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DID YOU READ

Has the Sacha Baron Cohen shtick jumped the shark?

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Has Sacha Baron Cohen finally exhausted the goodwill of audiences? When “The Ali G Show” made its debut on HBO in 2003 it was as if a meteor struck this planet from the comedic heavens above, alighting us all with the gift of laughter.

That was then, this is now. This week “The Dictator” was, quite frankly, smothered in box office competition by both “The Avengers” and “Battleship,” turning in a lackluster — but not entirely soul-destroying — third place performance in its debut. There could not possibly have been a better time to release such a movie. The Arab Spring is in full flower; dictators are universally reviled. Who among us doesn’t want to see a Quaddafi-ish autocratic ass-hat lampooned?

So — what went wrong? Putting things into proper perspective: bringing in $17.2 million in its first week is not the end of the world or Mr. Cohen’s career. Still, that number, while not fatal to a career trajectory, might just signal the end of Cohen’s pungent brand of reality-flavored satire. Aside from the disappointing, though again not fatal box office, the reviews were quite mixed (59% rating of top critics on Rotten Tomatoes).

What was most surprising, however, was the powerfully negative response from more established media resources, which, one would think, would be firmly Team Cohen. Isn’t Cohen the thinking person’s comedian? Foreign Policy’s Joshua E. Keating writes, in a post titled Is ‘The Dictator’ Racist: “Cohen clearly knows his politics (how many comedies include both extended masturbation jokes and references to Gazprom?), but it’s hard to get past the fact that most of the film’s comedy derives from a British actor playing a crude Arab stereotype.” And while, no, “The Dictator” is not racist, it is, at the very least, clichéd and even more than a little bit stale. And stale, in comedy, carries about it the stink of death. The film belongs in the same bargain bin as that seemingly endless stream of bad SNL skits turned into movies. Perhaps “The Dictator,” like the unburied and unsung “McGruber”, was best left to a five minute skit on the small screen.

Further, Sacha Baron Cohen did some of the more comedically prestigious rounds of the media gauntlet in advance of “The Dictator”’s release as … himself. Sacha being Sacha on the promotional tour is, quite frankly, pretty rare; it makes a statement. How better to garner media and blog buzz for a project than staging an elaborate satirical real time sketch. That has been, in the past, Sacha Baron Cohen’s modus operandi; he perfected the art of promoting his films. But in recent appearances on both Letterman and Howard Stern, two “smart” comedy shows, Cohen went on as himself and not in his gaudy General Aladeen get-up, signaling, perhaps, that the joke – to insiders, at least – no longer packs the same punch. You can’t really fake it to those in-the-know. As Chris Lee reported in The Daily Beast:

Out of respect for [Howard] Stern, who Baron Cohen says inspired him, the comedian spoke straightforwardly and un-ironically in his native British accent, absent the kinky weird beard associated with his Saddam Hussein–esque character, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, and spouting none of the faux despot’s characteristically sexist and racist gibberish. “I’ve never really done interviews as myself,” Cohen said. “This is like the third time in my life I’ve done an interview out of character.”

Is this a new beginning? “The Dictator” is also, stylistically if not thematically, an abrupt departure from Cohen’s comfort zone mixing reality with improv, a sort of Jackass-meets-Coltrane piece of satirical comedy that he appears to have invented. And while critics – including this one – found parts of “The Dictator” laugh out loud funny, the general consensus is that it is a thoroughly uneven movie. We are now jaded; the once brilliant comic invention has lost its charm, perhaps in the same way that M. Knight Shyamalan endings no longer fuck up our whole shit. We are all Shymalayan-ed out.

Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen’s next role will be in the Freddy Mercury biopic, which may mean ultimately that he is going the way of Jamie Foxx. The Jamie Foxx Path, which led the former stand-up comedian to an Oscar, provides a difficult route, an escape from the typecasting of comedy. Sacha Baron Cohen, an innovator, an independent voice, certainly deserves another chapter in his career. If there had been a Best Actor in a Comedy Oscar – as I have argued for in this blog – Cohen would have won it in 2007 for “Borat.” But it appears that the simpleton foreigner shtick has, abruptly, run its course. It was a good and lucrative run. That having been said, I cannot wait to see what he becomes in his next act.

What do you think of Sacha Baron Cohen? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.