As far as I’m concerned, Sasha Baron Cohen is the most important comedian of this century so far. Cohen, who is a Cambridge-educated comedian, has written and produced four movies in his lifetime. They all have two key features: they all star himself and they’re all as hilarious as they are stupid.
It was the UK’s Channel 4 who first had the balls to air Da Ali G Show twelve years ago. They later came up with other great shows like Skins, Misfits and Shameless, but in the year 2000 the conditions were perfect for Cohen to debut his his three loony, cringe-inducingly awkward characters. Altogether there have been eighteen shows, one season for Channel 4 and two for HBO with more of an Americacentric focus. You should watch all of them. Since The Dictator (which just recently hit the cinemas all around the world) is the first Cohen film not based on characters from Da Ali G Show, I thought it’d be a good time to get back to basics.
Alistair Leslie Graham is the answer to all the white boys who try so hard to imitate gangster rap culture. Born in the “ghetto of Staines” and raised by his grandmother, he is the perfect wannabe. but the real genius and power of the character unfolds during the interviews – an essential part of Da Ali G Show. The combination of Cohen’s gangster phrases, childlike naïveté, and constant barrage of inane questions never fails to bring his guests to the brink of angry outbursts…outbursts that also yield some revealing responses in their frustrated moments. This may also be the reason why Ali G Indahouse, Cohen’s first feature film sucked so badly. It was the white boy gangster rap sketch, used over and over again to get a ninety-minute movie. Bad idea. But luckily Cohen made it all up with a great guest appearance at Madonna’s ‘Music’ video.
Borat Sagdiyev is a journalist from Kazakhstan, who travels the USA with the aim of bringing “Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (as the sub-line of the movie puts it). This time the feature film turned out to be great, because it used the best elements of the TV show. Borat was a mockumentary, but shockingly it’s really hard to distinguish the scripted scenes from the unscripted ones (recently the Borat Kazakh hymn was even mistaken for the real one at a medal ceremony in Kuwait). The best thing about Borat’s encounters with western civilization is the character’s ability to quickly bring out the worst prejudices of his hosts. When people meet the Kazakh journalist, they are often first taken aback by his antiquated, often racist or sexist views regarding nearly everything – only to end up sharing his opinion minutes later.
Brüno Gerhard is a gay fashion reporter from Austria through which Cohen tries to unmask the stereotypes we have about the LGBT community. This works only in part, and the good intentions too often get thrown away way for the sake of a cheap joke. Again, Cohen is best when it comes to interviews and exposing some of the darker sides of the fashion business as well as the widespread homophobia in society as a whole. Again, the film didn’t turn out so great; it relied too much on a storyline peppered, of course, with shitloads of bad jokes with little of the unmasking interviews which were the trademark of the show.