Humor sometimes is the perfect melody for the soul, other times it can bring some unwanted attention and bring about a narrative you don’t really want to be associated with. The humble prank can make or break a person – depending on how far it is taken. No one ever wants to be made the fool, but there are ways to handle it and there are ways to, well, have it really break you down. Comedy is like any tool, it has no purpose other than to bring about a reaction. The intended reaction is shock and hilarity, but sometimes it can be used to simply see what natural reaction comes out of the person witnessing the act or listening to the joke.
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his leading roles in films featuring the characters Borat and Bruno is a comedian who derives his comedy from pure shock value. As an expert master of disguise, guile, and improvisation, his dedication to whatever role he becomes is nothing less than pure mastery. His comedy is nothing meaningless, it isn’t the neutral chaos that some would see it, Cohen always has a purpose behind it. As both the Kazakh newsman Borat traveling across the country from coast to coast so he can bed Pamela Anderson, and the Eurocentric and flamboyantly gay model Bruno, Cohen has always had a target, which is American culture.
Whether he is purposefully antagonizing gangbangers in the inner city or finding ways to get kicked out of an all-American rodeo, Cohen’s comedy is based less on the reaction of his specific actions, and more on the reactions of those who are his target.
Recently Cohen on his new Showtime series “Who is America?” primarily lampooned Republican and conservative public figures such as former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and others, targeting topics from xenophobia to gun control in order to underhandedly promote a stereotype of evangelical conservatives most coastal progressives already hold. Some have called for Cohen’s antics to be taken to court, while others are demanding a boycott. I know several of Cohen’s victims personally, and while it pained me to see them go along with his intended plan, what is there to do? My answer: laugh and move on.
From Steven Crowder to James O’Keefe on the right, to others who have gone under the guise of a reporter or activist in order to solicit a canned, predictable response from those who are their intended targets, I would much rather live in a world where humor is used as a weapon than, well, actual weaponry.
In the current state of the American culture war we see on the news and online, the only real casualty is the rational person’s sense of humor. No one can take a joke anymore, and many feel that we must destroy anyone who laughs at our expense. After witnessing riots and unjustified incivility and brutality, Cohen attempting to make people laugh might be the cure we need.
For everything Cohen does, those who are angry should maybe go out and pull a joke of their own. The only loser in a prank war is those who aren’t ahead – but the winner? The winner of a prank war is the rest of us who get to laugh and forget about the sadness of the world for a few fleeting moments.