Last month Sacha Baron Cohen won the Golden Globe for Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture – Musical Or Comedy. Strolling up to the podium, the victor cut an alien shape. Where was the moustache? The accent? This was the comedian/actor/writer as many had never seen before. This was him as himself.
Back in October, as Borat promo hit overdrive, the real Baron Cohen never appeared without the Kazakhstani cover-up. This wasn’t acting. It was immersion. When it worked, there was nothing funnier. When Lounge attended a press conference, he refused to take questions from female journalists, insulted our man’s dress sense (“Tuck in your shirt, you are a gypsy boy?”) and volleyed quips at the hacks. From Charlotte Church (“I like this Welsh prostitute. I hear she have voice of an angel. And the vagine of horse”) to global security (“We in Kazakhstan is very busy worrying about our threats from neighbour Uzbekistan. We have reason to believe that within 10 years they will have technology to build their own catapults”), it was a winning performance.
However, Borat has questions to be answered. The Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry’s accusation of him being “completely incompatible with the ethics and civilised behaviour of Kazakhstan’s people” may seem humourless, but responding in character (“I’d like to state I have no connection with Mr Cohen and fully support my Government’s decision to sue this Jew”) conveniently side-steps the issues. More seriously, last October, a complaint was filed accusing the film of defamation and inciting violence against Roma gypsies. Any public response from the defendant on that one? Nah.
What’s more, two of the frat boys Borat leaches anti-semitic remarks from in one of the film’s stand-outs have filed a complaint for “fraud, rescission of contract, common law false light, statutory false light, appropriation of likeness and negligent infliction of emotional distress.” Oh, and TV news producer Dharma Arthur claims that booking Borat for Mississippi station WAPT got her fired. “How upsetting that a man who leaves so much harm in his path is lauded as a comedic genius,” she laments, thousands of dollars in debt.
And yet, Baron Cohen is a comedic genius. Creating a character that turns the superiority spotlight back on America, Borat will be remembered as 2006’s most daring and edgy comedy. Whether winding up the Redneck rodeo or pushing feminists to the edge, the film is a joyously bumpy ride through intrinsic racism, dubious morals and a big fat man’s balls flying in the star’s face.
Staying in character, though, may well cause Baron Cohen problems with future project Bruno. The gay Austrian pop presenter is soon to be let loose on unsuspecting victims, but with all the publicity, the refusal to comment in anything but character, who’s not going to recognise the Golden Globe winner? Perhaps now is the time for Baron Cohen to close the book on Borat, reply to his critics in person, let the dust settle and then unleash Bruno to the world. It will certainly be good, yes?