Sacha Baron Cohen likes to have it both ways – and no that’s not a gay Brüno joke. He makes fun of bigots by confronting them with racial or sexual stereotypes and then he presents their reactions for us to laugh at. As New York Magazine’s Adam Sternbergh notes however, the person in the seat next to you might not be in on the joke and could just be laughing at the stereotype.
When Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor used slurs, they were doing what comedy often does, what it exists to do: speak the unspeakable and thereby drag it into the light. But what’s unspoken in this new humor of homo-heebie-jeebies is this: We’re not all as enlightened as we’d like to think. Sometimes comedy can point that out to us, and sometimes it can simply exploit it. This current comedy two-fer-one — by which you get laughs both from the knowing ironic crowd and the insensate clods — is all too tempting, since it allows you to “bust” taboos while benefiting from your own taboo behavior.
Sternbergh is correct to a point, but I’m not so sure we can hold the artist responsible for how people respond to their work or why. It’s a gray area and I think Baron Cohen is shining a light on it. He’s not only exposing homophobia on the screen, he’s exposing it in the audience. Isn’t he? What do you think?
Brüno directed by Larry Charles minces onto big screens on July 10th.