NEW YORK – While teaching American humor to a gregarious and absurdly out-of-touch foreign journalist, Pat Haggerty realized something was off – who WAS this guy?
Haggerty, a public speaking coach from Washington, is one of the unwitting co-stars of the surprise hit movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” Haggerty has no hard feelings toward Borat, aka comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, but the same can’t be said for others who were humiliated, thanks to the awkward fellow with the bushy mustache.
Their embarrassment over the film’s hilarious, cringe-inducing blend of fiction and improvised comedy is magnified by its success, “Borat” has topped the box office two weeks in a row, earning a total of $67.8 million.
Last year, Haggerty agreed to be filmed for what he thought was a benign documentary on his client’s journey across America. He hurriedly signed a release form, was paid $400, and the lesson began.
As cameras rolled, his client told raunchy stories in garbled English and laughed heartily at the expense of handicapped people. “And then, I’m starting to smell a rat,” Haggerty told The Associated Press. “Each passing minute I’m going, `You know, this can’t be real.'”
Confused, he ended up playing along. He later figured out, thanks to his son, an HBO-watching college student, that he’d been duped.
Duped by Borat.
“They were exercising a First Amendment right,” said Haggerty, adding that he enjoyed the movie. “And this Sacha Cohen guy’s going to make 87 gazillion dollars. You know, good for him. I’m just sorry that he had to do it in such a way that he allowed people to make jerks out of themselves exposing their character flaws.”
Two of Cohen’s targets, fraternity boys who made drunken, insulting comments about women and minorities, are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies. The lawsuit claims that a production crew took the students to a bar to “loosen up” before participating in what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside of the United States, and that they signed waivers after drinking heavily. Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant said the lawsuit “has no merit.”
Cohen’s behavior also wasn’t funny to former TV producer Dharma Arthur, who claims she was duped into giving Cohen airtime on a morning show segment in Jackson, Miss. Cohen’s live appearance, in which he said he had to go “urine” and hugged a bemused weatherman, led her life into a downward spiral, she told the AP. She is seeking an apology.
Although Arthur has said she was fired from the show, she told the AP that she left the station.
Kathie Martin, who runs an etiquette school in Birmingham, Ala., was also left out of the joke. Even though she was gracious and calm when Borat showed her nude photos of his son, Martin admitted she was “taken aback” by his schtick during their on-camera meeting.
“Unless you can figure it out for yourself, you have no way of knowing you have been tricked into being part of a childish prank with an R rating attached,” she told the AP in an e-mail.
“And even if you figure it out, you’ve signed a release that Mr. Cohen’s people say relinquishes any rights on your part to take action against them.”
Ronald Miller, of Natchez, Miss., was baffled by the ruse. He and his wife attended a dinner at a plantation house, which they were told would be an interview with an “Eastern European television reporter coming to Natchez to film social customs in the South,” he told the AP.
Borat disturbed guests, Miller said, by making anti-Semitic remarks and saying slavery was wonderful. He also invited a dinner guest, a woman posing as a prostitute, to join the group.
In another scene in the film, former “Baywatch” babe Pamela Anderson was attacked by Borat’s alter ego at a book signing, and he later chased her through a parking lot.
Did she learn of his antics in advance? Yep, claims Anderson.
“I love Borat … Of course (Sacha) and I planned this years ago,” she wrote in a recent post on her Web site. “And it turned out perfect – I’m so happy for him.”