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Golden Globes glory for Baron Cohen, an outrageous comedian with a serious point

Jewish actor wins awards for best comedy movie and best comedy movie actor for ‘Borat’; his Hebrew-speaking character uncovers others’ homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism

Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 4, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — From a tracksuited rapper to a bumbling Kazakh TV reporter in a green mankini, Sacha Baron Cohen has made his name with outrageous characters who expose real people’s prejudices and hypocrisy.

On Sunday, Baron Cohen’s wild portrayal of the journalist Borat earned two more Golden Globes — for best comedy movie and best comedy movie actor.

He also was nominated for another statuette for his work in a more serious role, as US political activist Abbie Hoffman in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

The characters created by the versatile 49-year-old British comedian are a world away from his upbringing in London as the son of an accountant who ran a family business of clothing stores.

Actor Sacha Baron Cohen speaks on stage during the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Annual Grants Banquet at The Beverly Wilshire, in Beverly Hills on July 31, 2019 (VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

After attending private schools, he studied history at the University of Cambridge, where his cousin, Simon, is a professor and prominent researcher in autism.

During his time at university, Baron Cohen joined the Footlights theatre group that launched stars such as Hugh Laurie and members of Monty Python.

His big break came performing sketches on the Paramount Comedy Channel, where he developed the character Ali G — a wannabe gangsta rapper from a nondescript town west of London.

“Da Ali G Show,” which followed on Britain’s Channel Four in 2000, saw him ask increasingly shocking questions of unsuspecting politicians and other establishment figures.

The show also featured Borat, a naïve Kazakh visitor to Britain who displays unthinking homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism, and Bruno, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista.

Sacha Baron Cohen in the trailer to the Borat sequel. The trailer was released by Amazon on October 1, 2020. (Amazon Studios)

The show made Baron Cohen a household name. Later series were aired on HBO in the United States.

Prince William even revealed that he and brother Harry taught their great-grandmother, the Queen Mum, to imitate Ali G by clicking her fingers and saying his classic “Respec.'”

One interviewee was Donald Trump, who said last year of Baron Cohen: “That’s a phony guy. And I don’t find him funny.”

Cannes mankini

Ali G got his own movie — “Ali G Indahouse” (2002) — as did Borat (2006), and later Bruno (2009).

To promote “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” he posed on the beach at the Cannes movie festival in a green mankini that left little to the imagination.

Sacha Baron Cohen as “Borat” during 2006 Cannes Film Festival – Borat Arrives in Cannes at Cannes Beach in Cannes, France. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)

Along with an infamous nude fight scene, it showed Borat in cringe-making encounters with ordinary Americans.

At a rodeo, he called for then-president George W. Bush to “drink the blood of every single man, woman, and child of Iraq,” to cheers from the crowd.

The New York Times said the movie’s comedy was “as pitiless as its social satire, and as brainy.” It topped box offices in Britain and the United States.

Baron Cohen, who is Jewish and uses Hebrew for Borat, won a Golden Globe for best actor, and the movie grossed more than $260 million worldwide.

But the depiction of Kazakhstan as backward infuriated the Central Asian state, which banned the movie’s release.

In this file photo a person wearing a mask walks past a bus stop ad on 5th Avenue, October 15, 2020, for the movie ‘Borat 2,’ featuring actor Sacha Baron Cohen, ahead of its release on October 23. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

Baron Cohen told Rolling Stone magazine the joke was “on people who can believe that the Kazakhstan that I describe can exist.”

Kazakhstan relented and last year even used Borat’s “Very nice!” catchphrase in a tourism campaign.

‘Never again’

The follow-up, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” unfurls against the tense backdrop of Trump’s re-election campaign and the coronavirus pandemic.

In one scene at a gun-rights rally, Baron Cohen — disguised as a bluegrass singer — encouraged people to sing along to lyrics about injecting former president Barack Obama and others with the “Wuhan flu.”

A still of Sacha Baron Cohen from ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.’ (Courtesy Amazon)

He ended up fleeing when his cover was blown.

“We were surrounded by a bunch of people, an angry mob with guns,” he told NPR, and vowed not to work undercover again.

“I can’t do this again… at some point, your luck runs out.”

The movie also shows Trump’s lawyer and ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani apparently reaching into his trousers in a hotel room, after being interviewed by Borat’s daughter (Maria Bakalova).

Giuliani, oblivious to the hidden cameras, insisted he was tucking in his shirt.

On Sunday night at the Globes, Baron Cohen launched a few zingers about Giuliani, saying: “I mean, who can get more laughs out of one unzipping?”

He told NPR he revived Borat in a bid to somehow influence the 2020 presidential election — against Trump.

“We felt we had to do something, we felt democracy was in real danger,” he said.

The movie was released on Amazon Prime Video last year. In addition to the two awards it won, Bakalova was also nominated.

‘Weapons-grade offensiveness’

In 2018, he was nominated for a Golden Globe as best actor for his US satirical series “Who Is America?”

Sacha Baron Cohen, star of the satirical Showtime series “Who Is America?,” poses at an Emmy For Your Consideration event for the show at Paramount Studios, May 15, 2019, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Baron Cohen, whose 2012 movie “The Dictator” was described as offering “weapons-grade offensiveness,” has also acted in non-comedy movies including “Les Miserables.”

In 2019 he was nominated for best actor at the Golden Globes for playing a top Mossad agent in the Netflix series “The Spy.”

Baron Cohen rarely gives interviews out of character and is reticent about his personal life.

“Some people love being recognized and getting the attention. I don’t love it,” he told NPR.

He is married to actress Isla Fisher. The couple has said they bonded over studying at clown school. They have three children.

In 2015, the couple donated $1 million to help Syrian refugees.

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