Comic chameleons rewrite the book

TV comedy may not translate to the page

Is it a commentary on our pop culture that two of the hottest new books were written by authors who don’t exist? And neither of their scams quite comes off.

The people (that is, non-people) involved are Stephen Colbert (the faux character Colbert invented for TV) and Borat Sagdiyev (the faux character created by Sacha Baron Cohen). Their books have some hilarious passages, and both should sell well (Colbert’s already has shot to No. 1 on most bestseller lists).

The problem is that the material created for TV and film just doesn’t play as well on the printed page.

The tome written by Colbert and his writers is called “I Am America (And So Can You!)” It was Colbert who once declaimed that “books are for pantywaists,” but now that bestsellerdom beckons, books are for what he modestly describes as “The Colbert Nation.” He’s running for president, remember.

The Borat tome is titled “Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” and leads off with this invitation: “I would like to invite you also to Kazakhstan. If you have no money you can stay at my house, eat my food and use my sister (she tight like a man’s anoos.)”

So do these books represent their true authors? I’ve had off-camera conversations both with Cohen and Colbert and remain unconvinced that either is totally in touch with his real persona. Is Colbert a Jon Stewart makeover or an O’Reilly clone? I don’t honestly know. Is Cohen a brilliant, Peter Sellers-like chameleon whose personal comedic style is yet to be discovered? Possibly. In any case, their identity crisis does not constrain them from putting their names on books. Indeed, they’ve got two hot books, whoever they are.

The Colbert book is well-stocked with the faux character’s blowhard admonitions. His view on cloning is that “no free labor source is worth all this trouble.” He advises that “no image of me should ever be removed from this book for any purpose including, but not exclusively, book reports decorating walls or placing in your wallet to imply our friendship.”

Colbert is not above some Borat-like gags, such as the reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man featuring Colbert eyeglasses and enlarged testicles.

But there’s nothing approaching the hardcore vulgarity that is Borat’s trademark — photos of Borat in his preposterous bathing costume along with shots of his first wife, Ludmilla, whom he purchased for “fifteen litres of insecticide” but who, while Borat was traveling, was “attack, violate and break by a bear.” The Borat volume is actually two scrapbook-like books that have separate covers and meet uncertainly in the middle (yes, the reader has to turn the book over to start again).

Borat offers up his candid observations of his travels in the U.S., observing “Most people of US and A follows a religion named christianitys which makes worship of a man named Jesus Christs. I think he probably Kazakh since he was born in a shed with pigs and cows and his mother did not know who had make her pragnants.”

Do we need these two books? On the one hand, one could argue that bookstore shelves should be reserved for books written by real people — not faux books designed to exploit media stars.

But that seems like a whiny complaint from a pantywaist author whose books didn’t sell as well as Borat’s or Colbert’s.

* * *

A personal note: I realize that this is a time of great angst in the Hollywood writing community, and hence it may be deemed insensitive to publish a facetious column about non-writers posing as writers who make a lot of money through their non-writing.

To those offended, I would offer the following: During times like this it’s helpful to consider other ways to make a living. Yes, even reinventing yourself!

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