It's a real shame that Sacha Baron Cohen's rise as a comedy star occurred after Mel Brooks stopped making movies, because the two likely would have hit off both personally and professionally. Beyond their shared Jewish heritage (a background that both men gleefully skewer at every opportunity), both of them are fearless provocateurs, pushing the bounds of comic decency right up to their breaking point. For those younger audiences who only know Brooks from his latter-day kinder, gentler movie parodies like Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it's hard to overstate just how revolutionary comedies like The Producers and Blazing Saddles were at the time of their release. The latter movie in particular tackled racial humor with a boldness that's still bracing and you can track a direct line from Zero Mostel's brash, unscrupulous theatrical producer to one of Cohen's comic anti-heroes. In fact, we like to imagine the elderly Brooks uncorking a bottle of Manischewitz and kicking back for a double-bill of Cohen's first two features, Borat and Bruno.
Guess who's back... back again.
Worst. Tyrant. Ever.
The secret to Sacha Baron Cohen's particular brand of comedy has always been its unpredictability. When you watch one of his signature creations -- be it Ali G or Borat or Bruno -- interact with an unsuspecting dignitary, celebrity or just a plain old Average Joe, you have absolutely no idea what he'll do or say... or what they'll do or say in response. His ability to improvise in the moment without breaking character is what makes him such a formidable talent. Even if a particular encounter doesn't yield many laughs, you have to admire the guy for his fearlessness.
Sacha Baron Cohen may be the main attraction of The Dictator, but don't be surprised if everyone who sees the movie comes out raving about his co-star Jason Mantzoukas. Best known as the outrageous Rafi on the FX series The League, the Upright Citizens Brigade-trained comic actor steals almost every scene he's in as Nadal, a nuclear scientist that runs afoul of Cohen's dictator, General Aladeen, in their home country of Wadiya only to emerge as his equal when the tyrant is stripped of his identity and let loose on the streets of New York. On a recent press pit stop in Manhattan, Mantzoukas spoke with us about testing his improvising skills against Cohen, what scenes didn't make it into The Dictator and why he hopes that Rafi never gets his own spin-off series.