The First Deep-Fake Comedy Has Arrived

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The First Deep-Fake Comedy Has Arrived

You could be in a comedy sketch with Idris Elba! Well, not “you.” And not “Idris Elba.” But still, pretty great, right?

A new ITV sketch show in the UK promises just that--comedy bits featuring your favorite celebrities in wacky situations. The caveat: The faces of the famous people in question are created by artificial intelligence, a process known as “deep faking.” Maybe you’ve seen pranksters pull off similar stunts like morphing Bill Hader into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen? (And this was tech from three years ago, folks.)

We should have seen Deep Fake Neighbour Wars (actual title) coming. In the sketch show, a variety of famous people appear to be living on the same street, experiencing familiar problems with the people next door. How it works: An impressionist goofing on Tom Holland can have his face digitally replaced so it appears to actually be Tom Holland griping about the lack of hot water in his apartment. Ha ha! Celebrities are just like us! The Guardian says the digital effects are “eerily seamless,” right down to the superstars’ hair follicles. But aren’t there, you know, ethical issues with anyone, famous or not, appearing in a comedy sketch without their knowledge, much less their permission?

Tiger Aspect Productions

"Nicki Minaj" and "Tom Holland" compare matching “velour jumpsuits.” 

“None of our heroes in our show are doing anything illegal,” rationalizes head writer Spencer Jones. “Everything is silly.” So if you tune in to see Nicki Minaj giving Holland a hot-pink makeover and believe it’s real, “you might need to have a little look at yourself.”

Oooookay, we are the problem. But let’s acknowledge that there’s a difference between a funny impression -- say, Tina Fey exaggerating parts of Sarah Palin’s look and mannerisms to create a funhouse-mirror satire -- and a process where there’s no comedic distance whatsoever, simply a pore-by-pore recreation of the celebrity being lampooned. Of course, this idea that putting celebrities into any kind of scene as long as they’re not “doing anything illegal” has already been seized by the creepy adult video industry. Not to mention the “look what (politician I hate) said today!” industrial complex.

But we’ll admit that there may be deep-fake applications for comedy. “We loved the idea of Mark Wahlberg not being a fitness freak,” says Jones. “He’d just been on a cruise and he’s really bowling around. We gave him deep-vein thrombosis and asthma.” Given that Wahlberg sought out Andy Samberg for a beatdown after his “Say hello to your mother for me” SNL impression, we may get the added laughs of hothead Wahlberg eventually meeting up with Jones to deliver his review of the show. 

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