It’s a proven fact that Sacha Baron Cohen takes few prisoners in his go-for-broke quest for laughs. The British born enfant terrible has made a cottage industry out of skewering stereotypes, adopting personas — like Ali G and Borat — and disrupting American ideals while milking major laughs in the process.
His new film, the eagerly anticipated and much hyped Brüno, sees Cohen essaying his third most popular character — the flamboyantly gay fashionista — setting him loose upon the planet’s most pretentious catwalks and the back alley’s of conservative society to raise all manner of reality bending hell.
It’s a prankish conceit that Cohen may have perfected but by no means invented. A casual look at pop culture history reveals a cavalcade of media terrorists who delighted in pulling the wool over the eyes of polite and not-so-polite society.
CANDID CAMERA Though the practical joke’s origins probably dates back to the Stone Age, it was in the 1940s that a comedian named Allen Funt created the ABC radio show Candid Microphone.
Every week, Funt and his friends would hide a recording device in a covert location and trick pundits into falling for elaborate fictional gags. Later, when TV reared its head, Funt adapted, creating the long running and highly influential show into Candid Camera.
FUNNY MEN In the 1970s controversial comedian Andy Kaufman took the shtick to another, more avant-garde level in nightclubs and TV with his bizarre “foreign man” and Tony Clifton characters.
In recent history, Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew shocked the world with their bizarre and confrontational stunts on MTV. Ashton Kutcher became a cult hero with his star targeting hit series Punk’d, while Montreal’s Just for Laughs team produced the ever popular Gags show airing regularly on the CBC.
Even fallen football hero O.J. Simpson tried his hand at the format with his pay-per-view show Juiced. The less said about that one, the better…
STING?OPERATIONS And, in many ways, filmmaker Michael Moore, with his high-minded agenda pictures, manages to set up his victims with elaborate “sting” operations just like Funt did, though his aim is to ignite a dose of outrage to accompany a darker strain of laughter.
When the dust settles and the smoke clears though, it’s Cohen who has truly created an art form out of the camera prank shtick but how long can he keep it up?
With the Ali G and Borat characters already exhausted, after Brüno, will there be anyone alive ignorant enough of his legacy enough to fool?
Brüno hits theatres next week.