A UK newspaper quotes extensively from Sacha Baron-Cohen's out-of-character interview with Rolling Stone, which reveals that the comic believes all those reviews explaining that his Polish Jokes are actually good for you.
Now, after staying resolutely in boorish persona during previous interviews, Sacha Baron Cohen has spoken in depth about his motives in creating his comical anti-hero Borat. The journalist from Kazakhstan who sings anti-Semitic songs and refers to women as prostitutes was created "as a tool" to expose people's prejudices, he said.
The 35-year-old Jewish comedian from London has maintained a long silence over the controversy raised by Borat, whose extreme anti-Semitic remarks have earned censure both from the Kazakh government and from the Jewish community.
In one sketch from Baron Cohen's film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which premiered this month in London, Borat performs a song called "Throw the Jew Down the Well" in a country and western bar in Arizona.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the comedian revealed he was a devout Jew, observing Sabbath and eating kosher foods, and he referred to the singing scene to defend his inflammatory comedy.
"Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudices, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. 'Throw the Jew Down the Well' was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism.
"But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tuscon. And the question is: did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism," he said.
Baron Cohen said the concept of "indifference towards anti-Semitism" had been informed by his study of the Holocaust while at Cambridge University, where he read history. "I remember, when I was in university, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And his quote was, 'The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.'
"I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic," he said.
It's generally depressing to listen to extremely funny comedians get serious.
Who cares? But I didn't realize that apathy is best revealed through careful staging, audience prep, video recording, and editing of the results. Is Cohen really such a pedantic git that he thinks getting a bunch of drunken revelers to sing "Throw the Jew down the well" is proof of Western indifference about anti-Semitism? It's not even an indictment of country-western bars. (Cohen knows very well that it would be easier, not harder, to get an audience of Jesse Jackson supporters to sing that refrain. But this would make the urban sophisticates who howl with glee at this "transgressive" comedy very sad, so that's right out.)
To my mind, Baron Cohen and the critics have it exactly backwards. I try to be polite in private and candid in public, but that's not terribly fashionable. The critics are claiming to be outraged that the Americans in the film who were exposed to Borat's anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism in private didn't denounce him to his face. Instead, they tended to be polite and tried to change the subject. In contrast, almost none of critics have mentioned Baron Cohen's extremely public anti-Slavism. Complete apathy reigns over Baron Cohen's revival of traditional goyishe kop attitudes toward Slavs. As Lenin said, the ultimate question remains "Who? Whom?." And everybody wants to be on the side of the Who, not the Whom.