OK, saw the Borat movie. Yeah, OK, some terrific gags, but not the funniest movie I’ve seen. I got the same impression I got from the Ali G sketches, that SBC is funnier than his material. I mean, you smile just at his appearance and presentation, but then he comes out with a line that isn’t as funny as those. SBC in fact reminds me of what Clive James said about the late Peter Cooke: He is INTRINSICALLY funny–”he is funny the way beautiful people are beautiful.” He almost doesn’t have to do anything. For someone as gifted as that, material of equal quality is hard to find, and I’m not sure SBC has found it here.
The movie theater I saw it in was thinly populated–it was the lunchtime (started 12:50) performance–so my audience-reaction report comes from a possibly-untrustworthily-small sample, but…
—The Jew jokes got more gasps and “Oh my!”s than actual laughs.
—The biggest spontaneous happy-laughs were for (a) the horse falling over at the rodeo–sheer good luck, surely, and (b) the squawk that came out of the bag when Borat threw it down in weary despair–pure old-fashioned vaudeville.
—The LOUDEST sustained laughter was at the naked hotel-room scene, but it was a “Eiuw that’s so gross!” kind of laughter, not easy-happy laughter. And, yes, it is WAY gross.
—There was considerable discomfort at some of the un-PC statements made by Borat’s ”marks”–a kind of numb silence at the frat kid who was fine with slavery, nervous laughter at the guy who wanted to hang homosexuals… EXCEPTION: When the frat kid said something like “If you’re a minority in this country, you get everything given to you,” a guy somewhere behind me said “Hey.” It was definitely an affirmative “Hey” ( i.e. “Hey, right on!”) not a disapproving “Hey” (“Hey, you shouldn’t say that”). Conclusion: There’s not much of a constituency in the New York suburbs for slavery or homicidal homophobia, but Affirmative Action really gets people’s backs up.
I think native Americans might be more at ease with this movie than I am. Imbedded in it is a critique of American niceness. Coming from the Old World, where people are much less nice, I am a bit of a fan of American niceness, and perhaps can’t laugh at it as easily as someone who grew up with it.
Niceness is of course a matter of balance. Niceness can hypertrophy into the horrors of Political Correctness–speech codes, hate crimes, litigation over mild insults or compliments, etc. The opposite danger, the one SBC’s style of humor points to, is that too much deconstructing of niceness might lead to a state of affairs where niceness vanishes. What’s that Nadezhda Mandelshtam quote? Something like: “Once there were kind people, and even people who weren’t kind, pretended to be, because that was the way to be. Then people began to scoff at this hypocrisy, to make fun of it, to expose it. The result we now see: there are no more kind people now.” She was writing from the depths of Stalin’s USSR. No, SBC isn’t going to drag us down into totalitarianism, of course not. I do hope, though, very much, that he won’t make Americans ashamed of their niceness.