"Borat" actually first appeared in Da Ali G Show, which began airing on HBO in 2000. In addition to Borat, Cohen also played a mock gangsta rapper named Ali G and a flamboyant gay fashion reporter named Bruno on the show.
Cohen's characters were occasionally humorous, but I didn't care for them. They bore too much resemblance to an MTV series called Jackass. Jackass featured a gang of otherwise untalented American male underachievers that went around performing outrageous stunts and potty pranks to the surprise and dismay of often unsuspecting onlookers.
Borat doesn't interest me for the same reason Da Ali G Show didn't interest me; they're both just intellectual versions of Jackass. Most of the bits have the same disparaging outline. Cue the clever cultural prankster. Introduce prankster to unsuspecting or uninformed or public. Have clever cultural prankster act or expound absurdly or make inane gestures or observations about relevant or irrelevant topics. Then, simply record unsuspecting or uninformed public's response to clever cultural prankster's absurd, inane acts, gestures or rhetoric.
The gist of Borat and Da Ali G Show is asinine, and it heralds a wave of absurdist, bizarro, reality-TV that seems to be seizing the public consciousness. It's trendy and cool and watching it makes conformists feel hip and superficial folks feel edgy. They think the ridiculed sots are not them. And unlike the ridiculed sots that they think they're not, they believe they get it.
To give credit where credit is due, I'm sure Borat, like Da Ali G Show, is entertaining and, well. . . clever. But it's not new or original. Chaucer was doing it six centuries ago. And Jonathan Swift three. And they did it with less gleeful disdain.
Sacha Baron Cohen is an intellectual bully and I don't enjoy watching him clown on gullible waifs. His productions are based on pre-determined, scripted derision and latent contempt. The context is presented as spontaneous, but his performance never really is. He goes into a social setting with a calculated, scheduled intellectual "stunt" and simply toys with the anticipated surprise, shock and dismay of his unsuspecting public or guests.
In short order, then, Cohen deliberately and premeditatedly degrades, demeans or debases his unsuspecting targets, who, unlike him, are reacting genuinely and spontaneously. It's a rigged game that rarely features equal footing, spirited dialogue or meaningful (much less useful) resolution.
Most of Cohen's entire gimmick is akin to giving an obviously assailable underclassman a "wedgie." Is it humorous? Maybe. But it's also cruel and sadistic and generally perpetrated at the expense of someone's dignity.
As a guy who looks like he was probably on the receiving end of numerous "wedgies," you'd expect a guy like Cohen to tread lightly among easy targets. But where's the fun in that?