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Borat - Cultural Piss-taking of America for make benefit glorious wallet of Sacha Baron Cohen

by Phil Thornton


The first and only law of comedy is this; does it make you laugh? Regardless of ethics, taste or morality, sometimes you just have to submit to your instinctive sense of humour, without analysing the political correctness of the content. So, yes Borat is offensive on almost every level but it had me laughing very loudly without much of a pause for its entirety; that's why Sacha Baron Cohen is a comic genius and let's see, 99.9% of British 'comedians' aren't.


Of course Cohen is well used to accusations of being offensive with his other alter-ego, Ali G ruffling both establishment and liberal feathers six or seven years ago. The whole point of Ali G was that he exposed the underlying prejudices of British and, later, American society whilst simultaneously relying on his targets good manners to go along with the moronic interview out of fear of offending a 'racial' minority.


This is where it all got very complicated because Baron Cohen was accused of being an Asian impersonating a black man, then a white man impersonating a black man and worse - a white man impersonating an Asian man impersonating a black man. At first look it wasn't obvious what 'ethnicity' Ali belonged to but when it became common knowledge that Baron Cohen was Jewish, all hell broke loose. How dare he?


To me it was obvious that Ali G was an Asian wigga, the type of young wannabe faux Yardie found in places with places with large Asian populations such as Staines . First off, his name was Ali, second he asked questions such as 'what (social) class is a Paki? 'If Ali G was a Jew pretending to be Asian pretending to be black, so what? He got laughs.


He made you laugh despite yourself but not in a Bernard Manning manner; this wasn't just simple abuse, it was clever, complicated stuff that relied upon the interviewee taking Ali G seriously as a Tim Westwood style hip hop idiot. This wasn't anything new of course, Chris Morris, Dom Joly and most importantly Paul Kaye had been performing similar stunts earlier or at the same time.


Paul Kaye as Dennis Pennis was Cohen's most obvious precedent; another wise-ass North London Jewish geek with cheek. Half Woody Allen half Johnny Rotten, Pennis pretended to be a kosher BBC roving reporter who humiliated jumped up A, B and C list celebrities, with acid one liners and ludicrous questions. He only got away with it for as long as his fame spread and his victims got hip to the gig. To be honest, I never really rated Kaye until I borrowed a Pennis video from my brother and discovered his other characters, such as the sleezy American lawyer, Mike 'So Sue Me' Strutter and the seedy Jewish agent for the goalkeeper, Brian Toucan. With these characters Kaye developed a brand of Cockney-Jewish comedy that hadn't been seen since the 60s; mocking the likes of Eric Hall as the self-promoting agent and the Harvey Keitel/Bad Leuitenant/Sean Penn/Carlito's Way bent cop/lawyer in equal measure.


I had such high hopes for Kaye but sadly he went for the easy buck and went on to do appalling stuff such as 2000 Acres Of Sky and It's All Gone Pete Tong. Sadly his career has been on hold for a decade and allowed younger, hungrier comics such as Baron Cohen to break through, which is probably why Kaye has revived Mike Strutter; he knows he's been doing shit and wants us to all know where Ali G and Borat evolved from.


Back to Borat though. What's to say? I don't remember laughing so loudly or for so long at a film since Airplane. Yes, it's largely the same sketches and gags we've seen before on Da Ali G Show, yes it's set-up in some cases - the prostitute/the Pamela Anderson parts for example and yes, it's offensive and exploitative and picks on targets so easy that it's almost like throwing Jews down a well but - fuck - Borat is funny. Very, very funny - so funny that you don't realise how loudly you're laughing because everyone else is laughing that loudly too. What more can you want of a comedy?


Baron Cohen, as a Jewish comedian, makes a great deal of anti-Semitism which is fair enough and, as a Zionist, he sometimes provokes and intensifies anti-Jewish sentiments to expose a seam of Heebee-hatred that has been camouflaged for decades. But, even though his enemies and critics despise him as a snide, dishonest manipulator of ye olde moronic raciste, there's no doubting that Borat has done more to demonstrate the underlying fault lines of American economic and racial hypocrisy since Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor.


Borat is a morality tale disguised as a pastiche disguised as a documentary. It shows us as we are, not as we would like to be, or as we would want others to think of us. The truth isn't pretty, it never is. Borat Sagdiyev in all his unreconstructed sexist, racist, fascist purity, speaks to the sexist, racist, fascist apologists and sympathisers in all of us. That's why a lot of people hate him.




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