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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar

via GIPHY

IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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