By Karen Valby
March 16, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

In the line outside the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Tex., everyone wondered if the 22-minute sneak peek at Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film Bruno would be worth it. Could the Borat provocateur get away with fleecing new crowds? Would his ultra-gay character Bruno, “the most important cable TV fashion reporter in any German-speaking country besides Germany,” feel fresh and valuable and hilarious?

People, I howled. The South By Southwest festival crowd was given three tastes of what to come, in three separate scenes:

Scene 1: Bruno has adopted a baby from Africa, in the hopes that it will up his cache in Hollywood. He plans a provocative photo shoot, and needs additional rugrats as props. In his audition process, he interviews various wide-eyed Moms as to their offspring’s commitment to art. One woman promises him that her 30-pount child could lose 10 pounds in seven days if it meant she got the part. Liposuction? Fine! Yes! Bruno warns one mother that the shoot will involve her toddler dressed up as a Nazi officer pushing a wheelbarrow with a baby Jew in it straight into an oven. If it’s for art, she replies, and for a check, hooray!

Scene 2: Bruno arrives in a “ghastly s—hole called Texas.” (The fellow Texans in my audience gave this  line a round of applause. What’s wrong with us?) Bruno appears on a crap daytime talk show called “Today With Richard Bey,” appealing to a largely African American audience. He swans onto the stage for a segment devoted to single parents, blabbing about how his adopted African baby boy is a “dick magnet” and that he traded his iPod for the kid. The audience wanted his hide. Then a gleeful producer wheels out a gorgeous little black baby boy wearing a “Gayby” T-shirt and leather pants. Bruno declares that he’s named his son O.J. — child protective services intervenes.

addCredit(“Jeremy Kost/”)

Scene 3: Bruno has decided that if he’s going to becomefamous, he needs to create a whole new identity. He will become themost heterosexual guy in the world. So he starts a new cable UltimateFighting show called “Straight Dave Man Slammin’ Max Out.” Warming upthe crowd, Bruno, dressed in camouflage and handlebar mustache,declares the evening an old-fashioned hetero fest. The crowd ofbleary-eyed, white, chest-thumping drunks goes wild. They’re in thepalm of his hand. But then some guy in the audience calls Bruno — a.k.a.Straight Dave — a “fag.” Straight Dave offers to fight him in thecage. The guy approaches and claims to be Dave’s ex-lover. The fightensues, the crowd is loving it, until…Straight Dave and hisopponent start making out. To the crowd’s dopey-eyed dismay, the menare Frenching and then belly-licking and then playing a very intimategame of tummy-sticks. Those poor drunk beer-crunchers look as if theywalked in on their Mom having sex with Ann Coulter. The world hadceased to make sense.

Out of context this all could sound like more of the same: SachaBaron Cohen makes fun of stupid people; smug people sneer. But Ilaughed my head off. And, let me hasten to add, I’m one of those peoplewho is adopting a child from Africa. (Make a joke that diminishes thesincerity of this endeavor, and I will cut you.) But Cohen makes mehiccup snort, and he reminds me to keep a sense of humor. He also makesme think about important things. Things like: the rage that accompanieshomophobia, about the sour smell of desperation people get when theywant fame, about the ridiculousness of daytime talk shows and thenumbing drone of righteousness.

I thought Borat lost a little of its oomph when it took toomany swipes. (The people in the antiques store, for instance, didn’tseem to deserve that laser gaze.) But I’ll be first in line for Bruno,convinced that Cohen has it in him to shock and surprise us all overagain. Also, the person next to me in the theater honked like a goosethroughout the 22 minutes. That guy had the night of his life.

What do you guys think? Can you stand Cohen’s grimace-inducinghumor? Are you up for more idiots making asses of themselves? Do youtoo see a higher purpose behind his humor, or is that irrelevant?

(And for the uninitiated, here’s a clip of Cohen as Bruno in 2004, when Bruno was just a supporting character on Da Ali G Show.