A Counterintuitive Take on Sacha Baron Cohen's Bruno


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Wait, no. All possible angles have been covered! So let me just say that I agree with most of what Megan McArdle says here -- Bruno is pretty funny but thinner than Borat, and seems not to realize that there's a difference between laughing up (at the powerful) and down (at the powerless -- and add a couple of spoiler-free points.

First, I think Sacha Baron Cohen had a much harder trick to pull off this time around. This is partly because, as the film confesses, the pool of available dupes diminishes with exposure. (They can trick Ron Paul and Paula Abdul, but they can't score Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson.) But it also seems to me that Borat is a much easier character to work with: He's an empty vessel. The average viewer (or at least this viewer), couldn't tell you the first thing about Kazakhstan, much less pinpoint the place with any assurance on a map. And that kind of unknown is the perfect cipher for testing the limits of American tolerance and ignorance.

I imagine this is much harder when the object of everyone's supposed prejudice is the character that Baron Cohen is playing. It's no doubt easier to stumble along with the anti-Semitism and misogyny of a man with a strange accent a funny moustache than to express outright bigotry at the person holding the microphone. The scenes that end up working best aren't the ones where Cohen tries, with agonizing persistence, to tease the homophobia out of some unsuspecting old fool (eg Ron Paul), but rather the ones where he tests the scruples of some spotlight-obsessed aging star (eg Paula Adbul).

Second, am I wrong in thinking the length of an average skit in the movie is just much shorter than the average skit in the television show? It seems to me that part of the appeal of the original Bruno skits from Da Ali G Show is that the joke usually runs on way too long -- like the dizzyingly contradictory interview with a fashion designer, or the cackling chat with a Miami club owner, or the endless requests submitted to a group of college wrestlers at Daytona beach. The skits from the movies were much shorter, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the average TV skit is funnier and smarter (as it were).

Photo: That's the promotional poster and I hope I'm using it fairly.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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