What is it about comedy these days?
From Jimmy Kimmel remaking himself as the late night SJW in Chief to Michelle Wolf literally singing the praises of abortion on Netflix, there don’t seem to be a lot of laughs in the pipeline as of late—unless you’re one of those people who think that calling the First Daughter the c-word, as Samantha Bee did, is inherently hilarious for some reason. It’s like all the modern comedians got together to watch an old Lenny Bruce routine, then came away thinking it was the f-bombs that made it funny.
Except that ain’t the way comedy works. Sure, some of the best comedians—Bruce included—were quite transgressive, breaking taboos that nobody had dared to break before. But the reason they made everyone laugh was their often brutal honesty, to which everyone could relate on some level.
The British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen understood that—well, at least he used to. Anybody who has ever seen his breakthrough television series Da Ali G Show can see that the man is brilliant, combining the method-actor discipline of immersing himself in a character with a can’t-miss ability to mine improvisational comedy out of almost any given situation. He later expanded those chops with his turn as a Middle Eastern documentarian in the movie Borat and then, to a lesser extent, as the flamboyant Bruno, often times making audiences cringe with his antics but usually making them laugh as well. To Cohen, it seemed as if nothing was sacred—least of all his own dignity, which he gladly sacrificed so long as he thought it made for a good bit.
Still, throughout all that, one had a sense that there had to be some things that were off limits. Alas, as Sarah Palin writes on Facebook, it appears as if that isn’t true:
I join a long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to the evil, exploitive, sick "humor" of the British "comedian" Sacha Baron Cohen, enabled and sponsored by CBS/Showtime.
This "legit opportunity" to honor American Vets and contribute to a “legit Showtime historical documentary” was requested of me via a speakers bureau.
For my interview, my daughter and I were asked to travel across the country where Cohen (I presume) had heavily disguised himself as a disabled US Veteran, fake wheelchair and all. Out of respect for what I was led to believe would be a thoughtful discussion with someone who had served in uniform, I sat through a long "interview" full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm - but finally had enough and literally, physically removed my mic and walked out, much to Cohen’s chagrin. The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse.
It’s one thing to dress up as a dimwitted hip-hop wannabe or an anti-Semitic Kazakh reporter—but to pretend to be a disabled veteran? And then to play it for laughs? That goes well beyond just bad taste. It’s more like good taste never existed in the first place.
Palin then really throws down:
The challenge is to Cohen, CBS and Showtime: donate all proceeds to a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets. Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country.
How dare he indeed? A lot of politicians have pretty thin skins when it comes to pranks like this, and deserve to have their bubbles burst with some on-the-mark humor—but in Palin’s case she is absolutely justified in her outrage on behalf of American servicemen and women. They deserve a lot better than to be a foil for some funnyman’s shtick.
And, quite frankly, I expected a lot more out of Cohen. Timing is everything in comedy—but so is knowing where the line is. Pushing that line is funny. Crossing it is not. That Cohen forgot that tells me that his funniest days are probably behind him.