A Comic Shoah?

A Conversation with Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Roach, Ant Hines
and Peter Baynham Following the screening of Borat at the Lobero,
Friday, January 27

No one is hotter at this moment than Sacha Baron Cohen, the
young British comedian whose irreverent Borat: Cultural
Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of
was the surprise smash hit of 2006. The scene
outside the Lobero Theatre for his appearance at the SBIFF was a
little bit tense and definitely giddy, with the honors for most
excited contingent being shared by the adolescent males in
attendance and their moms, who know a nice Jewish boy with some
talent when they see one. The entire thing was taped by Fox for
inclusion on the upcoming Borat DVD, so come May you will be able
to experience it for yourself. For those of you who haven’t got
that much patience, here are a handful of summaries designed to let
you know what he said. Funniest, Strangest

The strangest and perhaps most awkward moment of this panel
occurred when Santa Barbara resident Bunny Bernhardt attempted to
“Borat” Borat by pretending to be from Kazakhstan and presenting
Sacha Baron Cohen with a bouquet of flowers, claiming that she and
the other people of Kazakhstan would like it if he would “come home
to Kazakhstan.” Cohen took this pretty well, going to the edge of
the stage to accept the flowers and giving Bunny a peck on the
cheek, but he was clearly wary of the potential that this could be
a practical joke, or worse. When he sat back down and looked at the
flowers he said “I though this would contain a gun or something.”
Cohen was right to suspect the gesture—Bernhardt was playing a
rather sweet but perhaps overly subtle practical joke.

The funniest answer of the day was when Ant Hines said that the
biggest challenge on the project for director Larry Charles (of
Seinfeld fame) was “finding weed in Mississippi.” Even
Sacha Baron Cohen seemed to think this was too much candor.
The Bear

Sacha Baron Cohen told a substantial anecdote that started out
about the bear trainer and wound up being more about Johnny, the
bear. The story began with an impression of the Scottish animal
trainer who handled the twin bears who played the bear in Borat.
According to IMDb, the animal trainer on Borat was Dana Dube, who
is one of the oldest and best known animal trainers in Hollywood.
Something tells me he does not sound like Groundskeeper Willy from
The Simpsons, so maybe the Scottish animal trainer is the
beginning of a new character. Cohen certainly milked that accent on
Friday, describing the way he would say “Toootally fine. This bear
is toootally fine to work.” Cohen went on to assert that shortly
before a scene in which he was to work with the bear, the bear took
the trainer’s head in its jaws while the trainer shouted “Johnny,
stop that right now!” in a thick Scottish burr. None of this
material was particularly fresh or hysterically funny, but the
audience certainly appreciated the effort on Cohen’s part to do the
accent and the character.

Next came the bit about the bear. Cohen claimed that there was
originally a kind of epilogue scene to the naked fight in which
Azamat is seated at the wheel of the ice cream van and Borat is
fast asleep in the back, wearing his red pajamas and spooning with
the bear. But, according to Cohen, the bear was not willing to take
the spoon position and instead insisted on facing Borat and pawing
at his crotch. Big laughs here from the joke-hungry audience,
but—wait for it—Cohen has the last word on this development as he
concludes the bit by muttering under his breath, “star fucker.”
Immediately after which he makes eye contact with a woman in the
front row and says, by way of follow up, “you know what I am
talking about—you’ve been staring up my trouser leg all afternoon.”
The Jewish Questions

In response to a question about things that did not make the
final cut, producer Jay Roach tells the audience that the first
version that he saw came in at five and a half hours, to which
Cohen adds “it was intended as a comic version of Shoah,”
referencing Frenchman Claude Lanzmann’s epic holocaust documentary.
In a related note, Cohen also admitted that the language he speaks
when Borat is supposedly speaking Kazakh language was in fact
mostly Hebrew. Borat in Mexico

Asked about things that didn’t make it into the final version,
everyone is in agreement that a sequence in which a passport and
money-less Borat must re-enter the United States illegally from
Mexico had some compelling material. One set-up in particular was
described in detail. Borat has an accident in the van and the
exhaust pipe breaks off. A desperate Borat takes the exhaust pipe
and slings it over his shoulder, then puts on a towel for headgear
before setting out on foot to cross the border into the United
States. Meanwhile, stateside, the production team has gotten a
group of armed Minutemen vigilantes to come out to the border on a
pretext. As they stand there in the desert, chit-chatting about
keeping the alien menace at bay, Borat appears in the distance,
marching in their direction and, with his mustache, headgear, and
exhaust pipe, looking a lot like an Arab carrying a rocket
launcher. Hilarious stuff, that.

Baron Cohen agrees, but uses this border crossing incident as an
example of what he refers to as his version of the experience of
putting one’s head in a bear’s mouth. He claims that he did not
know the Minutemen were armed until afterward, and that the only
way he could in retrospect justify the risk he took was with the
idea that the footage would be used in the film—which it was not.
Very nice! Sacha Baron Cohen on Sacha Baron Cohen

Cohen had a bit of a struggle with Leonard Maltin, who did his
best to fulfill the stereotype of an unimaginative American media
clone in the Q and A. When pressed to admit that he was “brave,” or
to reflect on his “courage,” Cohen called attention to the quite
sensible and apparently heartfelt notion of commitment to the
product. “When I am out there I am occupied with one thing, which
is to make the scene the funniest it can be. And if what that takes
is for me to do something risky, like letting Ken (Davitian, who
plays Borat’s producer Azamat Bagatov) sit on my face while he’s
naked, I’m going to do it, because the audience deserves to see the
funniest things I can do.” Cohen went to tell the story of the
shooting of the naked fight in great detail, clearly relishing the
opportunity to rub our faces in it, as it were.

Cohen was particularly evasive when Maltin tried to get him to
own up to having watched American films and television when he was
younger, instead insisting sarcastically that “I had no knowledge
of the United States until I was 18 years old. Someone showed me a
big piece of paper with shapes on it, you know, ‘this is a map, and
over here to the left is this place America,’ and I began to wonder
what are these people like? Do they eat and sleep like we do? Do
they speak English there?” Maltin finally got the message on this
line of questioning, but in the process he also managed to elicit
some genuine self-reflection on the part of Cohen, who allowed that
his trip to the United States to study the involvement of Jews in
the civil rights movement in the South was one beginning for the
idea of the Borat movie.

Cohen was quick also to dismiss questions concerning his
personal relationship with Pamela Anderson and the nature of her
participation in Borat. He did so with deliberately irrelevant
observations about the weather. The Ali G Rule

One point that Cohen made with some fervor was about a principle
that he said was used to weed out certain kinds of guests on Da
Ali G Show
. “If someone looks like they are in on the joke,
and they are kind of winking at Ali G as if to say, ‘Let’s
pretend,’ then Ali G would get up and act like he had ‘a call on me
celly.’” Then the director would step in and tell the person they
could go because, “if the person is in on it, you know, it’s just
not as funny. At least that’s what we determined on the set of
Ali G,” said Cohen.

Peter Baynham added that “99 percent” of the people in Borat
were not aware that Borat was not a real person. This prompted Ant
Hines to remark that the lawsuit by the frat boys was, for him at
least, a vindication. “All my friends, especially the writers, were
saying that it was impossible that the frat boys were real, that no
one would have said those things, and that we must have put them up
to it. So, when they sued us, well, that showed them didn’t it?
They can’t very well have been our plants if they are suing us, can
they?” The Future

The Fox DVD of Borat for which the Question and Answer session
was staged will be out in early May. Cohen disclaimed Bruno as his
next project, saying that, although Bruno is still in the mix, he
has other ideas that he might want to work on first. Overall the
impression Sacha Baron Cohen left was of a cool, educated,
thoughtful, and self-aware performer who knows that he may never be
this hot again. He is on top right now and he knows it, and we were
lucky to have him to ourselves for an afternoon, even if it meant
keeping our cell phones in our pockets.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.