Sacha Baron Cohen is Borat
You have to see the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as himself, before you can understand his gift for creating characters. I watched an old interview with David Letterman and it was amazing. This can't be the same guy who portrays Borat or Ali G. It's like their DNA is different. So before you get to the material, have a little respect: This is one of the great comedic talents of all time. When it comes to committing to a character, he's right there with the great Peter Sellers. If comedy were given the same respect as drama, Sasha would be looking at an Academy Award for Borat. It's that brilliant as an...I can't even call it an acting job. This transformation is complete. You never for a moment lose the belief in the reality of the character. That is remarkable.
I have sat in darkened auditoriums and watched Robin Williams switch between characters: The Russian accent, the French guy, and a host of others. It amounts to amazing work. His impressions of other people are extraordinary, but they are impressions. Borat is a person. Ali G is another. Sasha is so far into the character that it's like he's doing the impression from the soul outwards. This is a Hall of Fame Comedy Talent who will be remembered the way Groucho Marx or W.C. Fields is remembered. The closest comparison I could think of was from music. The brillance and the vulgarity of the material - even the appearance - remind me of another monster talent: Frank Zappa.
The way I work the movie selections with my wife is that she'll go to my pick, if I'll go to hers. Of course, I try to avoid subjecting her to something she would hate, but I traded her "Borat" for me going to see "Queen" about the Royal Family of England (boo, hisss...). My wife's one sentence review of Borat was, "I feel like I've been hit by a giant sack of crap." She did not enjoy the intensely gross and insensitive material in the movie. It didn't matter to her that he was actually saying some brilliant things. The jokes, especially about women, and the one particularly grim scene, were a major turn-off for her.
Meanwhile, I was laughing like a lunatic. Borat is comedy genius. Yes, it is also vulgar at times. Much like Frank Zappa's music and lyrics cound be. But, it is brilliant.
The funny thing for me is that I've been trying to sell comedy scripts in Hollywood that are - in fundamental ways - even farther out there than Borat. And the producer who options them has a hot-shot son who helped edit the Borat movie. I've been exchanging emails about it with my producer friend, and the feeling in Hollywood is that this movie will change things. Leonard Maltin said America will never be the same and I agree. The box office was twice as much as they expected and the film went #1. The crowds laugh like idiots and it's not just one or two scenes - it's the entire thing.
Suddenly, the old standard where you get an SNL alum and stick him or her into a fairly tame premise, and then have 2 or 3 funny scenes that are featured in the trailer so they're not funny when you finally see it....that model is in the garbage can right now. Borat changed things. It actually made for some awkward moments between me and the producer - he's paying me for comedy scripts that don't sell while his son lands in one of the legendary comedy films of all time as First Assistant Editor. Whoops.
The Monday after Borat opened every movie executive in LA was driving to work wondering how to react. Most of Hollywood decision-making is about reacting to someone else's success. That alone puts my scripts back in play, because if Borat is out there to Mars, some of mine are out there to Jupiter. Of course, Borat brings along the next Peter Sellers - the next Groucho Marx - in Sacha Baron Cohen. Sacha is the Frank Zappa of Comedy and that is something no mere script can provide.