“Pour some extra vinegar on that popcorn — the Borat effect has begun,” observes the Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell. His basic thesis is that all comedic phenomenons and iconoclasts create spawns, and that Borat‘s success is unleashing a wave of imitators,wannabes and samplers. Hence the Michael Richards onstage “nigger” outburst at L.A.’s Laugh Factory. (Which led to Richards’ explanation the other night on “Late Night with David Letterman.”)
(l. to. r.) Michael Richards; still of Richards’ Laugh Factory appearance; Sacha Baron Cohen
“It may seem unfair or a stretch to link Richards’ appalling tirade to Cohen’s infinitely more clever satire,” Howell writes. “But the link is there and I’m not the first to make it. Paul Brownfield, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, coined the phrase “the Borat effect” this week to describe what happened in the Laugh Factory. (Brownfield also came up with an interesting phrase/tagline in his piece: “Cultural Learnings of Kramer to Make Benefit Wounds of America.”)
“The big difference between Cohen and Richards is that the former plays a ridiculous and naive journalist character, who says terrible things out of ignorance. Richards, unable to create a similar figure of levity, simply hurled insults like a schoolyard bully.
“Success breeds imitators, mostly inferior ones who want to push the envelope even further,” Howell writes. “Nowhere is this truer than in comedy, which forever follows the brave and the reckless. Just as true innovators like Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin and the Saturday Night Live troupe all spawned countless bad knock-offs, so will Cohen’s Borat schtick lead to a host of fish-out- of-water screenplays in which a buffoon with a funny accent and obnoxious ideas foists himself on unsuspecting victims.”
Doesn’t Mel Gibson‘s Malibu tirate also fit into this on some level? Obviously it was anything but funny (although I confess to having laughed when I first heard the term “sugar tits“), but didn’t it seem to pry open the Pandora’s Box subconscious of a lot of closet racists out there? Didn’t it nudge the “ironic” hurling of ugly racist epithets a wee bit closer to the mainstream realm?