If you want to debate the ethics of Sacha Baron Cohen’s prank-driven comedy, maybe there’s a conversation to be had. The people subjected to his “Candid-Camera”-meets-“Jackass,” politically charged, ambush-style comedy are typically very unhappy about it. And I realize that Cohen (like any one else) should not be immune to criticism.
But the man’s work is damned hilarious; you can’t argue with that. Like 2006’s “Borat,” this new film made me laugh out loud repeatedly (even if I cringed at times too). “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is simply a first-rate comedy; I’d rate it a 10 out of 10.
This is due largely to Cohen’s twofold genius. First, he succeeds in creating a truly funny fictional character that could easily make us laugh in a scripted TV sitcom, or a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Second, Cohen again demonstrates his mind-boggling ability to gain the trust of his targets — and then manages to stay in character throughout the elaborate pranks. (If you think about it, it’s probably tougher than we might realize. There can’t be any second takes for what we see unfolding before us onscreen.)
A movie like this easily might have suffered from the addition of a second comedian who isn’t as funny as Cohen. But newcomer Maria Bakalova hits it out of the park. (She plays the fictional daughter of Cohen’s titular bumbling foreigner.) She is nearly as funny (and just as good at keeping character) as he is. With Sacha Baron Cohen, that’s saying a lot.
Again, some of what you see in this film will be cringe-inducing. But it’s damned funny stuff.
Today’s agenda — investigate my hypothesis that Jim Croce and Borat are actually the same person.
So I just managed to catch the first episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” (2018), and it was predictably jaw-dropping. (I recently ran a couple of clips here at the blog that Showtime had released concurrently with the show’s July 15th premiere.) I’d rate the first episode a perfect 10 for being both hilarious and an absolutely biting half hour of … prank comedy? Subversive documentary? Performance art? I think any of those labels might apply in varying degrees, depending on how you view Cohen’s work. It’s wacky stuff.
I opine that Cohen is a creative genius. We can all debate the ethics of the imposter interviews that are his trademark (and there were a couple of moments during 2006’s “Borat” that made even me squirm). But nobody can deny that the man is exceptionally good at what he does. And I don’t think that his success derives from the false personas he adopts when sitting down with political figures. (There are several new ones that he’s created for the show.) They are funny by themselves, but not hilarious, and countless comedians can perform a character. (One of Cohen’s creations, the “Finnish Youtuber,” even reminds me a little of Dana Carvey.)
Cohen has something more. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s a skill set that matches closely with that of any standard con-artist, allowing him to gain his interviewees’ trust to an extreme degree. I’m willing to bet that he works hard at building rapport with his subjects long before the cameras start rolling, and that the feckless nature of his false identities further puts them at ease.
Anyway, Episode 1 features interviews with Bernie Sanders and Trent Lott. A clip from the Sanders segment is below. He acquits himself far better than other participants, although I also think Cohen went far easier on him. (There isn’t actually a joke at Sanders’ expense; it’s really just Cohen’s character clowning.) The humiliating interview with disgraced Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t appear until Episode 4, but I just had to include it here.
This is utterly bizarre, utterly funny stuff. I highly recommend it.
So the first clips of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest high-profile prank comedy production have been released — this time out, it’s a Showtime series called “Who Is America?” (For those of you who don’t recognize his name, this is the same British entertainer who brought us faux interviewers like “Borat,” “Bruno,” and the long-ago “Ali G.”)
Oh. Dear. God. The latter five minutes of the last video are … particularly damning. No matter where you stand on gun issues, please tell me you understand that U. S. Congresspeople need to be less asininely, dangerously gullible.
Cohen’s talents are incredible — he seems to have an uncanny knack for eliciting the most preposterous responses from his interview subjects. He and his film crew also have an astonishing ability to stay in character when you or I would want to laugh. I can’t imagine for what he got out of Sarah Palin, who upbraided him publicly for his “evil, exploitative, sick ‘humor.'” (You’ll recall that Palin needed no help in embarrassing herself in interviews when they were entirely on the level.)
Question — should I have saved my long-harbored “We Need to Talk About Kevin” pun for a post about Michael Cohen? (Probably.)
Question 2 — is it ironic if I initially misspelled the word “asininely” above — twice? (Probably.)