OnlyOnAOL: Sacha Baron Cohen is serious about his comedy

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

Baron 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."