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15 Very Nice Facts About Borat

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There was a lot of controversy and confusion surrounding the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen played the sexist, anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev, who traveled throughout the United States testing the patience of unsuspecting Americans. With the movie now almost 10 years old, here are some facts about the film that you shouldn’t bring up at a rodeo.

1. SACHA BARON COHEN'S INSPIRATION FOR BORAT CAME FROM A JEWISH DOCTOR.

The actor met a doctor while vacationing in Astrakhan in southern Russia. Baron Cohen thought he was hilarious, and was similar to what Borat would become, without the racism, misogyny, or anti-Semitism. Initially, the comedic actor turned that doctor into a character named Alexi Krickler, a reporter from Moldova who had trouble understanding British culture. Cohen got his first big television gig by showing producers of the British late night satirical program The 11 O’Clock Show footage of Krickler at a pro fox-hunting rally. From there he developed his characters Ali G, Borat, and Brüno, who all appeared on Da Ali G Show. Once England became too familiar with his characters, Baron Cohen was forced to move them to America.

2. SETH ROGEN AND PATTON OSWALT WERE UNCREDITED WRITERS.

Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, and Dan Mazer were the credited screenwriters, while Seth Rogen and Patton Oswalt worked on the script in an uncredited capacity. Originally in 20th Century Fox’s official production notes, it was claimed that the movie wasn’t scripted at all. Baron Cohen later said 80 percent of Borat featured scenes they “set out to accomplish.” The writers took the time to guess the different ways the real people in the film would respond to Borat’s questions; some reactions changed the story. A 60-page outline was written without the studio’s knowledge; they were only given a five-page outline. The writers were nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

3. A FAKE FILM COMPANY WAS SET UP TO MISLEAD THE PEOPLE IN THE MOVIE.

A representative from “One America Productions” contacted people to say a foreign correspondent was making a film about American life. One America even had its own website. On the day of the interviews, a release form would suddenly be produced, as well as financial compensation. Whenever a person or group like the Veteran Feminists of America would kick Borat out, one of the producers would politely ask them to give him another chance because he was from a third-world country and did not know any better.

4. NOT INCLUDING ITS STAR, THERE WERE JUST FOUR ACTORS.

Ken Davitian got the part of Azamat by deceiving Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles in his audition, where he pretended to be an immigrant who didn’t speak English. Luenell Campbell is a comedian and actress who had appeared in So I Married an Axe Murderer and The Rock. Borat’s son was played by Adrian Cortez, a.k.a. Stonie, a 25-year-old gay porn star. The fourth actor, Pamela Anderson, was also in on the joke.

5. BARON COHEN WAS ALMOST KILLED FOR HIS RODEO APPEARANCE.

Once Baron Cohen angered the crowd at Virginia's Salem Civic Center, he and his crew got out of there. Quickly. An attendee said she thought he would have been shot if he stayed just one minute longer. The rodeo’s producer confirmed the crowd was very angry, and was quoted as saying there would have been a riot, and that the crew would have gotten killed had they not left when they did. The producer allowed Borat to perform in the first place because he was also fooled by the fake production company and journalist story, and because he had not listened to the demo CD he asked them for to hear Borat’s voice in order to sing the national anthem ... which was blank.

6. THE ORIGINAL DIRECTOR WAS TODD PHILLIPS, WHO QUIT AFTER THE RODEO INCIDENT.

Todd Phillips, director of Old School and The Hangover, received death threats, which scared him off the project. Officially though, Phillips left due to “creative differences.”

7. THE KAZAKHSTAN SCENES WERE SHOT IN GLOD, ROMANIA.

The village's 1000 residents were told they were being filmed for a documentary about their hardships. Once the townspeople, such as the one-armed man who was told the rubber sex toy he was given was a prosthetic, discovered the truth, they filed a lawsuit.

8. THE REAL KAZAKHSTAN WAS ALSO UPSET.

The Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan placed a four-page insert in The New York Times speaking of its positive attributes to combat the perceived negative publicity the Borat character was giving their country. When the president of Kazakhstan visited the White House a little over one month before Borat was released in theaters, Baron Cohen—in character as Borat—held a press conference in front of the Kazakh embassy refuting The New York Times insert and claiming the president was in the U.S. to promote Borat.

9. BARON COHEN GOT INTO CHARACTER AS SOON AS HE LEFT HIS HOTEL, AND DIDN’T STOP UNTIL AFTER THE CREW WRAPPED FOR THE DAY.

He even stayed in character as Borat when he was being questioned by the Secret Service.

10. IN NEW YORK, A WARRANT WAS ISSUED FOR BARON COHEN’S ARREST.

He was advised to leave the state after attempting to secure a hotel room with his underwear over his pants. Two crew members were arrested for taking a phone, an alarm clock, and a comforter from a hotel (intending to return them later) and spent a night in a New York jail. A lawyer was kept on retainer throughout filming.

11. THE BED AND BREAKFAST WAS ACTUALLY IN NEWTON, MASSACHUSETTS.

The producers asked Mariam and Joseph Behar to bring food to Borat’s room, even though the B&B didn’t provide that service. The Behars later called Baron Cohen’s performance “genius.”

12. THE MISSISSIPPI NEWS PRODUCER WHO ACCIDENTALLY BOOKED BORAT WAS FIRED.

WAPT-TV let Dharma Arthur go early from her contract as a result of the incident. Arthur wrote a letter to Newsweek saying it took her three months to find a new job and that she was in debt. She said Baron Cohen being hailed as a comedic genius was “upsetting” to her.

13. THE HUMOR TEACHER FIGURED OUT IT WAS ALL A GAG HALFWAY THROUGH THEIR SESSION.

Pat Haggerty continued his lesson anyway, because he had been compensated beforehand, and figured it could help his career.

14. TWO OF THE FRAT KIDS SUED.

The third University of South Carolina Chi Psi brother, David Corcoran, said the producers paid for himself and his two frat brothers to drink at a bar before having them pick Borat up in an RV. The two college students who sued claimed they were told the movie wouldn’t appear in the United States and that they suffered from “humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community.” One of the two unidentified students left the university. The lawsuit was thrown out.

15. THE "KAZAKH" LANGUAGE SPOKEN BY BORAT WAS A MIXTURE OF HEBREW AND ISRAELI SLANG.

Because of this, the movie was a huge hit in Israel. Baron Cohen told NPR he is proud of his Jewish identity, but doesn’t call himself religious.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledgling publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: The envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, MAD finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’s other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by MAD’s New York offices and submitted his work; his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with MAD almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: A 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; MAD parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, MAD also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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10 Forking Facts About The Good Place
Colleen Hayes, NBC
Colleen Hayes, NBC

On September 19, 2016, NBC started airing the comedy The Good Place, an unusual sitcom about dead people who have been sent to the heaven-like The Good Place. Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, who should be in The Bad Place (hell) but mistakenly got sent to the former. Michael (Ted Danson) is the architect of The Good Place, and his job is to pit (and torture) some of the members against one other, including the namedropping Tahani (Jameela Jamil), the at-first silent monk Jianyu, who’s later revealed to be a dimwitted DJ named Jason (Manny Jacinto), the indecisive ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), and the Siri-esque Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

[Spoiler alert!] The season one finale dropped a bombshell on the audience—Eleanor and company had been living in The Bad Place all this time. Season two showed the characters grappling with the situation and trying to become better people so that they can eventually end up in the real Good Place. Showrunner Michael Schur—who co-created Parks and Recreationtold The Hollywood Reporter the show isn’t about one religion’s interpretation of the afterlife; he said it’s about ethics. “It is very flatly stated that this is not any one religion,” he said. “Spiritual and ethical is how I thought of it.” Academics Todd May and Pamela Hieronymi consult on the show, like on “The Trolley Problem” episode.

As you await the arrival of season three later this year, here are 10 forking facts about the enlightened sitcom.

1. MICHAEL SCHUR USED REAL-LIFE “ANNOYING BEHAVIOR” TO CREATE THE PREMISE.

In an interview with Marketplace, Schur said after Parks and Recreaction finished he found himself driving around L.A. and observing “a lot of annoying behavior, as you do.” He saw people rudely cutting others off in traffic and people littering. Disgusted, he created a game he’d play with himself, based on points. “Like if anyone was keeping score—‘What you did right there, sir, cutting me off in traffic, you just lost eight points,’” Schur said. “And I started thinking about a world where actions have actual point values that can be measured and analyzed and broken down, and that led me to the afterlife. And I thought what if it’s a game and the people with high scores get into the good place and people with the lowest scores get into the bad place.”

2. LOST AND THE LEFTOVERS INSPIRED THE SHOW.

Schur admitted The Leftovers impressed him so much that he coerced his agent to set up a meeting for him with Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of Leftovers and Lost. Over breakfast, Schur asked Lindelof if his pitch for The Good Place was anything good. “Damon Lindelof saying, ‘This is something’ is the reason that show exists,” Schur told Vulture. “So thank him, if you like it.”

Schur told Lindelof about the season one twist, and Lindelof helped Schur with the scenarios. “I needed a person who is conversant in the language of science fiction or genre writing, which I am not, to say to me, ‘Here are some things that are gonna happen that are dangerous. Here’s what’s gonna happen, here’s how to avoid it.’ So that was a huge part of how I operated going forward.” Schur paid homage to Lindelof to the point that the show is littered with Easter eggs, including a photo labeled October 14, 1972—October 14th is the date of the departure in The Leftovers.

3. BECAUSE A 16-YEAR-OLD NAILED THE AUDITION, D’ARCY CARDEN DIDN’T THINK SHE’D GET THE ROLE.

Ted Danson and D'Arcy Carden in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

D'Arcy Carden, a member of sketch comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, had wanted to work for Schur. So when she got the email for the audition, she prepared. She didn’t think she’d get the part, though, and had even considered quitting acting. She was intimidated to audition in front of Schur and executive-producer Drew Goddard. “But for some reason, the second I walked in, they were calm and smiling and laughing and it felt very comfortable,” Carden told GQ. “It felt too comfortable, because I was expecting, I don’t know, snobby a**hole Hollywood dudes? But they were very cool. I walked out feeling, ‘Sh*t, that was actually the best.’”

A 16-year-old boy also auditioned for the part of Janet. “So they really didn’t know what they wanted,” Carden said. “A 16-year-old boy! Who, by the way, is a genius. When I saw him, I remember texting a friend who had done a movie with him and I was like, ‘I’m auditioning after him. Why am I even here? He’s of course going to get it.’” But Carden got cast as Janet, a role she said is “shocking to me that it was so difficult” to play, because Carden doesn’t have emotions or much to react to.

4. SCHUR NAMED MICHAEL AFTER AN ARCHANGEL.

When Schur wrote the pilot he didn’t know what to name Ted Danson’s character, so he wrote in “Ted.” However, while taking a tour of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, he discovered the archangel Michael, “the angel who weighs people’s souls and decides whether their souls are good or bad,” Schur told Vulture. “I was like, ‘What’s the name of that archangel?’ And the tour guide said, ‘That’s archangel Michael.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s the answer.’ The answer is that he’s named Michael because in the world of the afterlife that makes perfect sense.” Schur said people commented on how the character is also his name. “Immediately, everybody was like, ‘Oh this is an interesting meta-commentary on the creative process because the main character has the same name as the guy who created the show,’” Schur said. At first he thought it was a silly assumption but later realized “maybe they’re right.”

5. MANNY JACINTO BELIEVES HIS CHARACTER SUBVERTS ASIAN TV STEREOTYPES.

Vulture asked Manny Jacinto if he thought “Jason subverts stereotypes” and Jacinto said he thought so. “I think when they were coming up with Jason/Jianyu, they were trying to figure out something different and one of the things that popped up was that you don’t really see a lot of dumb Asian guys on mainstream television,” he said. “He’s usually intelligent or the model minority. I’m not saying playing Jason is pioneering, but it’s so great for me to do because it’s not a stereotype.” Jacinto liked the fact his characters weren’t just the IT guy. “And I’ve had my fair share of those, so I guess you just have to go through the ranks before you get to be Jason Mendoza.”

6. KRISTEN BELL NOW USES ETHICS WHEN DEBATING WITH PEOPLE.

Kristen Bell in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

“The subject matter is ethics, all the things we need to fix,” Bell told the Los Angeles Times. “Earth’s current bad mood—it’s all in this show.” She explained she takes lessons taught in The Good Place and adapts them in her conversations. “Everyone is debating something nowadays, and now, I can actually say at a dinner party: ‘Well, I disagree with that because, you know in moral particularism, cited by [British philosopher] Jonathan Dancy’—like, I actually have a sound argument as to why I believe certain things.”

7. TED DANSON IS "THE BIGGEST CHILD" OF ALL ON THE SET.

Manny Jacinto told Vulture an on-set story of a time Danson ate Swedish Fish in an unconventional manner. “I don’t know if this was a party trick or if it just came to him on the spot, but he was able to eat the Swedish Fish through his mouth, take a piece of it, and then snort it through his nose like a booger,” Jacinto said. “Witnessing that moment right there was like, ‘Oh my goodness, if anything, Ted Danson is Jason Mendoza. He’s just the biggest child out of all of us.’ I just remember that, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, Ted Danson taking a booger out of his nose.”

8. IT TOOK A WHILE FOR JAMEELA JAMIL TO WARM TO TAHANI.

Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, Kristen Bell, and Manny Jacinto in 'The Good Place'
Colleen Hayes, NBC

Jamil—a TV host in England who hadn’t acted much before she landed The Good Place—told Vulture she didn’t think Tahani deserved to be in The Bad Place, but instead maybe “a Passive Aggressive Narcissistic Place.” She described Tahani as “a nightmare. I could never be friends with someone like Tahani, but that makes her all the more fun to try and love. I’ve grown to love her over season two. I couldn’t stand her in season one—I love playing her, but couldn’t stand her. But in season two, I’m warming to her, and that’s the power of Mike and the writers.”

9. WRITER/PRODUCER MEGAN AMRAM CREATED SEVERAL PAGES OF PUNS FOR AN EPISODE.

In the season two episode “Dance Dance Resolution,” which aired in September 2017, Michael tried to reboot The Bad Place hundreds of times, so restaurant names kept changing. The pun-loving Amram conceived restaurants like From Schmear to Eternity, Biscotti Pippen, Sushi and the Banshees, and Hot Dog on a Stick on a Stick. Schur told Vulture the script contained six to seven pages of puns. “Partially she was doing it to lean into her stereotype as a person who loves puns,” he said. “But also, it was just straight-up impressive.” On Twitter, Amram shared her abridged list of eatery puns, including Miso-Gyny and Polenta to Go Around.

10. DANSON FELT “GUILTY” BECAUSE HE KNEW ABOUT THE TWIST.

From the beginning of the series, the only actors who knew about the season one twist were Danson and Bell. Danson explained to Entertainment Weekly that when he told his friends the plot of the show—“it’s about the afterlife and I play a middle management person there, and someone gets in there on a clerical error and everything goes nutty”—he could see their eyes glaze over with boredom. “And I could just see that flicker in their eyes and it pissed me off, so I immediately told them the twist ending and they were totally impressed,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I was wracked with guilt, but luckily the people I told, I called them and said, ‘Please, dear God, [don’t tell anyone],’ but all of my friends are so self-obsessed that they’d probably forgotten already what I had told them.”

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