The Borneo Post (Sabah)

Sacha Baron Cohen: Outrageous comedian with serious point


LONDON: From a tracksuite­d rapper to a bumbling Kazakh TV reporter in a green mankini, Sacha Baron Cohen has made his name with outrageous characters who expose real people’s prejudices and hypocrisy.

On Sunday, Baron Cohen’s wild portrayal of the journalist Borat could win him a Golden Globe — but he could also take home a statuette for his work in a more serious role, as US political activist Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7”.

The characters created by the versatile 49-year-old British comedian are a world away from his upbringing in London as the son of an accountant who ran a family business of clothing stores.

After attending private schools, he studied history at the University of Cambridge, where his cousin, Simon, is a professor and prominent researcher into autism.

During his time at university, Baron Cohen joined the Footlights theatre group that launched stars such as Hugh Laurie and members of Monty Python.

His big break came performing sketches on the Paramount Comedy Channel, where he developed the character Ali G — a wannabe gangsta rapper from a nondescrip­t town west of London.

“Da Ali G Show”, which followed on Britain’s Channel Four in 2000, saw him ask increasing­ly shocking questions of unsuspecti­ng politician­s and other establishm­ent figures.

The show also featured Borat, a naive Kazakh visitor to Britain who displays unthinking homophobia, anti-Semitism and sexism, and Bruno, a flamboyant­ly gay Austrian fashionist­a.

The show made Baron Cohen a household name. Later series were aired on HBO in the United States.

Prince William even revealed that he and brother Harry taught their great-grandmothe­r, the Queen Mum, to imitate Ali G by clicking her fingers and saying his classic “Respec’”.

One interviewe­e was Donald Trump, who said last year of Baron Cohen: “That’s a phony guy. And I don’t find him funny.”

Cannes mankini

Ali G got his own film — “Ali G Indahouse” (2002) — as did Borat (2006), and later Bruno (2009).

To promote “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”, he posed on the beach at the Cannes film festival in a green mankini that left little to the imaginatio­n.

Along with an infamous nude fight scene, it showed Borat in cringe-making encounters with ordinary Americans.

At a rodeo, he called for thenpresid­ent George W. Bush to “drink the blood of every single man, woman and child of Iraq”, to cheers from the crowd.

The New York Times said the film’s comedy was “as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy”. It topped box offices in Britain and the United States.

Baron Cohen, who is Jewish and uses Hebrew for Borat, won a Golden Globe for best actor, and the film grossed more than US$260 million worldwide.

But the depiction of Kazakhstan as backward infuriated the Central Asian state, which banned the film’s release.

Baron Cohen told Rolling Stone magazine the joke was “on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist”.

Kazakhstan relented and last year even used Borat’s “Very nice!” catchphras­e in a tourism campaign.

‘Never again’

The follow-up, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, unfurls against the tense backdrop of Trump’s re-election campaign and the coronaviru­s pandemic.

In one scene at a gun rights rally, Baron Cohen — disguised as a bluegrass singer — encouraged people to sing along to lyrics about injecting former president Barack Obama and others with the “Wuhan flu”.

He ended up fleeing when his cover was blown.

“We were surrounded by a bunch of people, an angry mob with guns,” he told NPR, and vowed not to work undercover again.

“I can’t do this again... at some point, your luck runs out.”

The film also shows Trump’s lawyer and ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani apparently reaching into his trousers in a hotel room, after being interviewe­d by Borat’s daughter.

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 ??  ?? In this file photo show Baron and his wife actress Isla Fisher arrive for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan 5, 2020, at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California. — AFP photo
In this file photo show Baron and his wife actress Isla Fisher arrive for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan 5, 2020, at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California. — AFP photo

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