My longtime internet buddy Mike Sacks is publishing a really cool book in July called "And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with Top Humor Writers About Their Craft". If you like humor or you like writing (and frankly if you like neither, that sucks for you) you should pre-order this book (hint: if you're related to a writer you should buy this for him or her for the next holiday/coming-of-age celebration). I shared a part of this book with a writing class I taught a few weeks ago and the students were thrilled with the things they learned from it. I had a had time figuring out what to include for you so I went for the humor, more than the craft, since it's Monday.
Mike Sacks' Interview With Dan Mazer (writer/producer of Ali G, Borat, Bruno)
It must make it easy for you as a comedy writer to know that a performer like Sacha will never break character.
That's an amazing thing. Even when faced with arrest, Sacha won't break character. We were shooting a TV segment one time in Sedona, Arizona, and Borat was interviewing this New Age guy who was channeling angels through an "energized" cast-iron pyramid. The guy asked Borat to take off his clothes and lie down on a cot. The guy then began to chant and channel the angels. But while the guy was chanting Borat began to masturbate under the sheets, at which point this serene and gentle angel-channeler did that thing that Americans sometimes do--he just snapped. He went absolutely crazy. He screamed something like, "Why are you masturbating in my pyramid? This is no way to treat angels! You have contaminated my aura!"
Angels hate that.
They do. They're real sticklers for masturbating in pyramids. So we literally ran out in a Scooby-Doo way, grabbed our clothes and sprinted to our van--with its engine running, of course. We always had the engine running, just in case something like this would happen. Sacha had managed to grab his underpants and jump into the back of the van. We drove off and collected ourselves, and ended up shooting a segment at a drum circle not far away.
All of a sudden, we heard police sirens. The police stepped into the drum circle and said, "We've had complaints. We understand that you were masturbating in public and that's an offense here in Arizona, punishable by six months in prison." The police separated the director, and then me, and then Sacha to hear our individual stories. So I gave my story. The director gave his. And then I went over to Sacha, expecting to hear him say, "Look, I'm really sorry. I was just doing this for a television show." And instead I heard, "I do not understand what you mean 'masturbates.' " It was like he was doing a bit, but with no cameras. There was no way this was ever going to be seen by anyone, but nonetheless he was remaining steadfast in character. The police were so frustrated by their inability to understand him that they just said, "Okay, okay. Look, if you should leave Sedona now, we won't press any charges."
How much of these filmed segments are written versus improvised?
We usually write about 75 percent to 80 percent of any given segment beforehand. We predict how people will respond, and we write to those imagined responses. We effectively navigate the whole conversation.
There was a scene in Borat where he was asked about his religion, and he says that he worships "the hawk." We didn't foresee that question coming, but we had built up such a completely thorough background for this character--we had written so many jokes in preparation--that Sacha was ready.
We're ready for anything. Our preparation is immense for each character. You ask me any question about Borat and I'll answer it.
When did Borat lose his virginity?
What were Borat's grades in school?
He didn't go to school. He was working from the age of seven.
Who is Borat's favorite Beatle?
The dung beetle. He's never heard of the Beatles. . . .
Sacha goes to extremes with each character. If he's playing Borat, he won't shower the night or two before an interview. It's an amazing devotion to detail. Even Borat's underwear is authentic for the character. It has a Russian label on it, so that if Borat strips and somebody catches him, his underwear won't say "Wal-Mart."
The level of authenticity is incredible. Even the shit in the baggy was real in the Borat movie. With considerable debate, we realized it had to be real. We didn't want to take a chance and have them call Borat's bluff. We didn't want them to say, "Hold on, this is fake shit." Then, all of a sudden, our cover would be blown. So one of us had to muster up some shit for the bag.
Who in their right mind would have called your bluff on something like that?
We weren't taking any chances.
Who provided the shit? The key grip?
It wasn't. It was a guy who worked on-set named Jason.
Did he receive a credit for his role?
Actually, he did. If you look in the credits, it says, "Mr. Baron Cohen's Feces Provided by Jason Alper."
His parents must be very proud.
From what I heard, they are.