Look back to what made you laugh in the early 2000s and the 1990s, what made your family laugh in the ’80s and ’70s, and you’ll find a wide spectrum of comedy that fluctuates with changing attitudes and national sentiment. Comedy moves on quickly, and the world changes even quicker.
Cast your mind back to 2009 and it was The Hangover breaking records around the world, capturing the attention of a particular western zeitgeist, with the three lead characters, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), becoming iconic characters in their own right. Capturing a particular puerile comedy that had come to define the Western culture at the dawn of the internet age was a timebomb of soon-to-be outed values.
In an increasingly emotionally conscious Western social environment, such frat-boy comedies would simply be too much of a risk to take on for production companies, with The Hangover particularly displaying a brash sense of humour that mocks minorities throughout. As such, the whole notion of frat-boy humour has fallen by the wayside, representing a strange reminder to attitudes long-lost.
Three years prior to the release of The Hangover came Borat, the comedy vehicle from co-writer and star Sacha Baron Cohen, who managed to collectively entice young and old with a political spiced film for the ages. As much a comment on American ignorance as foreign foolishness, the film featured the English comedian dressed up as an ambitious traveller named Borat, from Kazakhstan who highlights the faults of Western culture in his own idiocy.
Met with critical and commercial acclaim, Borat suffused itself in with early noughties culture, with ‘mankinis’ becoming a staple on international bachelor parties, the catchphrase ‘very nice’ starting a playground craze and the face of Sacha Baron Cohen becoming one of the earliest internet memes. Perfectly packaged for 21st-century success, Borat remains one of the standout comedies of previous decades, even if its offensive scars become more exposed day-by-day.
The same radical, outlandish and counter-cultural personality was pushed out several more times in Brüno, The Dictator and Grimsby, with Sacha Baron Cohen becoming a chameleon of impressionistic comedy. In 2018 however, Cohen’s content took a significant turn, releasing the TV series Who is America? followed by Borat Subsequent Moviefilm two years later.
With too much opportunity for political commentary, the films of Sacha Baron Cohen became smarmy judgemental projects that put each of its subjects on uneven playing fields, clearly favouring the democratic left. Suddenly, the dynamic was quickly shifted. Both Who is America? and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm became not a funny exposition of American values but instead a conniving judgement on middle America.
Whilst he started his career punching up to icons and government officials, Sacha Baron Cohen has now reached a platform where he is an icon in himself. Featuring the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pence, evidence that Cohen still sticks to this mantra exists in Borat’s sequel, though such scenes are carried out with far less piercing accuracy. Sacha Baron Cohen’s new brand of comedy is ageing fast.