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Da Unfunny Ali G

I wasn't planning on reviewing Da Ali G Show, but I watched it, so I might as well review it in order to have some good come of it.

If you're even mildly interested in the show, you probably already know:

  • Ali G is the alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen
  • Cohen doesn't break character during interviews or even while in danger of being arrested for some public stunt or other
  • Ali G's show is a big hit in England
  • Ali G has a new show on HBO, which is the subject of this review.

What you probably do not know is:

  • He isn't very funny.

Alas, the sketch comedy show built around a single star has been in decline for, oh, several decades. The last good example I can think of is The Ben Stiller Show, which Fox didn't so much pull the rug out from under as started it on greased linoleum so they could replace it with... what? Repeats of Herman's Head? An expanded Woops!? I remember The Ben Stiller Show, but its replacement -- forgotten. Even after ten years off the air The Ben Stiller Show is one of the best shows on TV. And before Ben Stiller there was Carol Burnett, and before Carol Burnett there wasn't electricity.

Da Ali G Show is only barely a sketch comedy at that. Cohen's big comedic idea seems to be interviewing serious people (former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornberg, former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali) in character as an idiot. Which might have you pondering the question: If one starts out pretending to be an idiot, past what point is it no longer pretending?

Maybe no one passed the news onto Cohen, but this has been done before. I'm pretty sure Howard Stern had Stuttering John asking Napoleon about his "Little Emperor." Not only has it been done before, but now the serious people expect this sort of thing; and Dick Thornberg, anyway, apparently figured he'd look hip if he went along, smiled, and -- while certainly not indulging his interviewer in seriously answering such questions as "What's the difference between legal and barely legal?" -- at least looked like he got the joke. The result was not the knee-slapping, rib-tickling laughfest Cohen no doubt expected; instead, he looked boorish, while Thornberg looked gracious and accommodating. Which was definitely more than Cohen deserved. Given that this sort of ambush is only worthwhile if it really is an ambush -- and in these tired days of the early 21st Century, it can only ambush Australian aborigines, maybe -- Cohen really should have been told politely that there were some streets in need of sweeping and here are the keys to your Elgin.

There was only one small bright spot in the show, which came from the nigh-extinct genre of Ethnic Humor. See above re: 21st Century: Cohen couldn't put on blackface and say "Where all the white wimmen at?" and he couldn't say "I'ma gonna sing dis song a capella, which means, withouta my hat." No, these days you can't make fun of [insert humorous list of offensive slang for various minorities here], and over in England you probably can't even pick on Pakistanis or Indians like we do, so Cohen takes the long walk to find one of the last ethnicities open for abuse: the people of Kazakhstan.

Where's Kazakhstan? Never mind. All you really need to know is, it's far away and backward and people from there have accents. Whoopee! Now that's humor!

Well, I have a soft spot for ethnic humor, since there's so little of it these days, and Cohen's sketch as Borat, a Kazakstani learning the ways of America -- in the first episode, the complexities of dating American women -- made me smile even while I realized it wasn't as nuanced as a Yakov Smirnoff routine or as sensitive as Martin and Aykroyd's Two Wild and Crazy Guys.

Da Ali G Show wasn't a total waste of time, but that was only because I clipped my toenails while I was watching it. And there's this review -- so there, two good things from that half-hour of my life.

Perhaps the show will get better. I'd have to watch more episodes to see. But I leave that to more intrepid reporters than I.


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