Although I first made this observation some time ago, the upcoming release of “Bruno” reminded me of the similarities between Sacha Baron Cohen and Stephen Colbert, beyond just the SBC-SC abbreviations.
Both have adapted comedy to a kind of made-for-the-reality-TV age performance art, improvising withing character in order to elicit reactions from the people (some famous, some not) with whom they interact. And they do so fearlessly — at what occasionally appears to be risk to life and limb, from Baron Cohen visiting the Middle East to Colbert’s shtick at the White House Correspondents Dinner a few years back or his recent trip to Afghanistan.
Inevitably, this approach is far more hit-miss than more conventional comedy, which is why I generally find Colbert to be less amusing on a night-in, night-out basis than its lead-in, “The Daily Show.” Part of it just ends up being uncomfortable. But when it hits, the results can be explosively funny.
In some respects, this hunger for a sense of spontaneity resembles the comedic underpinnings of the old “Candid Camera,” just recast for our more cynical times. Even in the awkward moments, though, it’s difficult not to admire the concentration and skill required to improvise that rapidly when the other party’s response is so unpredictable.
Since Baron Cohen likes to do his promotional appearances in character, the mind boggles at the prospect of a Bruno-“Colbert Report” faceoff, but alas, it won’t be happening this time around. According to a rep for Comedy Central, Baron Cohen will be doing his push for the movie in July when the latenight tandem will be taking a well-deserved hiatus week, so the logistics didn’t work out.
Too bad, because it could be a duel for the ages — or at least, one perfectly suited to our current age.