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The King of Crass: Sacha Baron Cohen

This crazy mofo is up to his old tricks
by Gelo Gonzales | Jul 26, 2012
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To call the movies of actor/comedian Sacha Baron Cohen crass would be an understatement. Some would prefer offensive, others, just plain nasty. But there is no doubting that his work best exemplifies the modern day definition of pure comedic genius.

In his latest film, The Dictator, he plays General Aladeen, an idiotic tyrant and leader of the fictional Middle Eastern country Wadiya. When an attempt to overthrow his dictatorship leaves the leader lost in New York, he meets an unshaven under-armed, organic product peddling, neo-hippie named Zoe (the always-adorable Anna Faris) who shows him the ways of democracy and what it’s like to be in love.

Because it's more conventional, like his first film Ali G Indahouse, the movie is a breath of fresh air. It veers away from the mockumentary style he has used in his last two outings, Borat and Bruno.

But what makes Baron Cohen’s movies so successful? It is evident that the comedian is the reigning king of crass and we decided to analyze some of the elements that he infuses into his movies that make them commercial (Borat and Bruno alone have a combined gross of almost $400 million) successes. Granted some of his work was not met well with the critics  (we’re looking at you gay Austrian fashionista), there’s something about his in-your-face approach that feels refreshing.  

Or a better, more prolific Mike Myers (Austin Powers) as some would say. The late great Peter Sellers was known for playing multiple characters (most notably in director Stanley Kunbrick’s masterful Dr. Strangelove) and being able to change his looks to embody a certain part. In local shores, think Michael V. whose comedy usually involves cloaking himself entirely; he can go from the irritating Yaya in Yaya and Angelina to a satirical version of Lady Gaga in “Bathroom Dance.”

Baron Cohen is of the same breed. He gained notoriety in the UK as Ali G, a hip-hop wannabe whose brash ways involved mocking his celebrity guests and “riding the punani” as his character would call it. He even markets his new characters by appearing on talk shows and red carpets in full gear and persona. He again showed his range as Borat, the Pamela Anderson obsessed Kazakh, which earned the comedian a number of death threats for his amusing but offensive turn. You know his shit is good because, hey, you must be convincing and utterly insulting to provoke a whole nation wanting to strangle your ass.

This is one of the many lines delivered by Aladeen in The Dictator. Reading it, it looks offensive and stereotypes Middle Eastern people as male-loving, woman-haters, but onscreen it will have you rolling on the floor. He constantly stereotypes by racial profiling, leaning on homophobic quips, and capitalizing on ultra-sexist remarks. Baron Cohen’s jokes may be old but the trick to it is in his delivery.

But what’s smart about his approach is that his political incorrectness touches on what everyone in the audience is already thinking, but is too chicken shit to say for themselves. He lowers the audience guard by allowing them to come to terms with their own personal prejudices. If you find yourself scared and saying, “Hey, it’s wrong that I find this material hilarious,” it’s because he provides that escape from (a too politically correct) reality where every uttered comment is like walking on eggshells. If you don’t want to get offended nor can’t handle abrasive subject matter then go see the latest rom-com, don’t see his films, and don’t step inside that theater.

NEXT: Dick jokes in no short supply

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