Sacha Baron Cohen is the New Mel Brooks
The great satirical writer and producer Mel Brooks's last film in that capacity was in 2005, when he adapted his own film-turned-Broadway-Play-turned-film The Producers. Filling that void was going to be next to impossible. Unless, I suppose, he wasn't American.
Enter Sacha Baron Cohen, a Cambridge Alumni, who developed the characters of Ali G, Borat and Bruno. Obviously, their styles are very different, and not just because of their native country, but the eras they grew up in as well. Baron Cohen's style has influences from so-called reality TV. Mel's humour in terms of filmmaking became the standard for spoofs and satirical films of the 1980s and 90s.
But there's definitely a lot of Mel Brooks in Sacha Baron Cohen, if he was aware of him or not. Sacha takes it to the next level and is really thinking on the fly, in character, when he's interacting with people. If someone says something hysterically funny or so out of left field, he has to make sure he keeps a straight face, because he doesn't typically hang out with peace loving people who have a sense of humour about themselves. He's out there to expose their racism and bigotry through humour.
The emphasis on racial issues and racism in particular is and was a hallmark for both Baron Cohen and Brooks.
In Blazing Saddles (above), Mel Brooks faces the scourge of racism head on and isn't afraid to mock the hell out of people too stupid to realize they're fighting over melanin.
In Borat: Cultural Learnings of America To Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Sacha Baron Cohen exposes people's real opinions on race, gender and sexual orientation - often within a span of less than a minute.
One style is more standard movie style, the other is very much mockumentary. Having watched the Trailer Park Boys here in Canada since the first TV movie aired in black and white in 1999 (below), I've really gotten into that style of entertainment, where everything seems real and therefore has greater impact and if done correctly, allows for some relatability.
So as I was sitting around lamenting the lack of intelligent, humorous but risky social commentary in 2023, I remembered Sacha Baron Cohen. Every time I watch a more recent Dave Chappelle bit, I wonder what these same people who are perpetually offended on everyone else's behalf would have said about George Carlin or Richard Pryor or Mel Brooks?