Sacha Baron Cohen‘s new Sony comedy has the right to go there, but it’s still in massively poor taste
As you might have heard by now, Donald Trump contracts AIDS in Sacha Baron Cohen‘s new Sony comedy “The Brothers Grimsby,” which had the crowd at the film’s Westwood premiere whooping and laughing on Thursday night. Reading that sentence aloud may prompt you to shrug and say, “I guess you had to be there.” Well, I was there, and it wasn’t funny at all. In fact, it was sad and disgusting.
Now before we dive in, I must say right off the bat that I’m a big believer in free speech and Sacha Baron Cohen‘s right to make a tasteless joke about Trump, the easiest target on the planet right now.
Some may accuse me of not having a sense of humor while reading this, but the truth is that I can appreciate Baron Cohen and his comic attitudes regarding race (Ali G), sexuality (Bruno) and xenophobia (Borat). Hell, I laughed at the “Brothers Grimsby” scene set inside an elephant’s vagina, and generally felt the film was a step up from “The Dictator,” which was just dreadful.
That said, AIDS is not really a laughing matter, no matter who is contracting the disease. So to say it was disheartening to see last night’s crowd getting off to Baron Cohen’s sick revenge fantasy would be an understatement. Hollywood is a liberal town that has been incredibly supportive of the gay community, but you wouldn’t have guessed that judging from the reaction I witnessed last night.
For some reason, it has become acceptable for Hollywood to joke about AIDS. Homophobic, anti-Semitic and racist jokes are frowned upon in today’s comedy culture, but for some reason, AIDS is still on the table.
The HIV-negative laugh at the misfortune of the HIV-positive all the time in movies and on TV. How has this become OK in our society? I mean, you don’t hear a lot of cancer jokes, probably because most Hollywood writers, like the rest of the world, have lost a loved one to cancer. So tell me, what’s the difference? Is it the rarity of the disease, and the idea that audiences don’t think they’ll ever contract HIV?
The fact remains that it’s disappointing that AIDS is still being used as an instrument for comedic revenge in movies, and even more disappointing that it seemed to “work” on last night’s industry audience. I just wish Sacha Baron Cohen hadn’t felt the need to go there out of some personal feud with Trump.
There were bogus reports that Sony executives were thinking of cutting the Trump scene, never mind the fact that producer Baron Cohen has final cut on the film. They shouldn’t have worried about upsetting Trump and risking a lawsuit — they should’ve second-guessed the obnoxious AIDS jokes, especially when the plot of the movie concerns a terrible fictional virus that would’ve made a suitable stand-in. You have to be worried about the executives at Sony when they’re laughing at that joke and sharing it with the entire world.
Over the past few months, it has become abundantly clear to me that Donald Trump is a bigot and a man of questionable character who is not fit to be the president of the United States. But to say he (or anyone) deserves AIDS is wrong on so many levels. I just don’t see how that is funny. Has Donald Trump personally killed anyone? Raped anyone? Beaten anyone? And yet this man, this father, this husband, deserves AIDS? And that devastating diagnosis is worthy of mockery?
I’m all for no limits in comedy, and am hardly ever offended by anything I see in a movie theater, but I wouldn’t wish AIDS on my worst enemy. Quite frankly, it’s a disgusting joke to make. AIDS is not a social punishment that affects bad people, it affects people from all walks of life. And “The Brothers Grimsby” only perpetuates that unfortunate societal stigma surrounding the disease.
Would people laugh if Trump got cancer or some other serious disease? What is it about AIDS that’s so funny? One of my Twitter followers wrote that he “can’t wait” to see “The Brothers Grimsby” now that he knows Donald Trump gets AIDS in the movie. How messed up is that? It’s a wish fulfillment gag that plays to the cheap seats and frankly, Baron Cohen should be above that. But I guess you’ll do anything when you’re desperate. The film is tracking poorly and the AIDS joke is the only reason the media is talking about it, though I’m not sure what that says about the media.
Since becoming a movie star with “Borat,” Baron Cohen has been content to making mediocre, character-based comedies using a tired fish-out-of-water format. His 15 minutes should’ve been up a long time ago. His tired Ali G shtick at the Oscars also went over like lead. It’s no wonder Baron Cohen didn’t end up starring in the Freddie Mercury movie — he sees AIDS as a joke, not a serious issue that people struggle with not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally, for their entire lives.
Sacha Baron Cohen‘s unique brand of comedy holds a mirror up to the audience. Last night’s gleeful crowd should take a hard look in that mirror and be frightened by the reflection. I don’t know who should be more embarrassed, Baron Cohen or anyone who laughs at that Donald Trump/AIDS joke.