| By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
Spoof Kazakh reporter Borat – aka Ali G comedian Sacha Baron Cohen – is expected to score a box office hit by offending and humiliating real Americans in a new movie.
When a gangly foreign reporter with broken English, bushy moustache and crumpled suit turned up at artist Linda Stein’s New York studio, she thought she was helping spread the word about women’s rights. Ms Stein, with two other members of Veteran Feminists of America, agreed to be filmed for what they thought was a documentary to help third world women.
But then the reporter started talking about his wife’s farm work („she pulls the plough”), women walking three steps behind men („it used to be 10 steps, my country is advancing”) and asking how to contact Pamela Anderson.
„I thought I was talking to an uneducated man, maybe from a tribal community,” Ms Stein says. „I mean, that’s how it seemed to me.
„In our earnestness, we were trying to help women around the world.”
Shocking and provocative
Ms Stein is not alone in being duped by Baron Cohen.
The British comedian has perfected his act as the apparently naive reporter whose enthusiastic offensiveness either leaves his interviewees in shock or persuades them to reveal a little too much of their own prejudices.
And the result is set to be one of the year’s most popular films.
| I’m a New Yorker, all sorts of things happen in New York – I’m not angry
Most of Borat’s victims were ensnared in a similar way. They would be contacted by a woman calling herself Chelsea Barnard from a fictional film company, One America Productions. They would be told about the foreign correspondent making a film about life in the US, with the pitch tailored to each person’s specialist subject.
Then on the day of the interview, they would be presented with a release form at the last minute, be paid in cash and, finally, Borat would amble in, beginning with some serious subjects before starting his provocative routine.
„We’re all primed to do an academic dissertation, we did our homework,” says yoga teacher Grace Welch, another member of the three-strong feminist panel.
„And as we’re talking, out of the blue, he says: ‘Do you know Baywatch?’
„I knew something was going on but I didn’t know what it was. I’m looking at the cameramen and everyone was stony-faced. And then he would come out with outrageous things.” Ms Stein first tried to throw Borat out when he started talking about women having smaller brains than men.
The producer persuaded her to carry on, apologetically explaining that Borat did not realise he was saying anything wrong.
But the final straw came when Borat asked the women to lift up their shirts at the end of the interview.
„I’ve seen the film and parts of it were hilarious,” Ms Stein says. „As an interviewee, I have had a lot of mixed feelings about it.
„I thought about it, I worried about it, and then felt I have to get back to my work. I just have to move on. I’m a New Yorker, all sorts of things happen in New York. I’m not angry.”
But the artist, whose sculptures represent „empowerment and strength”, wants to ask Baron Cohen why his art „zooms in on human weaknesses and foibles”.
She has invited him to her exhibition, which begins on 2 November – the day before the film is released. „He owes me one and he should buy a sculpture.”
Washington DC public speaking coach Pat Haggerty also appears – and is seen trying to teach humour to Borat, who talks about having sex with his mother-in-law and keeping his „retard” brother in a cage.
„About halfway through the session we took a break and I went up to one of the producers and said: ‘This guy can’t be real.
„‘If you let me in on the gag, I will help you reach your goals because I don’t care if you’re from Kazakhstan, nobody is this crazy.’
„But I soldiered on and figured they paid me my money and they deserve an hour of my time and I’m going to be as professional as I can.”
| To the best of my memory I don’t believe I said anything stupid – however, I’m in the movie
Public speaking coach
Mr Haggerty says he is having „a lot of fun” with his new-found fame and hopes it raises his professional profile.
He has not yet seen the film – but hopes he did not say anything he will regret.
„To the best of my memory I don’t believe I said anything stupid. However, I’m in the movie. The only downside I see is if I appear to be a fool.”
One person who is likely to regret the day he met Borat is Tennessee rodeo manager Bobby Rowe, who is cajoled by the comedian into making disparaging remarks about Muslims and homosexuals.
A phone call to Mr Rowe and an enquiry about whether he is the person in the movie elicits a slow, painful reply: „Yeah, I’m the same one.”
But he says he has been stung by his experiences. „I got into this mess by someone calling me and telling me who they was and they weren’t,” he says.
„And so I don’t do any interviews over the dadgum phone any more. This phone rings 10-12 times a day.
„That’s what got me into this mess and I don’t want to get in any deeper.”
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