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The Genius of Sacha Baron Cohen

Not everybody in the English-speaking world knows about Sacha Baron Cohen. Well, they might be a little familiar with his alter-egos Ali G, or Borat Sagdiyev, or maybe even Brüno. The real Sacha Baron Cohen is careful to stay in the background, revealing himself only in bits and pieces through his characters. However, those three characters don't even come close to giving us a glimpse of the true Sacha Baron Cohen. The characters are just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. That's how deep this guy is.

Hyping myself up for the upcoming Brüno flick, I decided to do a comparative analysis on all three of his alter-egos, so that those who have no idea at all what he's about might just get turned on. Anyway, there's a treasure trove of his works on YouTube, and I do hope you all view them as much as you can before copyright lawyers decide to take them all down.

The common denominators:

Style: Ambush Interview.
All three characters use the interview format, where people are duped into thinking that Baron Cohen is a real reporter, and that the interview is legit. This is actually the key to Baron Cohen's humor---the interviewees should believe that the interviewer is a real character. It's their answers when caught off-guard that bring out Baron Cohen's comic genius.

Libido: High/Very high.
All three characters are known for their sexual remarks. Ali G represents the horny hip-hop gangsta who sees females as either babes or bitches; Borat meanwhile represents a stereotypical guy from a backwards country where women do not have equal rights as men; while Brüno represents the sexually active homosexual of the new millennium. Nice.

Accent: Various
Though Baron Cohen has been an Englishman since birth, his skill with accents is an important tool in his comic arsenal. Ali G speaks in a hybrid English-Jamaican-whatever accent; Borat speaks in the cute broken English of Eastern Europeans; and Brüno speaks in a German accent interspersed with some gay lingo (Brüno is supposedly Austrian, but someone on YouTube commented that Brüno's accent is not Austrian at all, but something closer to standard German).

Despite their similarities (they do after all come from one and the same person), they do have their differences, which makes each of them a show to behold.

Ali G is the man that started it all. Dressed in ever-changing, color-coordinated wardrobe, which includes his trademark yellow wrap-around sunglasses, Ali G uses this in stark contrast to his interviewees, who are plain, ordinary people dressed in plain, ordinary clothes.

Ali G is also notorious for his drug use, particularly marijuana. The intro to his HBO show features him rolling a spliff with one hand. But I don't think it would be safe to assume that Baron Cohen is a real-life pothead, as pot smoking is not present in his other characters.

Ali G is the only native English speaker among the three characters (hailing from Staines, England), yet his grammar and accent are as hard to understand as any other foreign speaker. I'm not really certain if his accent is accurate, but I think it might be a mix of some grammatically-challenged hip-hop lingo coupled with the natural inflection of some English dialect (possibly Staines).

Stupidity is also one of Ali G's defining characteristics, often mispronouncing very simple words, as well as playing with the spelling. He was known to have called the astronaut Buzz Aldrin as "Buzz Lightyear," and former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali as "Boutros Boutros Boutros Boutros-Ghali." Wicked.

Borat (full name Borat Sagdiyev) is a Kazakh reporter. Although it was Ali G who gave Baron Cohen the ticket to cross the Atlantic, it was Borat who helped his fame skyrocket, transforming Borat into a household name in the United States.

Of the three characters, Borat is the least flashy, his wardrobe consisting of his usual blue-gray suit. Occassionally, Borat dresses in sporty outfits, like sleeveless shirts and very short shorts. For the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Borat dons the infamous neon green bikini.

Borat is also the most controversial of the three, as he prompted the state of Kazakhstan (the real one) to take out four pages in the New York Times to promote the truth about their country and to deny any similarities between the real Kazakhstan and the one portrayed by Borat. Countless lawsuits also appeared against Baron Cohen, but of course, he came well-prepared against all possible legal repercussions, and came off basically unscathed.

Of the three characters, Borat is the only anti-Semite, yet what most people don't get is that this is simply a parody on all forms of racial prejudice. Sacha Baron Cohen is himself Jewish, and he honors the Sabbath by refusing to work from Friday night to Saturday night. From this, I reckon only Jews can make fun of themselves (kind of like the way African-Americans were the only ones who could get away with using the "N" word).

If you ask me which of the three characters is least likely to get lynched by an angry mob, I would say none of them. Most people would answer that Brüno would probably be the least offensive, being the only one of Baron Cohen's characters without any facial hair, but anyone who's ever witnessed Brüno in an interview knows what he's really capable of.

Brüno is a flamboyantly gay Austrian TV reporter, who has a show on something like Austrian MTV. His primary habitat is the fashion world, and his primary diet consists of the extremely fickle-minded fashionistas in the world today. Sometimes he also feasts on religious people, trying to find out where their homophobia comes from.

One of Brüno's trademark styles is depicting how shallow the fashion world is, by asking them really unusual (and laugh-out-loud funny) questions like, "How cool is Jesus? Is he cooler than Madonna?" or "What would you do with Ricky Martin: keep him in the ghetto, or train to Auschwitz?"

Another one of Brüno's styles is making his interviewees reverse their opinion in a matter of seconds. He can make them say one thing, then the total opposite, all in the same interview. How he does it is just amazing. Simply transcribing his interviews here will not capture the brilliance that is Sacha Baron Cohen. You have to see it to believe it.

What Sacha Baron Cohen has accomplished (possibly without even realizing it) is that he has created a new brand of comedy, one where fictional characters are made to interact in the real world, with absurdly humorous results. Sadly, Baron Cohen has decided to throw in the towel for Ali G and Borat, retiring them for good. Everyone knows them now, being extremely popular both in the UK and in the US, and the comedy will not work if the interviewee already knows who the interviewer is. Brüno, on the other hand, is not yet as popular as the other two, but after the release of the Brüno movie this year, Baron Cohen may have to retire Bruno as well. But don't fret, dear fans. Baron Cohen admitted having more characters up his sleeve, and it's up to his perfect comic timing when he will decide to unleash them.

*photos courtesy of various sites on the web
*some information taken from Neil Strauss. "The Man Behind the Mustache". Nov 14, 2006 12:20 PM. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/coverstory/sacha_baron_cohen_the_real_borat_finally_speaks/


Anonymous said...

one more similarity: stating the obvious. for ali g and borat at least, only heard of bruno just now. very interesting, can't wait to see it. :D

ria c.

is that you ria carmela cruz?? lol.

check bruno out on youtube. you'll be laughing out loud, i promise.

tina said...

wow. and all this time i thought sacha baron cohen was a director. ^^ thanks for posting the link to the interview. :D the dude behind the characters sounds so...down-to-earth. almost like the exact opposite of what he portrays.

yes, the real sacha baron cohen is a different creature altogether. try to go to youtube and check out his interviews in david letterman.

Anonymous said...

Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! really nice post.

Thank you Anonymous person!

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