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