To add to Giuliani’s troubles, the room was rigged with hidden cameras, the footage from which became a part of the new film that Cohen starred in – the sequel to the original Borat - Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Like most of Cohen’s victims, Giuliani, who also served as US President Donald Trump’s lawyer, never saw it coming. Of course, he went on to call the cops on the prankster, although there is no evidence that an investigation was launched. The comedian had built a reputation for trolling both ordinary citizens and political bigwigs, prodding them on with highly racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic viewpoints and managing to elicit similar responses from them as well. Cohen had even pranked Trump before the latter became President (with a business pitch to mass-produce a protective glove used for eating ice cream).
He has also trolled Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Vice-President Mike Pence, and even managed to get a waterboarding kit autographed by an unsuspecting Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the US, whose views on torture as a method of interrogation had split American society right down the middle. While the tactics employed by the comedian might be questionable, it does beg the question – at what point does the joke go too far?
It’s a question that finds resonance in every corner of the world. Closer to home, Kunal Kamra, a popular desi comedian grabbed international headlines for heckling a controversial news anchor on board a domestic flight. The performer, who believed he was standing up for democracy, justice, and Dalit rights, found himself penalised by the respective airline and a few others, that put him on a no-fly list for half a year. Tamil Nadu too saw its share of this form of social protest when, as an act of defiance in the face of the extreme prejudice levelled against South Indians for their supposed ignorance of Hindi, music composer Yuvan Shankar Raja and actor Shirish Saravanan went on to sport T-shirts that said ‘I am a Tamizh Pesum Indian’, and ‘Hindi theriyathu, poda!’, respectively.
In a way, actions such as these have become representative of a generation that seems to have lost every possible outlet of dissent. One only has to write or say something contrarian on social media, and wait for a torrent of invectives to come crashing, which range from abusive trolling to threats involving bodily harm or even sexual assault. What we are faced with is a society that is increasingly uncertain of its identity, where the slightest provocation can lead to extreme outrage. Humour is a tool that thrives on such incongruities and if applied well, can be used to effectively convey social protest. And who knows? Maybe once again, it will be the court jester who will point out the follies of social and political structures to the ruler.