Rolling Stone comes to the Borat table late — really late — but turns that lemon into lemonade by scoring the first interview with Sascha Baron Cohen as himself and not as Borat, whose character he steadfastedly refused to break during all the publicity for the move (and oy, there was so much, leading to what ETP now arbitrarily terms "Borat Fatigue"). It's sort of ironic, however, that this stripped-down real-person interview was conducted by Neil Strauss, who has come to prominence chiefly for adapting an alter-ego called Style, trolling bars with concoted stories to use on women, and writing about it in his how-to pickup guide, "The Game."
Despite Strauss' involvement, the article is interesting and Cohen has some thoughtful points to make (sorry, but I've been on Strauss' email list for almost a year, signed up by my friend Steve last November after he'd successfully used the technique of "negging" — his emails manage to be insulting to women and to the poor saps to whom they are pitched. Plus, he always signs them "Style." I mean, ew). Strauss highlights the fact that Cohen is himself one of Borat's down-the-well-thrown Jews, and a fairly religious one at that, keeping kosher and, if possible, not rolling on shabbos. Cohen comments that his unwitting American co-stars weren't necessarily actively anti-Semitic (in their response to his enthusiastic anti-Semitism) but rather just indifferent. He has this to say on that point:
I remember, when I was in university I studied history, 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.Wow. Thoughtful, and disturbing. Makes you wonder what Strauss' takeaway was from the conversation. Well, wonder no more! Because a brief review of my email files reveals that on Nov. 4, 2006, Style was there to tell me all about it. The gift of Sacha Baron Cohen was, apparently, that of always staying in character: As a character, you could be even more successful at telling made-up stories to women — which Strauss knows from his own experience:
When I was first learning the game, one of my biggest sticking points was my voice. I talked too fast, too quiet, too mumbly. I kept trying to speak more clearly and commandingly (even went to a voice coach), but I just couldn't slow down to a significant degree... I decided to solve the problem by creating a fictional character. He would be a slow-talking, ultra-suave, super-cheesy lady's man. His name: Manwhore.
See above re: Finding it difficult to take Strauss seriously.
More details on Manwhore and how he can help YOU after the jump.
Email from Neil Strauss (aka "Style"), author of "The Game" - Nov. 4/06:
I recently had dinner with Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian
and provocateur known for his Ali G and Borat characters. It was
the first interview he had done for his new Borat movie as himself,
rather than in character. And I learned an important lesson that I
want to share with you.
But before I do, a recommendation: If you haven't seen the Borat
movie yet, go see it. I don't think I've ever laughed so loudly
during a film since Terms of Endearment. And the publicity campaign
has been a work of art in itself.
Now, the tip:
Part of the genius of Sacha Baron Cohen is that he is able to put
himself into awkward situations, and let the tension build and
build without breaking it. For example, singing the "Kazakh
national anthem" (about how the Central Asian country is the number
one exporter of potassium and all other countries suck) to an arena
full of rednecks - and sticking with the song despite the booing
and even the possibility of violence.
Behind the scenes, Baron Cohen said, the police were called on the
crew several times. Yet even when faced with the threat of arrest
and deportation, he actually STAYED in his Borat character.
I then asked him if he'd be able to create all this tension, to
face all this humiliation, to risk even deportation as Sacha Baron
Cohen instead of in disguise as his characters Borat or Ali G.
His answer: No. Probably not.
And I thought: I should share this with you all.
When I was first learning the game, one of my biggest sticking
points was my voice. I talked too fast, too quiet, too mumbly. I
kept trying to speak more clearly and commandingly (even went to a
voice coach), but I just couldn't slow down to a significant
degree. Of course, any time you use the word can't or couldn't,
you're just setting yourself up to be proven wrong.
So Mystery and I decided to solve the problem by creating a
fictional character. He would be a slow-talking, ultra-suave,
super-cheesy lady's man. His name: Manwhore. His nationality: a
little island off the coast of wherever you'd like him to be from.
As soon as I started playing the part of this cheesy Don Juan and
adapted his slow trilling accent, my voice would actually become
completely commanding and intelligible. And so I'd actually go out
sometimes as Manwhore for fun, and use the voice. Because it was a
little silly, I even invented appropriate tongue-in-cheek lines to
go with it. I always thought it would be funny if I ended up taking
someone home without ever breaking from the Manwhore character -
and then shared it as a field report on the community message
boards, so that guys all over the world would start going out as
Manwhore and meeting women. Alas, it never happened.
With good reason.
But Manwhore did have his desired effect, and he showed me that I
could speak more slowly, clearly, deeply, and intelligibly. And
then I took the next step and began training myself to incorporate
the result into my regular speaking voice, a process which continues
to this day.
If you are finding it difficult to change - to approach groups, to
improve your posture, to be more sexual, to alter your style of
dress, to think of yourself as someone quality people want to be
around, or whatever your deep internal barrier may be - then have
SOMEONE ELSE do it for you. Find a character to model - whether it
be a character from a movie (or even a cartoon), a real person you
know, or a completely made-up individual. It doesn't have to be
someone who you admire completely: they just have to possess
a trait that you lack and desire.
Then, before you go out, become that person in your head. Walk like
they would walk, think like they think, see the world how they see the
You don't have to go to the extreme of being Borat or Ali G, or
even Manwhore. And definitely don't take any situation to the brink
of arrest or violence like in the Borat movie. In fact, all you
have to do is pretend like you're a new person in your mind alone
- be it James Dean, Johnny Bravo, James Bond, Bugs Bunny, Jay-Z,
The Rock, David Letterman, Paris Hilton, Conor Oberst, the guy in
the infomercials with the question mark suit, or whoever has a
mannerism or point of view or trait you want and believe you lack.
Try it for a day. You may just find that you CAN actually take on
the thought patterns or behaviors you previously thought you
COULDN'T. And once your subconscious realizes this, it will
automatically begin the process of transferring this knowledge from
your fictional alter-ego to your actual self. And suddenly CAN'T
becomes CAN becomes YOU.
Til Next Time,
P.S. There won't be any P.S.'s today.
P.P.S. Except for the one above