PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 April, 2006, 12:00am

What's going on around the globe

Now this isn't something you see every day: a joint press conference by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Japan's Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who appears in front of the cameras with his mane of grey hair well and truly mussed.

'I'm completely worn out,' he says. 'Since I've been in office all everyone talks about is Yasukuni Shrine and what they all want to know is what I put in the offering box. I'll tell you: one yuan. It feels great to put Chinese money in the box because it shows how seriously I take the problem.'

Kim hovers in the background, glaring behind sunglasses the size of two pineapples. 'Why doesn't everyone here call my name out like they do for Koizumi? Shout my name or I'll take you back to North Korea!'

Next up is the grand steward of the Imperial House, who whips the journalists into shape before the appearance of his boss, the emperor, by screaming at them to show respect and sit up straight. 'I'm going to be checking your posture while his majesty is speaking,' he warns.

Emperor Akihito, sounding rather like a high school teacher on drugs, has yet to master the language of the common man. This is his first unscripted press conference. 'In this area of Tokyo, an area famous for its dullness, it gives me great pleasure to meet so many members of the lower class, in your common clothes.'

He moans about having to clear up the mess left by his 'old man', Hirohito, before taking questions from the audience.

Question: Are you still a divine being?

Emperor: If I was a divine being, I wouldn't have prostrate cancer, would I?

Question: Will there ever be a female emperor?

Emperor: The successor to our family should be decided by us. It has nothing to do with commoners like you. Does this mean you want me to die soon?

Koizumi, Kim and the emperor are part of a comedy troupe called the Newspaper, which has been gleefully pouring salt in Japan's political and historical wounds since 1988. The actors, mostly ex-1960s radicals, decided to take on taboo subjects after being pushed off mainstream TV by the generation of comedians that currently dominate the ratings.

As those who have had close encounters with Japan's sometimes violent ultra-nationalists know, making people laugh at the emperor in Japan can be lethal, but producer Masahito Sugiura says he isn't worried.

'We performed on the street earlier this year and we expected to be attacked. But 95 per cent of the people thought it was fun. And that's a problem for us because the stronger the taboo, the bigger the laughs.'

Will the weakening imperial taboo put him out of business after 18 years? 'No way,' he says. 'There will always be taboos.'