Bruno Needs a Few More Months in the Dressing Room

by Robert A. Saunders on February 5th, 2009

Sacha Baron Cohen’s third film based on one of his characters from Da Ali G Show is set to premiere this summer, but the date for the release has been moved back from May 15 to July 10. Hoping to replicate the success of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, it appears that Baron Cohen is seeking to find the optimal time to introduce the world to Bruno. That time seems to be the sweaty days of mid-summer. The date recently opened up when Roland Emmerich’s apocalypse movie 2012 was pushed back to November. Only time will tell if Baron Cohen’s campy Austrian fashionista with penchant for fascism and skin-tight muscle shirts hits pay dirt or falls flat. The film’s title even remains in doubt; ostensibly, it is to be called Bruno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt, however, industry insiders reckon the working title—like so much of Baron Cohen’s work—is a chimera to distract the audience from his real intentions.

Unlike Borat which was filmed in a low-key manner, Bruno has been making a spectacle of himself. Over the past year, he has been spotted in the Americas, Asia, and Europe, generating media coverage in each case. It began with sightings at the Wichita airport which were quickly posted to the Web, followed by much a publicized controversy over a gay wrestling match in the Ozarks. In Israel, his interview of Mossad agent and a Palestinian academic instantly made news around the world. In California, his abortive attempt to interview Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
(a fellow Austrian, of sorts) attracted even more media attention. The scene created a strange post-modern simulacrum of the main stream media reporting on a faux journalist trying to report on a mass-mediated personality. In Milan, he stormed an Agatha Ruiz de la Prada fashion show
before being escorted away by police, who soon recognized him as a world famous trickster. He then made headlines in Paris after disrupting English designer Stella McCartney’s show by sucking on a tampon among other things.


Such antics suggest that the forthcoming Bruno film will be as controversial as Borat. There are already reports surfacing that one of the film’s characters, a black model named Jesus who wears a loincloth and a crown of thorns, is sparking outrage among test audiences for the film. Bruno regularly uses the Jewish Holocaust as a punch line for his comedy, which might eventually create issues with Bruno purported homeland: Austria. Hitherto, Austrian diplomats have chosen not bother with the British mountebank. When confronted with a question about Baron Cohen’s next movie project which targeted his country, an Austrian Foreign Ministry official
responded, “Bruno who?” Despite being the birthplace of Hitler, Austrians seem to have moved on from worrying about historical stereotypes. While Viennese diplomats may not be taking much notice, the same cannot be said for the country’s tourism industry.


Bruno purportedly works for the fictional Austrian TV station Österreichischer Jungen Rundfunk (‘Austrian Youth [or Boy] Broadcast’), whose name mocks Austrian national broadcaster ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk). When pressed, he confesses it is really “Austrian Gay TV.” Such an admission has lead to threats of physical violence on multiple occasions during the filming of Da Ali G Show, e.g., when Bruno was interviewing testosterone-driven jocks during Spring Break in Daytona Beach, Florida.


Part of Bruno’s humor comes from his assumption that everyone is gay or bisexual. According to journalist Kaizaad Kotwal, “His subjects don’t find that funny and this makes their homophobia come through in spades.” At an Arkansas pro-America rally (read gun show), a rabidly anti-Semitic libertarian defended Bruno’s right to homosexual intercourse behind closed doors before exploding and telling him not to be “so fucking gay.” Bruno’s most well-known exploit involved joining the University of Alabama’s cheerleading squad in “the gayest part of America” (i.e., the southern state of Alabama). His impromptu performance in front of the Crimson Tide’s fans ended in a pathetic scene with elements in the crowd cursing and calling him a "faggot." Baron Cohen recounted the event in an interview:


"Bruno is the subject of a lot of homophobia. The main difference between playing Borat and Bruno is that it is a lot more dangerous doing Bruno, because there is so much homophobia. So for example, when I was doing Bruno at the Alabama, Mississippi football game a few years ago, 60,000 people in the crowd started chanting faggot, and started throwing stuff at me, taunting me, spitting at me, threatening to kill me. Those kinds of situations are a lot more common when you are playing a gay character. It is almost as if homophobia is one of the last forms of prejudice that really is tolerated."


Bruno was the Da Ali G Show’s most underutilized character. It is therefore no surprise that Baron Cohen has waited the longest to unleash a feature-length movie starring the Austrian reporter. However, with his campy style and a built-in fan base, Baron Cohen’s Bruno is likely to probe new depths of unorthodox humor. Given Sacha Baron Cohen’s announcement one year ago that he was permanently retiring Ali G and Borat, there is now an added allure to the Bruno character as the only surviving vestige from Baron Cohen’s first decade of performance art.


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