PopPolitics: Jack Black on ‘The Brink’ and the ‘Minefield’ of GeoPolitical Comedy

The Brink TV Review HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Jack Black says there is a reason why HBO’s “The Brink,” debuting on Sunday, is one of the few geopolitical comedies in the era of the war on terror.

“Jerry Seinfeld recently said on a talk show that all of us comedians now are going to tiptoe through the tulips because of political correctness,” Black tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel. “Everything seems like a third rail. So you have got to be careful what you say, not only because of people in the industry, but also because you have got these world leaders who will commit cyber-warfare on us if we say the wrong thing. And so yeah, it’s a minefield out there. Literally.”

The show, created by Roberto Benabib and Kim Benabib, was shot before Sony’s “The Interview” triggered a massive hacking attack on the studio that was attributed to North Korea. Black plays a low-level diplomat in Islamabad who, after trying to buy weed at a bazaar, gets engulfed in an international crisis when anti-U.S. figure stages a coup in Pakistan. It’s one of three intertwined storylines that also center on a sex-addicted Secretary of State (Tim Robbins) who is intent on finding a diplomatic solution to prevent a potential apocalypse, and two drug-addled fighter pilots at the ready to launch targeted strikes.

Black says that he felt that as satirical as “The Brink” is, he never worried about criticism because “we were just sort of saying it’s a mad world and there is crazy greed and insanity in all the governments of the world.”

He also suggested that some reports of the upset over entertainment content may be overblown.

At the Television Critics Assn. press tour, he says, one journalist from the Middle East asked about how the show portrays Pakistan given that “a lot of people are furious over the portrayal of Middle Eastern governments in ‘Homeland.'” “I said, ‘Really? That is news to me,” Black says. “Has there really been picketing out there over ‘Homeland’? I don’t know if that’s actually true. I suspect that it is just more overly sensitive vitriol, but who knows?”

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The show skewers drone warfare, as fighter pilots mistakenly shoot down an Indian unmanned aircraft. Black says that the show is “mostly coming from a pacifist point of view,” showing the absurdities of war in whatever form it is.

“Right now there’s a tendency to think [drones are] a more efficient delivery system of destruction, so at least more of our people aren’t getting killed when we are sending these drones,” he says. “We are just killing these bad guys, a surgical strike. But as technology progresses, it is only a matter of weeks before everyone has this technology…How would you feel is there were drones coming over here? Warfare is warfare, whether it is drones, cyber or boots on the ground. If you are against war, you should be against all of this.”

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Black says that he’s supporting Hillary Clinton. Although he thinks it’s great that Bernie Sanders is in the race because he will push Clinton to the left, “he doesn’t have a prayer.”

He also thinks it will be a Clinton vs. Jeb Bush race. He calls Bush the “$4 billion hydra,” an extremely well-financed foe who will draw Hispanic voters. “She has got her work cut out for her,” he says. “The good news is it is long overdue for a woman president.”

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‘Best of Enemies’ and the Lost Gore Vidal-William F. Buckley Tape

Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s “Best of Enemies,” which opened this week’s AFI Docs Festival in Washington, D.C., traces the partisan shoutfests of today’s cable news to 1968, when ABC News, the perennial third in the ratings, pitted conservative William F. Buckley and liberal Gore Vidal against each other for a series of debates as part of the coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions. The result was not a genteel debate of the issues, but a bitter exchange between two intellectual heavyweights who despised each other.

One mystery remains. ABC had almost all of the color footage from their face off in the news archives. But missing was their penultimate encounter, the most famous of them all, in which Vidal calls his counterpart a “crypo-fascist” and Buckley calls his foe a “queer.” Luckily, there was a surviving, black and white copy at Vanderbilt University. Buckley had once said that he thought that the ABC News copy had been destroyed, leading to some conspiracy theories as to why it is lost.

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Gordon and Neville talk about how the Buckley-Vidal debates led to a turning point in TV news.

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Donald Trump: Is He for Real?

David Cohen of Variety and Nikki Schwab of U.S. News talk about continued suspicion that Donald Trump’s presidential bid may be more of a stunt than an actual campaign.

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“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, runs Thursdays at 11 a.m. on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel.