LAST MONTH, as he was talking about the present, MAD magazine editor John Ficarra offered words that now ring a fair bit prescient. We were discussing freedom of expression, and the power of satire, in the context of Seth Rogen’s film “The Interview,” as the Sony hackers’ attempts to suppress the film through threat and intimidation were especially stirring American sentiments. As the editor of the long-influential satirical publication for years now, Ficarra has seen this battle fought often before, be it in the highest courts or in the court of public opinion.
“The freedom of the press is a freedom that has to be won every generation,” Ficarra told The Post’s Comic Riffs, attributing those words to a past teacher of his. “But nobody is picking up the arms on that. I think it will happen the next time [after ‘The Interview’ controversy].”
Ficarra then posed the question: “What if ’60 Minutes’ wants to do a story, but the CBS website … is hacked? Talk about chilling.” (As for entertainment, Ficarra said right before a theatrical release of “The Interview” was announced: “If I were king, I would have run that movie and every broadcast and cable and booked it.”)
Be it in regards to MAD or a Seth Rogen film, we were talking about the boundaries of satire as a tool. (And this week, ahead of Charlie Hebdo’s first post-attack issue today, Ficarra told Comic Riffs about his magazine: “We’ve always believed that just because you can print something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.”)
Ficarra was weighing the art of satire — and the difference between wielding an editorial scalpel and a mallet — as he reflected on 2014. It was, he said, a dark and difficult year to satirize.
“One of the problems was, it was a pretty bad year,” Ficarra told The Post. “You had the beheadings and Ebola and so much bad stuff that you don’t want to trivialize — and if you want to [tackle those], what are you going to satirize? I was trying to navigate these waters.”
For its “20 Dumbest” of 2014 issue (now on news stands and digital bookstores), Ficarra — who has helped captain MAD through shifting seas since the ’80s — deftly chose his hard targets, even ones with tragedy at their center.
“Even with the V A. hospital, the way we came at that, there were so many things to consider,” Ficarra says. “We kept coming back … to the government’s breaking this bond” with its veterans.
And then there was the ongoing soap opera around the Redskins name.
“We are coming off borderline racist, but we try to walk that line,” Ficarra says of MAD’s Redskins takedown, in the form of a “letter” from team owner Daniel Snyder.
“These guys just don’t get it,” Ficarra says of much NFL leadership. “I think it’s … like with [the MAD cartoon] ‘GoodellFellas.’ They’re in their own box seat, and they don’t [even] see what the economics of the position is.”
As for spoofing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the bridge controversy, Ficarra says: “I don’t know if the whole country can stand his thuggishness. Jersey is a basket case.”
As MAD tackles a new year of satire, Ficarra confesses: “Our job gets harder and harder when the real world just keeps putting [the line of the implausible] farther and farther away.”
When fact becomes more absurd than satire, he says, the challenge becomes: “How do you get past them?”