Borat: Working hard for your funny

Apparently it’s “interesting article” day on Ramshackle Charm. Here’s an interesting Vanity Fair interview with Dan Mazer, Sacha Baron Cohen’s long-time writing partner.

A particular eye-opener is the amount of work that goes in to creating a character like Borat:

How deep is the background for these characters? How many pages are we talking about?

We probably have a file of scripts and jokes that extends to about three thousand pages. We write so much material for each three-minute segment. And Sacha is brilliant at keeping it all sort of filed together in his head. He’s able to access any joke instantly and brilliantly. There are jokes from years ago that Sacha will be able to call on.

How important are the other elements for these characters? For instance, how much thought goes into picking out the costumes?

A huge amount. The outfits have to appear authentic for the characters. But at the same time they have to appear humorous and interesting. We test hundreds of outfits. We’ll say, “No, that hat is too much.” Or, “No, that ring is a little too eccentric.”

Of course, with Borat it’s a little different, because he’s worn the same outfit for six years and not washed it. So the decision to wear that suit is difficult only because of the smell.

The suit has never been washed?

Never been washed. Sacha goes to extremes with each character. If he’s playing Borat, he won’t shower the night or two before an interview. It’s an amazing devotion to detail. Even Borat’s underwear is authentic for the character. It has a Russian label on it, so that if Borat strips and somebody catches him, his underwear won’t say “Wal-Mart.”

The level of authenticity is incredible. Even the shit in the baggy was real in the Borat movie. With considerable debate, we realized it had to be real. We didn’t want to take a chance and have them call Borat’s bluff. We didn’t want them to say, “Hold on, this is fake shit.” Then, all of a sudden, our cover would be blown. So one of us had to muster up some shit for the bag.

So. Do you have what it takes? Would you shit in a bag for comedy? Hmm? Well, would you?

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