The stereotyping of Kazakhstan in the movie Borat is shameless and knuckleheaded, but it does help to establish Borat’s bona fides as a child of innocence (COI).
And Borat has to be a creature from another, utterly other culture to make key scenes in the movie work…as when he asks politely (in a deleted scene from Borat) the best way to prepare his newly adopted puppie for eating.
And it is essential that he make this work because it reveals that the pound owner who defends the puppie in question has no scruples about committing herself to the most outrageous anti-semitism.
The Borat character is good at anthropology, and his ethnographic excursion works as a kind of "edge finding" to use the language of trend watchers and futurists.
On the Conan O’Brien show, he investigated the categories and rules that govern what people may say about desire, especially in the highly codified circumstances of the talk show.
The interview is just settling down, when Borat comments on Queen Latifah, and says with great sincerity.
"I would like to make a romance inside of her."
O’Brian shakes his head in astonishment, and it is clear that he is thinking exactly what the rest of us are thinking. This is a patent obscenity, except…well, perhaps, the charming and old fashioned "romance" saves it.
Does it. Or doesn’t it? Where’s the edge? What’s the rule? Everyone is now desparately trying to "run the numbers" to find the reading that would make it OK and more or less COI. Which of course we can’t. Ok.
Finally, O’Brien asks, "you want to make a romance inside of her?"
Borat replies with great feeling and sincerity, and a resignation that says "I know I am asking for the stars, and that I do not deserve such a thing."
This sells the joke and the COI notion to perfection. This guy has no clue how far off acceptable behavior he has put himself.
But the boundary testing is not done. Second laters, with pitch perfect wonder and good natured indignation, Borat asks Conan.
"You tell me, you would not like to make a liquid explosion in Queen Latifah?"
This is over the top. Conan is horrified. The audience recoils. Ok, we can draw the line right here. Not even good natured innocence will forgive this. Not in our culture. Not on a talk show.
We suspect that this is where Borat likes to end up, well outside the boundaries of acceptable culture. But we also suspect that he likes to get there by stages and not before he has confounded our distinctions.
This guy reminds me of Peter Sellers, but the two comedians could not be more different. Sellers liked to get inside his comedic creations (see his perfectly distinct characters in Dr. Strangelove). Cohen likes to set up shop between them.
Cohen, Sasha Baron. Pound (Deleted Scene from Borat). YouTube. here.
Cohen, Sasha Baron. Borat on Conan O’Brien. YouTube. here.
Cohen, Sasha Baron. Borat [opening four minutes] YouTube. [featured on sidebar of YouTube homepage]. here.