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Sacha Baron Cohen: Has he gone too far? (Is that even possible?)

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First, he plunged crotch-first into Eminem’s scowling face at the MTV Movie Awards. Now comes news that merry prankster Sacha Baron Cohen is being sued for unspecified damages by a California woman over an alleged skirmish during the filming of his upcoming comedy Bruno. According to Richelle Olson’s lawsuit — the first in what’s certain to be a wave of litigation that will be sparked by the follow-up to Borat — Baron Cohen, in the guise of his flamboyant Austrian fashionista alter ego, got involved in an altercation with Olson at a charity bingo tournament that resulted in Olson being seriously injured. Eminem, it seems, might have gotten off easy.

There have always been those who are turned off by Baron Cohen’s merciless brand of guerilla satire, seeing it as needlessly sadistic — and between this new lawsuit and the MTV stunt, we’ll be hearing more from that camp leading up to the July 10 release of Bruno. Part of me — the part that cringed at the sight of a genial Southern hostess being handed a bag full of excrement in Borat — sympathizes with anyone who unwittingly stumbles into Baron Cohen’s comedic clutches. But at the same time, I’ll be there with bells on when Bruno opens, and if that makes me an accomplice to the humiliation of an innocent bystander, I’ll just have to live with it. At the end of the day, the idea of Baron Cohen playing it safe is about as appealing as the idea of Iggy Pop singing lounge standards (which, weirdly enough, he does on his new album). Satire ain’t beanbag.

What do you think? Does Baron Cohen’s shtick cross the line? If not, where would the line be for you? Or when you’re going for the comedic jugular in order to expose ignorance and bigotry, is there really no line at all?

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