody will be reminded of the common ground, the shared objective; after that it’s just a comparison of what works and what doesn’t.

  5. While it is true the base facial structure is the same, you smile and your face is beautiful with it. When you do KJI you frown and your not attractive in that persona.

    So the quality of your acting and your personality are what change your face from beautiful to nasty.

    And if you are fishing for compliments, I think you’re hot.

  6. Margaret,

    You break my heart and make me laugh all at the same time. You look nothing like KJI yet in your acting are able to transform yourself. You’re beautiful! And an excellent writer. Thank you for sharing your perspectives.


  7. It was only in the last five years my Mom admitted we have family still in the North, divided when the Communists came south and my family refugees to Pusan. (Some people got the ‘I walked 5 miles in the snow up to my nose to school uphill both ways…” I got ‘Your Hadaboji and I crossed the frozen Han River hoping the ice wouldn’t crack when the Communists came for us…’) She knows who they are. When I went to Korea a few years ago, I stood at the fence with the train that ‘wants to go’ and wondered when the madness would end. John Lennon’s “Imagine” floated through my mind. I hope some day, before my Mom dies, we can find that part of my family and make us whole again. Make all the families torn apart whole.

  8. Hi Margaret,

    I like the way comedy made the portrayal of Kim
    more tragic than funny. Comedy, Like John Stewart
    was one of the most powerful voices against
    Bush/Cheny injustices, just as the court jester
    was one of the few who could tell Henry VIII
    the truth. In Russia, they say, “Behind every joke
    is a joke.”

  9. Margaret —

    I’ve been a lurker on your site and a fan of your stand-up for years, but I wanted to take the time to say I appreciate your post on this.

    I’m a half-Korean who grew up in America (raised by your mom’s clone), but I’ve had the opportunity to live in South Korea when I was a kid, and again now, at 24.

    I’m immensely disappointed at the lack of Korean perspectives in the news on this whole issue, which is why I appreciate your input. I’ve also written on my blog about what’s been going on in South Korea, the attitudes of Koreans here, and background info on NK, so maybe you and others will find it meaningful:

    Much love,

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  11. Its easy to throw shit at the North, but what about AMERICAN ATROCITIES.? The American colonel Nichols, troubled by what he was hearing, tried to stall at first. But the declassified record shows he finally told his South Korean counterpart it “would be permitted” to machine-gun 3,500 political prisoners, to keep them from joining approaching enemy forces. In the early days of the Korean War, other American officers observed, photographed and confidentially reported on such wholesale executions by their South Korean ally, a secretive slaughter believed to have killed 100,000 or more leftists and supposed sympathizers, without charge or trial, in a few weeks in mid-1950.Extensive archival research by The Associated Press has found no indication Far East commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur took action to stem the summary mass killing, knowledge of which reached top levels of the Pentagon and State Department in Washington, where it was classified “secret” and filed away.U.S. oversaw exterminations Alan Winnington of the British Daily Worker in an article entitled “U.S. Belsen in Korea” reported that 20 witnesses observed the truckloads of cops arrived on July 2 and immediately made people dig six pits of about 200 yards each. Executions went on for three days, by both machinegun and, when the bullets ran out, decapitation by sword. According to eyewitnesses, U.S. officers oversaw everything while sitting in their Jeeps.

  12. Margaret, Why aren’t you doing more to spread the word on the concentration camps in North Korea?
    200,000 people starving to death, tortured, burned alive, murdered etc for NO reason other than being born in the wrong country.

    You’re famous you can get more world exposure to their suffering.

    I’m not even Korean but I feel so terrible for these innocent people I want to tell everyone so maybe someone can help them.

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