Here, a mustached man in a shabby grayish suit is responding to typical press-conference questions in a stuttered and decidedly non-typical manner: “We in Kazakhstan very much admire your mighty warlord George Walter Bush. He is very wise man, and also a strong man. But perhaps, not as strong as his father Barbara.”
The questions from the journalists, which had to be sent in ahead of time, prove easy pickings for British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. As the lovably ignorant, post-Soviet Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen has not only blurred the line between character and actor, but destroyed any notion of boundary between comedy, reality and social critique.
Staying in character during all press interviews for his forthcoming movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is not only an impressive comic feat, but an adept buzz-building marketing strategy.
The background Borat gives during the conference can only add depth to the illusion, ingratiating those already familiar with the Borat character from Cohen's “Da Ali G Show,” and further confusing or alienating those who haven't quite caught on. It's all calculated to elicit a strong – and hence attention grabbing – response. Judging from those he received to tact trampling lines such as “[At Mc Donald's] I eat 17 hamburgers and 600 packets of red soup called catsup. These did not agree so much with my stomach, and the next day my anus was hang loose like the mouth of a tired dog,” he's receiving more of the former than the latter.
Borat's responses to typical press-junket questions highlight the character's strengths; his ability to highlight the absurd and the inane in the everyday, slowly upping the ante on a small joke, teasing out more discomfort with every punch line.
Case in point: responding to a benign question about what stars he would like to meet in Hollywood Borat says, “I would most like to meet some of the new Hollywood starlets in particular Elizabeth Taylor – WaWaWeehWahh [general laughter sounds from all corners of room]! I would also like to meet fearless anti-Jew warrior Melvin Gibson [uproarious laughter from smaller portion of room, noticeable ‘He-went-too-far' style guffaws]. We in Kazakhstan agree with his comment that the Jews started all wars, and we also have proof they were responsible for killing off all the dinosaurs [polite chuckles, sighs of ‘this is going too long'], also hurricane Katrina … they did it [a slow ripple of ‘did he just say that?' cascading awkwardly into a roar].”
Of course, the pre-written (albeit hilarious) provocations of the press conference are nothing in comparison to the movie itself. Borat's wide-eyed ignorance is given free range to take on the many layered strata of American society, from misogynistic frat boys and polite southern society folk to overweight prostitutes, black kids throwing dice, a variety of infuriated hotel employees and actress Pamela Anderson.
It is unprecedented in its ability to keep the idiot-on-the-street shtick going while maintaining a typical linear narrative. That is to say, it's a standard quest comedy, with your basic character highs and lows, but pretty much Cohen is the only one acting.
In the context of a media- saturated culture, where “reality” is more style than object, what Borat is doing is groundbreaking and unprecedented. The fact that the film can examine and eviscerate so much about contemporary American culture while also making time for a protracted bit involving a bulbous naked 60-year-old makes it an idiot-savant masterpiece.
But getting back to the press conference, Borat is noticeably less self-laudatory, downplaying any notion of himself as comic provocateur. In his slow and disarming whine he says, “I try to stay a normal persons, I like to relax like any other ordinary man. I shoot dogs, I receive mouth party from my sister, and I drink fermented horse urine with the boys; I just a regular guy.”
Another round of spasmodic shuddering ensues. “Regular guy” indeed.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan releases in theaters Nov. 3.