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British comic responds to legal threat against 'Borat'

Last Updated: Friday, November 25, 2005 | 12:57 PM ET

Predictably, British performer Sacha Baron Cohen has answered the latest controversy over one of his alter egos with more comedy.

The Cambridge University-educated Cohen, who is best known for portraying several offensive characters on his cable TV program Da Ali G Show, responded to a recent threat of legal action against him through a video message posted on one of his websites late Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Kazakhstan's foreign ministry had threatened to sue Cohen after objecting to statements he made during his recent stint hosting the MTV Europe Music Awards. He had hosted the program in character as Borat Sagdiyev, the crude, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic TV personality from Kazakhstan that Cohen portrays on his show. In past episodes, the Borat character has depicted the central Asian country as a boorish, backward state.

British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as Kazakh TV personality Borat, hosted the annual MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon on Nov. 3, 2005. (Getty Images)
British comic Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as Kazakh TV personality Borat, hosted the annual MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon on Nov. 3, 2005. (Getty Images)

Cohen's video response was also delivered through the character of Borat.

"I'd like to state that I have no connection with Mr. Cohen and fully support my government decision to sue this Jew," the comic (who is Jewish) says in the video.

He goes on to say that after recent reforms, "Kazakhstan is as civilized as any other country in the world. Women can now travel on inside of bus, homosexuals no longer have to wear blue hats and age of consent has been raised to eight years old."

The website also lists the Kazakh foreign ministry statement.

"We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way. We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind," government spokesperson Yerzhan Ashykbayev says in the statement.

"We view Mr. Cohen's behaviour at the MTV Europe Music Awards as utterly unacceptable, being a concoction of bad taste and ill manners which is completely incompatible with ethics and civilized behaviour."

During the awards show, and amid barbs about Madonna and other musicians performing that night, Cohen also joked about shooting dogs for fun and Kazakhstan forbidding women from leaving the country. It was his second time at the helm of the annual event: he previously hosted in the guise of his ignorant, hip-hop obsessed, cockney interviewer Ali G.

Cohen no stranger to controversy, criticism

The award-winning British comic, whose show currently runs on U.S. cable network HBO, has frequently drawn criticism for his program and his outlandish characters.

On the popular series, Cohen (in character) conducts interviews with unsuspecting Americans – including prominent politicians and celebrities like Noam Chomsky and Donald Trump – and, through his fictional interviewers' coarse, misguided or impertinent questions, often reveals hidden prejudices or challenges social values in the U.S.

In one episode, Cohen (as Borat) manages to convince patrons of an Arizona bar that a made-up anti-Semitic folk song called Throw the Jew Down the Well is a popular song in Kazakhstan. He also gets the bar-goers to join him in singing the tune.

Last January, Cohen came close to provoking a riot when, again in the guise of Borat, he appeared at a Virginia rodeo. After convincing organizers he was making a documentary, he was allowed to speak to the audience of about 4,000. Cohen then proclaimed his support for U.S. military action in Iraq, saying, "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards ... and may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq."

The comic also managed to deliver a mangled version of the Star Spangled Banner before officials realized the hoax and, fearing violence from the increasingly angry and booing crowd, hustled Cohen and his crew away.

A film starring the Borat character is in production.

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