Sacha Baron Cohen visits Howard Stern as Himself
May 9, 2012 Leave a comment
Sacha Baron Cohen very rarely gives interviews as himself, which is one reason why his appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show yesterday interested me greatly. Cohen is, after all, someone who makes his comedy out of highly original, boundary-breaking characters. It is obvious that there is a very sharp intelligence in action behind the satire of Ali G and Borat, and that this intelligence is not the typical work of just another smart comedian. Yesterday’s interview just scratched the surface, but hit on enough different topics to make it worthwhile.
On the question of success, Cohen makes it clear that he isn’t obsessed with the typical markers. He wants his movies to make money so he can keep making more of them, but when he says that he’s not obsessed with box office take and feels that treating film-making like a horse race has devalued Hollywood, I believe him. After all, here’s someone who risked offending major people in Hollywood through his stunt at the Academy Awards.
No matter whether you felt that his dumping ashes (in actuality, it was flour) on Ryan Seacrest at the 2012 Oscars was obnoxious and in poor taste, or a welcome disruption to the sanitized self-congratulations of the movie industry, Cohen appears to have jumped through hurdles to accomplish the task. It’s easy to question someone who makes their living from fooling others, but Cohen describes how he only went ahead with his prank after getting major pushback from the Academy Award organizers, including their threats that he’d never work again in Hollywood or be nominated for a film.
Speaking of his approach in general, Cohen told Stern…
I’ve got the ability to not think of any consequences.
It’s an ability he may have had to use in his upcoming film, The Dictator, as he satirizes terrorists face-to-face. It’s a potentially dangerous move.
COHEN: The reason they’re terrorists is they’ve got no sense of humor….Once you can laugh at yourself, you’re not a fanatic.
Cohen describes showing a sex tape to terrorist on camera, and how the man did not leave, despite it ostensibly being against his morals. Why?
COHEN: What you realize is these people want publicity. You know, they’re like movie actors promoting their movie. They want publicity for their terrorist organizations. They want to be famous.
I’ll be very curious to see the film. Supposedly Cohen also satirizes the American approach to combating terrorism, which would be subversive enough on its own.
Borat is one of my favorite film comedies, as I feel it’s funny and also does what comedy can do at its best, and that is to confront the audience with their own foibles, to ask us to question our actions and values. Stern asked Cohen one of the questions I’ve been wondering about for years. Remember the scene in the movie when Borat interviews Paula Abdul and has use laborers as chairs?
STERN: Was Paula Abdul in on the joke?
COHEN: No, no, no. No, she had no idea, no.
Cohen also talks about his relationship to Judaism, including why it is good for their children that his wife converted. He talks about how he’s followed Howard for decades and tried to get an interview with him a long time ago when Stern visited England. Howard actually inspired Sacha to break the rules and damn the consequences, and as Stern is someone who started out accosting celebrities on red carpets before he could have others do it for him, the two can commiserate about how physically and emotionally difficult that actually is.
I think that they are different in approach, though, in that Howard Stern is a rebel who simultaneously has a very conventional middle class sensibility, and some of the fun of his show is listening to him oscillate between the two. Cohen, on the other hand, is more committed to the craft of comic characters and even states that some of his fearlessness while filming stems from getting lost in the characters.
So yeah, it’s worth a listen if you’re a Sacha Baron Cohen fan. If you’re not, I suspect you won’t have read this far…
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