Borat, Kazakhstan's Mighty Faux

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, September 29, 2006

The president of Kazakhstan came to town yesterday, and a massive press scrum fought for toeholds outside the country's embassy, where a grand new statue symbolizing Kazakh independence -- a warrior holding a falcon standing on the back of a fierce winged cat -- had just been unveiled.

But, no, of course that's not why we were there. That's not why any of the 50 or so journalists were there. We were there for Borat .

Or rather, Sacha Baron Cohen , the British comic who performs in the gonzo, deadpan, taking-the-joke-almost-too-far tradition of Andy Kaufman and Peter Sellers . He plays many made-up characters on his HBO series "Da Ali G Show," but few that have struck a nerve like that of Borat Sagdiyev -- an anti-Semitic, oversexed Kazakh journalist who spins tales about the national sport of killing dogs and the practice of keeping women in cages -- much to the continuing dismay of the Kazakh government. In a brilliant stunt to promote his movie "Borat" (opening next month), Baron Cohen held a guerrilla news conference outside the embassy at 16th and O streets NW -- without ever breaking character.

He began by waving an actual four-page advertisement that the former Soviet republic placed in yesterday's New York Times touting its sophisticated culture, religious tolerance and gender equality.

"These are disgusting fabrications!" he said in a thick, ambiguously foreign accent. They're perpetrated by "evil nitwits" from neighboring Uzbekistan "who, as we all know, are a very nosy people with a bone in the middle of their brain."

He called out Kazakh Embassy spokesman Roman Vassilenko as "an Uzbek impostor" ("pliz do not listen to him") and threatened to attack Uzbekistan "with our catapults." Anyone, he added, "who claims we do not drink fermented horse's urine, do not have death penalty for baking bagels," is lying.

Or something like that -- it was hard to hear over the chortles of the news camera guys.

He concluded: "I must now return to my embassy where I have talks with my government." But security guards had already emerged from the compound to close the wrought-iron gate. He turned around: "Which direction is the White House?"

And suddenly, 50 journalists were on a crazed three-quarter-mile sprint down 16th Street, trying to keep up with the lanky, fast-moving fake Kazakh, desperate not to miss anything that might happen in this big fake event. One camera guy tumbled to the sidewalk in the crush.

ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper maneuvered his way to Baron Cohen's side just as the comic gazed on Scott Circle and asked again for directions. "The White House? It's this way," Tapper said. Then, to his camera guy: "Did you get that?"

Get what? Is this really news? No time to challenge him on that, as we had to catch up with this fictional character.

We ran through Lafayette Square. Baron Cohen rang a buzzer at the White House gate.


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