Familiarity of jokes: 5
Sameness of jokes: 5
Repetition of jokes: 5
"I don't find him funny" is what Donald Trump said last week about Borat and, embarrassingly, that makes two of us. What's wrong with me? All the brilliant minds I admire agree this film is excellent but I just don't like humour at other people's expense, even at the worst person's expense. I can't laugh at anyone, not even Trump, tripping and falling face-first into a steaming pile of dung - literally or metaphorically.
I think Sacha Baron Cohen has an incredible talent for coercing abhorrent ideas out of people, getting them to articulate indisputably on camera their very worst beliefs and thus exposing truths about themselves that most sane people would agree are vile. He's brilliant at it and seemingly incapable of shame.
Another shameless man, my husband, who likes to take his opinion and state it as fact, vehemently argued that the film was objectively not funny because Borat's style of humour is outdated, despite widespread consensus to the contrary. I've listened to this diatribe multiple times before. It's all about how comedy requires a surprise to be funny, the punchline has to be unexpected to elicit a laugh and because Borat's gotcha style set-ups are the same style as the original film, they lack said surprise and therefore aren't funny. He went on to claim this is why Friends and Seinfeld are categorically no longer funny - a fact apparently. I suspect HBO Max, who in July reported that Friends was the number one show on their platform, might consider his take "alternative facts" - especially given he hasn't watched the show since the 90s.
If not surprise, I certainly experienced shock during this film. I hid behind my couch cushion more than once at the toe-curling cringeworthiness of how far Cohen is willing to go for the "joke" - nauseatingly far. Could my inability to laugh come down to my strong sense of empathy or is it that I just can't take a joke? When Rudy Giuliani fiddled around in his pants in the scene that's garnered this film so much attention, was that funny? I don't know. The only thing I do know is that Greg's not questioning his own sense of humour over his response to this film, so why am I?
There's no denying Sacha Baron Cohen is uniquely gifted at what he does. Much of it is admirable, some of it important, and to many people it's also hysterically funny - sadly, not to anyone in this house.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
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The first thing you learn as a dad is that jokes don't get funnier with repetition. Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the great comedic geniuses of our time but he now has three children and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is a 90-minute version of a joke I first heard him tell more than 20 years ago.
The morning after watching the movie, I said to Zanna that an effective punchline is a subversion of our expectations and, when our expectations have been set for two decades, as they have with Borat, the subversion is at least weakened and usually ruined.
"I knew you were going to say that," she said, "but it's just not true."
"And I knew you were going to say that," I said, "and that's why neither of us found the other funny."
She rolled her eyes at this, and not affectionately.
I told her this is why shows like Friends and M*A*S*H and Seinfeld are no longer funny: they have lost the sting of the unexpected; the premises of their humour have passed from the surprising to the mundane. On all counts, she disagreed strongly, although I couldn't understand why, because it was a fact-based observation. I figured I must not be making myself clear so I said: "When you see the jokes coming, they're no longer jokes." She indicated that, yes, she had already understood when I said it the first few times.
I told her I've interviewed lots of comedians and she countered by telling me two of her favourite podcasts frequently feature comedians. Thus stalemated on appeals to authority, I sought a new line of attack. We were in the kitchen in our dressing gowns trying to make school lunches for our kids. She had actually done all the making, while I walked around unproductively in the background. I could feel her getting increasingly annoyed with my presence. I made a joke about not helping with the sandwiches but it didn't land.
The strength of Baron Cohen's feigned idiocy, as it was with his first Borat movie 14 years ago, is that it brings the worst out of Americans who might otherwise have kept it hidden. The difference now is that the worst of America has been trending on Twitter live from the White House, every day for the last four years. When the movie reaches its climax in a hotel bedroom with Rudy Giuliani's hand down his pants, not only are we not appalled, we're not even really surprised. Our outrage levels have risen too high. What might once have been shocking is now humdrum. What might once have been funny is now depressing. What might once have been comic genius is now all too familiar.