Britain’s ‘Ali G’ delivers clever comedy

Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet First Seazon

Seemingly clueless British hip-hop journalist Ali G comes across as little more than a bloody idiot to the unsuspecting bigwigs whom he interviews.

Few reporters, for example, would dare ask former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Gali if Disneyland had a vote in the organization.

But Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian behind the blinged-out newsman who stars in Da Ali G Show, isn't as daft as his fictional straight-outta-Staines, England counterpart. Already a star across the pond, the comic genius brought his principle character stateside for a series of interviews and roundtable discussions with unsuspecting Americans. Those usually hilarious moments, which comprise the bulk of the show's successful six-episode run on HBO last year, are now available on a two-disc DVD set entitled Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet First Seazon.

Baron Cohen's basic comic premise for Ali G is simple: he secures interviews with high-ranking officials who think they're sitting down with the host of a youth-oriented British news program. The racially ambiguous Ali G, visually funny thanks to his over-the-top attire, then guides the conversation down paths the interviewees — like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin — never could have expected.

Ali G's at his best when he's playing the confused buffoon, pretending to be unaware that his question isn't a straight one. Employing this strategy, he offends a Catholic priest by asking "Does Jesus really exist or is it just your father dressed up?" And after seeing Jordan listed in the U.N. Security Council Chamber, he asks a U.N. official, "Ain't it stupid lettin' one sportsman 'ave 'is own seat, no matter how powerful he is?"

He's even better when steering the conversation toward subjects unfit for print.

Ali G, though, isn't Baron Cohen's only creation. Da Ali G Show also features Baron Cohen brainchildren, Borat Sagdiyev, Kazakhstan's top — and horribly naïve — TV reporter, and Bruno, an openly gay Austrian fashion reporter.

The mohawked Bruno is at his best when showcasing the vapid nature of many of the people he encounters across the American fashion scene. However, the comedy value of Baron Cohen's outlandish Bruno is meager compared to that offered by Borat.

Borat easily trumps even Da Ali G Show's namesake with his uproarious moments. Borat's personality is a complex one, evenly combining the innocence found in a wide-eyed child with deviant tendencies. For instance, he seems like a sweet catch during an interview with a Great Expectations matchmaker in "Borat's Guide to Dating," then reveals he "will crush" any woman who cheats on him and likes shooting dogs as a hobby.

Like Ali G, he also enjoys discussing taboo topics, which is evident from his appallingly funny dinner conversation in "Borat's Guide to Etiquette."

Regrettably, the folks at HBO didn't see fit to include many worthwhile bonus clips in the DVD package. Highlights include two unaired Borat clips and Ali G's unedited "Spyz Movie," the action/pseudo-porn film which he unsuccessfully pitched to Hollywood producers in "Episode Four: Art." The rest — audio commentary and Ali G's glossary — isn't entertaining at all.

Thanks almost entirely to Ali G and Borat, Da Ali G Show DVD ends up being a worthwhile buy. And as Ali G would say, "respeck" to Baron Cohen for his inventiveness.

Grade: B

Supplements: CD