Why you should care
Because the character who launched Sacha Baron Cohen’s epic career returns in February, and good comedy never grows old.
Booyakasha, check it. Ali G is rezurecting.
Before Hollywood and the paparazzi, before the statuesque wife and the “richest men in Britain” lists, Sacha Baron Cohen made his name as Ali G.
And he was brilliant.
In the early 2000s, Ali G’s must-watch comedy skewered the powerful and the mainstream by pairing a polyester-tracksuited, white suburban wanna-be rasta gangsta with elite movers, shakers and thinkers. Ali G debuted on Britain’s Channel 4 as part of the The 11 O’Clock Show in 1998, spun off Da Ali G Show in 2000 and migrated to HBO in the U.S. in 2003.
In the early 2000s, Ali G’s must-watch comedy skewered the powerful and the mainstream by pairing a polyester-tracksuited, white suburban wanna-be rasta gangsta with elite movers, shakers and thinkers.
Ali G gave Baron Cohen an excuse to skewer almost every straight-man (and woman) in society, often crudely and rudely. His tracksuited posturing couldn’t have sat further from the talking head class — and in that contrast lay no small part of the charm. That, and the fact that the audience was in on the joke, but the subjects weren’t. Ali G’s English was questionable. He frequently alluded to sex and drugs. He was fearless and dumb. He drew widespread criticism for going too far with potentially racists slurs. But what does pushing boundaries mean if you don’t break a few?
For all the ridiculousness, the best clips show leaders squirming in the spotlight. Some subjects seemed too fearful of the camera to do anything but play along. Others pulled no punches. This was comedy that used the inane to showcase the ridiculous — and sometimes the ridiculous were our international leaders.
Former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop barely contained himself.
Faced with an inane query about the brain and Ali G’s inability to recall his PIN number:
“I could give you a quick answer and say you’re stupid.”
“Well, that obviously ain’t the real reason.”
“Well, it’s the beginning of truth.”
The late Andy Rooney gave Ali G a grammar lesson, then kicked the jumpsuited interlocutor out of his office.
Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali swore in French.
Baron Cohen announced Ali G’s U.K. retirement in 2003, and the last American episode aired a year later. By then, entire nations were in on the joke — a death knell for a gag that depended on surprise. But also a sign of the show’s widespread success. As one producer told the BBC at the time, by then “everybody knew who Ali G was, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds.”
Everybody knew who Ali G was, from 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds.
All three of Baron Cohen’s early television characters spun off their own feature films, with mixed succes. Ali G Indahouse involved a convoluted political assassination attempt and opened to mixed reviews. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan became a sensation. Brüno fared somewhere in between.
Baron Cohen continues trying to out-clown every stage he’s given (see last month’s prank involving a wheelchair and a stuntwoman at the BAFTA Los Angeles Awards).
But he’s returning to his roots this winter as nascent American TV network FXX announced a deal for Ali G: Rezurection, airing old episodes with new introductions by Baron Cohen, plus episodes never before seen in the U.S. The mayhem kicks off in February.
There’s always a chance that decade-old comedy will seem dated on today’s cable, but then again, something tells us that, like yellow polyester, Ali G’s appeal will never really fade.