Wishing there were more to “Borat”

Cultural ignorance a commodity? What a country!

by Adri Mehra

Have you seen ‘Borat’ yet?”

The question is lobbed innocently, but with the dressings of intellectual engagement, like a virginal softball of low-calorie savoir faire.

Where is this fairly innocuous but incredibly frequent attempt at conversation overheard?

Everywhere. City buses, graduate seminars, construction sites and coffee shops alike.

Let’s face it. Fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev (star of his own Twentieth Century Fox film, directed by “Seinfeld” writer Larry Charles) is a living, breathing organism unto himself – at least according to ample box office returns and the ensuing firestorm of litigation from his “duped” real-life interviewees.

So why has his creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, rendered him a bloodless, toothless invertebrate, when Borat could have been the original of a new breed of culturally relevant comedians?

Indeed, that has framed my “question,” which is posed directly to Borat, rather than merely about him:

“Why I a no believe you, Borat? Why you no make a sexy time with consistent ethnic accent?”

I understand that part of the magic of “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is its hurried, slapdash, devil-may-care editing and surveillance tape cinematography.

All of that is clever enough and provides a cosmetic vehicle for Borat’s lacerating deprecations of American-style stupidity.

But when Cohen can’t pull his character-driven cojones together long enough to keep a consistent mutation of broken English, he loses me as a sympathetic consumer of his humor.

The thing is, massively thick accents and miserable stabs at English are hilarious. And when Borat is bad like that, the film leaps out of MTV’s basement of Tom Green and “Jackass,” and becomes something brimming with excitement and pathos and social commentary.

Most crucial is that Borat is funniest when he is struggling – with language, with customs, with Best Western ignorance.

This is why I was let down by Borat Sagdiyev. He wasn’t ethnic enough. Too often, I saw the actor behind him – a half British, half Israeli-Persian aping a Central Asian, but only really trying about half the time.

How great could it have been if Cohen really gave it his all, instead of masturbating over how brilliant he feels the idea of it is?

It’s interesting how funny Borat is when he is imitated by someone else. I can’t tell you how hard I laughed when friends and family recited lines from the trailers and segments from Cohen’s HBO-featured “Da Ali G Show.”

And perhaps therein exists the true pixie dust of the Borat phenomenon. The more degrees removed from reality and true representation he is, the funnier he gets.

So here we are. We’ve seen “Borat” or we haven’t yet seen “Borat,” and we’re riding the bus or smoking a Parliament or waiting for the world to end, and everyone wants to know – have we seen “Borat”?

And then they proceed to do their best impression of the much-maligned TV anchor from Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, and we realize – either now or in retrospect – that we’re laughing harder at the idea of Borat than we are at Cohen’s performance as the character.

What does this mean? Wisconsin frat boy make a me laugh without urines or testes satchel. Strangely, that gives me hope.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]