OnlyOnAOL: Sacha Baron Cohen is serious about his comedy

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BY DONNA FREYDKIN

For Sacha Baron Cohen, humor is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

The comedian has given us Borat Sagdiyev, the obtuse Jew-baiting journalist from Kazakhstan. There's Brüno Gehard, the Austrian, leather-loving fashion reporter with no filter. And now, there's Nobby Butcher, a good-natured, sweetly loyal, totally daft and perpetually drunk welfare scammer portrayed by British comedian Baron Cohen, in "The Brothers Grimsby." It's an action caper co-starring Mark Strong as Nobby's long-lost brother, now a super-spy, and opening Friday. His love interests in the film are played by Rebel Wilson, as his very fertile spouse, and Gabourey Sidibe, the "Empire" star who dons a maid uniform for one utterly memorable scene.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Gabourey Sidibe visits AOL Hq for Build on March 9, 2016 in New York. Photos by Noam Galai

Baron Cohen, who graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge, puts as much precision into his comedy as Elon Musk does into creating his Teslas. Nothing is left to chance. And even the most effortless scenes take hours of honing and editing.

"The first time a joke is said, if it gets a laugh in the room, if it gets a big laugh, I note it. Because I have my initial response, I know I found it funny that time," he says. "Technically that's one of the little tricks that I use?"

Sacha Baron Cohen and Gabourey Sidibe visits AOL Hq for Build on March 9, 2016 in New York. Photos by Noam GalaiBaron Cohen has a data-driven way of creating and refining his comedy.

"This is quite boring but I have a pseudo-scientific approach to comedy particularly in the edit where I spend a long time trying to maximize the laughs. I have a bunch of theories that probably every comic will see as complete nonsense but that I fully believe in," he says. "It's slightly inspired by the Marx brothers, who would take their movies on tour first. They'd sit in the back row and grade jokes. That joke didn't work and let's redo it. We have a very, very thorough screening process. I want to hear where they laugh and how to build the laughs."

This time, after promoting his films in character, Baron Cohen is doing press as himself. Surely, it must be an out-of-body experience.

"As myself rather than in character? It's the most difficult character I've had to create. A pretentious, pseudo-intellectual British comic," he quips.

How long did it take him to perfect the creation we're seeing? "44 years."

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Sacha Baron Cohen pantsless at Brothers Grimsby premiere
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OnlyOnAOL: Sacha Baron Cohen is serious about his comedy
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Nobby aka Sacha Baron Cohen arrives for the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher attend the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen attend the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen and Grimsby girls attend the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Nobby aka Sacha Baron Cohen arrives for the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Nobby aka Sacha Baron Cohen arrives for the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Mark Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen attend the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong attend the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Mark Strong, Johnny Vegas, Annabelle Wallis, Ricky Tomlinson, Sacha Baron Cohen, John Thompson, Isla Fisher, Louis Leterrier and Gabourey Sidibe attend the World premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the World Premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen as character Norman 'Nobby' Grimsby attends the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen as character Norman 'Nobby' Grimsby attends the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen as character Norman 'Nobby' Grimsby attends the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen as character Norman 'Nobby' Grimsby attends the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Sacha Baron Cohen as character Norman 'Nobby' Grimsby attends the world premiere of 'Grimsby' at Odeon Leicester Square on February 22, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Fred Duval/FilmMagic)
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