Sacha Baron Cohen on the Roots of His Comedy and Missing His Characters: “I end up, you know, living the character”
Fully dedicating himself to a character is an everyday task for Sacha Baron Cohen, who stars in his latest film The Dictator as Admiral General Aladeen, a crazed Middle Eastern despot.
In a rare interview as himself, Cohen spoke to NPR about his immersion-style of comedy, how he feels about his past characters, and what inspires him to do comedy.
Since The Dictator is a scripted comedy — departing from Cohen’s ambush-style comedy featured in Da Ali G Show, Borat, and Bruno — Cohen was not able to play off the reactions of unaware individuals. He realizes that there is a good and a bad aspect to that, pointing out, “I do miss some of the adrenaline of, you know, it used to be scary doing the old shows and the old movies. But it was fun. You know, you’re running away from the cops and, you know, obviously the interview where he sometimes had guns on them and, you know, there was an excitement and you get addicted to the adrenaline, which is actually not a healthy thing.”
Cohen admits that he actually misses those famous characters, which he retired after their individual films because they became too well-known. Part of it comes from Cohen living as the characters. He explains, “I do miss them. I do miss them. I mean, I end up, you know, living the character. So, with Borat, you know, I ended up growing the mustache, you know, not wearing deodorant, you know, being in character for often, you know, 12, 14 hours a day… I’m obviously quite a peculiar guy to be able to do that. But, yeah, I love all the characters, you know, so, you know, I miss Borat, I miss Ali G. This is quite a bizarre thing to say isn’t it, you know, because they don’t actually exist. But I missed playing them.”
In terms of his comedy, Cohen explains that the root of his comedy comes from trying to entertain his fans. He says, “the reason why I do all my comedy is to make my friends laugh, my childhood friends from England. And they are all as funny as me, in my opinion… They make me laugh hysterically, yeah. And my humor, you know, that’s why when I started doing Ali G, I thought no one is going to find this funny outside of my group of friends. So, that’s been the surprise of my career, finding out that other people share a sense of humor with me.”
Along with making his friends laugh, he knows that they will give him honest feedback. He confesses, “I appreciate honesty. And also I know, listen, as a performer some of the stuff you do will be good and some of the stuff you do will be bad. And the stuff you do that’s bad is really useful ’cause then you can, you know, we call it in the style of acting I learned, you call it the flop. It’s important to have the flop for you then to work out how to do the counter to that.”
While The Dictator hasn’t been as successful as Cohen’s previous films, it’s good to know that he’s willing to keep pushing himself to improve as a comedian. He’s an extremely talented at what he does, so let’s hope he remains just as provocative in his future work.