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Meet The Nieratkos - Jim Riswold's Hilarious Hitlers

by Chris Nieratko
11 February 2011, 10:37am

The 10th of February marks the 68th anniversary of Mohandas Ghandi inventing The Master Cleanse Diet and I thought it only reich to revisit some WWII humor. I know a lot of comedians frown upon Hitler humour for its obviousness and still others harbour some deep-seeded hatred for the man for things he may – or may not – have supposedly done. But me… I just can’t get enough of that STD-riddled tight-ass.

For 25 years I’ve been laughing at (with?) Mr. Adolf and his silly ways. Ever since I was shown Triumph of the Will in history class his nutty, hair-raising yelling has caused me to giggle. And the fact that the mere mention of his name makes people uncomfortable only makes me laugh harder.

I have on occasion taken to sporting a similar moustache and – Boy! – do people make sour grapes faces at me. Once, at a Christmas party, a jocky, Jewish fellow was so angered by the moustache that he wanted to fight me. He berated me with tales of his people and their suffering and yadda yadda yadda. I stood there and took it all, thinking, "This man isn’t even yelling at me. He’s yelling at my moustache." When he paused to catch his breath I asked in my most adorable (obnoxious?) child-voice, “If you’re so Jewish, what are you doing at a Christmas party?” This incensed him and he ordered me, “Outside! Let’s go! Me and you!” I obliged, walking to the apartment door side-by-side with him. I grabbed the handle, opened the door and in my best Bugs Bunny impersonation I said, “After you, doc.” He stepped out, I slammed the door behind him, locking him out and – Oh! – how the party laughed. What a maroon!

A few years back I was in Portland and my photographer friend, Ray Gordon, insisted I had to meet his pal Jim Riswold. “You two are gonna be great friends,” he assured me, “You both love Hitler.” So we met for drinks and we laughed for hours like young boys in the woods finding their first porno mag as we discussed the Fuhrer and his hilarious antics.

It wasn’t until later that I learned of the sheer awesome of Jim Riswold. Aside from the ad work he did at Wieden+Kennedy back in the 80s where he came up with some of the most iconic Nike ads ever, Jim also makes unbelievably silly art, poking fun at some of the worst villains in world history. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

And don’t forget to pour out a little beer tonight for Ghandi, the homie who ain’t here.

VICE: What’s so funny about Hitler?
Jim Riswold: Yes, my Goering’s Lunch show begs the question, “What’s so funny about Hitler?” Good question. Look, it’s no secret Hitler was a bad guy, except to lunatics and certain right-wing talk-show hosts. Bad guys don’t mind being called bad guys. But bad guys don’t like to be laughed at. I have always thought humour could diffuse fears and deflate even the most evil of egos. Voltaire said, “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: ‘O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.’ And God granted it.” I made Hitler look ridiculous. Hitler is ridiculous. But please don’t tell him I said so. I’ve heard you don’t want to get on his bad side.

What was your first introduction to Hitler and his wascally ways?
Bugs Bunny introduced me to Hitler. In the Looney Tunes cartoon “Russian Rhapsody,” Hitler bellows, “Stoupnegel Hamburger mit der Frankfurter und der Sauerkrauten, mit der Zoot Suit, mit der Reet Pleat, Zoot! Schtunk Friz Freleng, mit der Heinrich Binder, und der What’s Cookin’ Doc! Pumpernickel mit Sauerkrauten from der Delicatessen, mit Liverwurst, Hassenpfeffer, und der Chattanooga Choo-Choo! Gesundheit! Ve vill bomben der Moscow, bomben Stalin, bomben that Irish general Tim O’Shenko!” After seeing that cartoon, I asked my mom, “Who is that silly man?”

Did you find him entertaining from the start? When did the fascination set in?
I am a self-titled fake artist. And, much to the chagrin of good taste and a great deal of the real art-viewing public, I am a fake artist obsessed with really bad people and really bad deeds. My shows have included satirical odes to bad people, bad deeds and bad taste, such as Goering’s Lunch, Napoleon 1769–2005, Mao Home & Garden and Bad People Have to Eat Too. I blame this fascination with bad people on Mr. Arlander. Mr. Arlander lived three doors down from me during my childhood on 14th NE Street in Seattle. Mr. Arlander fought in Europe during World War II and lived to bring home some German helmets, caps, and swastika stuff from some German soldiers who no longer needed them because they were dead.

Kids on 14th NE Street liked to play army before the Beatles invaded. And playing the evil Nazis was a lot more cool than playing the good Americans because you got to wear Mr. Arlander’s real Nazi stuff and wearing Mr. Arlander’s real Nazi stuff was way cooler than wearing a plastic American helmet from Sears or a bucket on your head. Bad guys just dress better. It’s part of being a bad guy. Black knight beats white knight. Captain Hook beats Peter Pan. Dr. Zin beats Jonny Quest. Good guys dress like dorks. White’s wimpy and stains easily and you can’t wear it after Labor Day.

Exactly what kind of art is Hitler art?
I like to call my art absurd realism. Others have called it perverse whimsy. Still others have called it “a black hole sucking the life out of everything.”

I remember being in sixth grade and doodling hundreds of Hitler faces (that looked more like a fat cat with a moustache). Do you recall drawing Adolf at an early age?
I’m a lousy drawer. I can’t draw a fourth-rate dictator such as Enver Hoxha, let alone Hitler.

Have you ever sported a Hitler moustache? Do you think it’s unfair to the moustache that it has to carry such a stigma? Charlie Chaplin was loved and adored, but no one thinks of him when they see that moustache.
I have never sported a moustache of any kind. I am neither a 70s porn star nor a dictator. However, in defence of the toothbrush moustache and to paraphrase the National Rifle Association, moustaches don’t kill people; people kill people.

Do you have some tender moments about Hitler you’d care to share, Jim?
In 2005, I asked my then 12-year-old son if he wanted to see Downfall with me. My son, to his credit, has little or no interest in Hitler or football. He said no. When I got back from the movie, he asked, “How was the Hitler movie?” I said, “It wasn’t very funny.” He said, “Well, that’s Hitler for you.”

What’s the funniest anecdote you’ve learned about Hitler over the years?
I find it fascinating that Hitler loved dogs and was a vegetarian. Hitler: Nice to animals, not so nice to people. I have also always wondered what sweet nothings were said by Adolf ’n’ Eva on their wedding night.

Eva: Adolf, honey, what do you want to do for our honeymoon?

Adolf: Kill ourselves.

Eva: I love you too, Adolf.

But it was Franz Liebkind who told me my favourite Hitler anecdote. Franz said, “Hitler was a great painter. He could paint an entire house in one day. Two coats.”

CHRIS NIERATKO

For more of Jim’s art go to JimRiswold.com

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