September 13, 2004

I like you. Do you like me?


Jagshemash! My latest for The New Yorker is The Borat Doctrine.

Writing this piece left me even more in awe of Sacha Baron Cohen. Simply asking Roman Vassilenko to comment on Borat's outrageous claims was awkward, as he seemed genuinely upset by them. My insticts as an interviewer (such as they are) are to make the person feel comfortable, to get him to like me. Cohen, of course, sets out to do exactly the opposite. If you think it's tough to watch someone squirm on Da Ali G Show, try being the guy who makes them squirm.

I am also somewhat in awe of the legendary New Yorker fact-checking department, which determined that what Borat claimed was a speech to "The Oklahoma City Council," was actually made to the traffic commission (there is no Oklahoma City Council, though there is an Oklahoma City City Council).

Big ups to The Unofficial Borat Homepage, an invaluable resource for this piece and a repository of fun behind-the-scenes info from Borat's targets (be sure to see Christianist congressional candidate James Broadwater dig himself deeper into a hole as he attempts to explain what he meant when he said Jews are going to hell.

Update (pretty sure not meant sarcastically):

From: Roman Y. Vassilenko
Subject: Thank you for the story!!!
Date: September 13, 2004 7:09:09 PM EDT
To: radosh@gmail.com

Thank you so much for the story, The Borat Doctrine.

I am sure many people in Kazakhstan will be grateful to you.

By the way, I failed to dispute the most obvious: Borat isn't even a name in Kazakhstan. There are Bulat and Bolat (which translates Steel - meaning strong), but no Borat (not even such word). Oh well...

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Quote: My latest for the New Yorker...

Reply: You toss that phrase out so casually...

Also, that's pretty much a spot-on perfect TOTT column. Kudos.

Thanks. I was going for casual as I practiced it in front the mirror 50 times.

Should we assume that the last line was "And then they have a BIG party", but it was edited for space?

Is niiiiice!

I heard Father Guido Sarducci isn't really a priest.

This piece was structured with exceeding elegance and funny.

A beautifully written piece. I live in Kazakhstan and its actually a much nice place (at least the capital, Almaty) than most people expect. "Borat" struck a nerve because Kazakhs have been so isolated and obscure for so long, think of themselves as the big-shots of Central Asia, now have billions of oil money, and just haven't gotten used to the fact that they might occasionally be the butt of jokes. They also haven't learned the lesson that its always always always a mistake to get into a fight with a fictional character. (see Quayle v. Brown)

And watch for the stories about the wacky electronic voting system Kazakhstan has introduced for elections this weekend (President Nazarbayev vs. his daughter), using bar codes and handheld scanners.

KZ hits on something cruicial: Cohen and his producers chose Kazakhstan as Borat's home precisely because it's so isolated and obscure. As they've said elsewhere, they knew he could introduce himself without fear of someone wanting to talk about the trip they took there.

Also, Vassilenko did tell me that he gets that Borat is really making fun of Americans (and Brits) rather than Kazakhs, but he wishes Cohen had chosen "a mythical country." In fact, that's exactly what he did, he just called it Kazakhstan.

Glad everyone enjoyed the piece as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Oh, I doubt I enjoyed the piece as much as you enjoyed writing it.

But I did enjoy it very, very much.

nice article, dude. The 'And they have a party.' made me laugh

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