Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the funniest people in existence. Of course, he’s British.
He’s best known for his character Ali G – here’s a sample of his style. Ali G is of a peculiar ethnic group that seems readily recognizable by Brits, but almost wholly unknown here: a hip-hop-obsessed lower class Londoner with a middle eastern background who identifies with the urban culture of the US without ever actually being a part of it. He’s also a complete idiot, has next to no grasp of the english language, and is obsessed with sex. Ali G means well, and has a sort of harmless, clueless innocence that makes his interviews with unwitting participants highly entertaining – the best interviewees are the patient ones who don’t know they’re in on the joke and also think that it’s possible for an adult man to have the mind of a 5 year old.
Cohen also has a character called Bruno, a German eurotrash fashionista who thinks that everybody is gay (or should be, like him), and who thinks that fashion is the most important thing in the universe. He uses Bruno most effectively to highlight the everyday homophobia in the US, and to strip other fashionistas of any recognizable humanity.
But my favorite character is Borat, who is making the news these days. Borat is a reporter from Kazakhstan, learning about American and British culture with the innocence of a back-woods rube – except his back woods are the forgotten remains of the Soviet Union, where poverty and ethnic violence are the norm.
Also, Borat is utterly utterly clueless. He washes his face in a toilet. He brings chickens in a suitcase on a New York subway. That’s funny, in a slapstick sort of way.
But it’s the less politically correct opinions of Borat that make him stand out as a brilliant fish-out-of-water comedy vector. He’s virulently anti-semetic, referring to Jews as having horns, claws and being born in eggs. When touring the bedroom of a show house, he asks the salesman where the wife’s cage is. He lists one of his hobbies as “shoot dog.” He asks a dating service to find him a girl who “is tight, like a man’s anus.” He asks a group of wine tasters if the black man in a suit who brings them a bottle of wine is their slave.
Sure, all that stuff is funny, and it is also pretty incredible that his interviewees don’t seem to realize what’s really going on.
But the best part of Borat is when he finds people who agree with him. In one of the videos I’ve linked below, he gets a hunter to admit how much of a shame it is that they can’t hunt Jews. Borat isn’t just giving us a silly, uneducated moron to laugh at, he’s holding up that wonderful comic device, the mirror, and showing us that while we might laugh at Borat’s outlandish cluelessness, we’re probably living next to home-grown Americans who feel the exact same way that he does. Cohen’s a comedian – Borat isn’t a real person, and there are probably blessed few Kazahks who actually agree with him, but the Americans he finds can’t make the same claim.