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15 Years Later: The First 'Borat' Movie Broke All The Rules Of Comedy | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
20TH CENTURY STUDIOS

15 Years Later: The First ‘Borat’ Movie Broke All The Rules Of Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen‘s character of Borat Sagdiyev, the wildly uncouth Kazakh journalist, wasn’t brand new in 2006, when the film Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was released. Baron Cohen had been playing the character for years by that point, both back in Britain and on his HBO series Da Ali G Show. 

15 Years Later: The First 'Borat' Movie Broke All The Rules Of Comedy | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
20TH CENTURY STUDIOS

But, the movie is what brought the character into the American comedy pantheon, and made catchphrases out of “my wife,” “it’s nice,” and “great success.” Perhaps most notable was that the film, made firmly in the Bush era, helped expose things about America that weren’t so obvious 15 years ago, but certainly are now. 

It’s been pointed out by many that in 2006, it was pretty shocking to hear people spout racist invective in public and on camera. By the time of the sequel, near the end of the Trump era, it wasn’t quite so shocking anymore, if you’d ever watched people interviewed outside a Trump rally. 

Ahead of Its Time

The film, directed by Larry Charles, takes the form of a documentary, produced by Borat about his travels in America. Eventually, it becomes about Borat’s quest to meet and marry Pamela Anderson. 

Throughout, it follows the same pattern Borat always did in the Ali G Show days ― Borat either interviews someone or appears in a social situation with them, such as a dinner party, etiquette class, or a shopping scenario, and the camera follows the other person’s reactions as Baron Cohen-as-Borat says wildly inappropriate things. Sometimes the other person plays along, while other times they embarrass themselves. But no matter what, Baron Cohen never, ever, breaks character. 

So many things in this movie just expose American pathologies, with the help of a British Jew dressed as a Jew-hating Kazakh

Borat comes from a version of Kazakhstan that has a lot more in common with Eastern Europe than with that Central Asian country (the “Kazakhstan” scenes were shot in Good, Romania). But once he reaches the United States, Borat gives us an authentic taste of America, from New York to Washington to Southern culture high and low. 

So many things in this movie just expose American pathologies, with the help of a British Jew dressed as a Jew-hating Kazakh. And Baron Cohen kept right on doing that, with his Trump-era Who is America? Showtime series, and eventually the 2020 Borat sequel, which posited that the Kazakh regime sent Borat to America to spread COVID-19. 

The quintessential moment in the first movie is  Borat singing his version of the national anthem, and seeming to call for war crimes in Iraq. It’s delightfully absurd, even before a horse falls over at the end: 

Sure, the film fudged a bit, including the chronology, the geographical procession, and the whole part of the plot with Pamela Anderson (here’s an explanation of what’s “real” and what wasn’t), and some of the humor is a little iffy these days, especially the part where Borat tries to kidnap Anderson with a blanket. 

But, it’s all still screamingly funny, even on rewatch today. Sure, the physical comedy is outstanding ― the nude hotel room brawl between Borat and his producer, Azamat, remains possibly the hardest I’ve ever laughed in a movie theater ― but what’s the funniest of all is the cringe and the discomfort. 

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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