- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

4:59 p.m.

As a public-speaking coach, Patrick Haggerty knows the value of a good laugh — even if the joke is on him.

Mr. Haggerty, a Washington-area speech consultant, is one of the dozens of ordinary Americans snookered into serving as straight men for British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, the star of the much-anticipated pseudo-documentary “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

Mr. Cohen — aka HBO star Ali G — plays an inept Eastern European foreign correspondent, Borat Sagdiyev, interacting with ordinary folks like Mr. Haggerty in the film, which opens Friday.

Mr. Haggerty, like many of the Americans in the film who didn’t know it was a setup, is captured gamely trying to instruct “Borat” in the proper telling of a joke.

“He had a film release for me to sign and I said ‘I’m not reading that, what does it say?’” Mr. Haggerty said. “It said we may or may not be making a movie and if we do make a movie, you may or may not be in it, but if you are in it you’re signing all your rights away for now and forever.”

Mr. Haggerty “really knew something was up” when they were talking about an important rule in humor saying you can make a joke about someone’s actions, but laughing at something beyond a person’s control is off-limits.

“I was explaining this and he was pretending to understand,” he said. “For example, you don’t laugh at someone in a wheelchair and he said ‘Oh, I love to laugh at people in wheelchairs!’ At that point I knew.”

Haggerty went to the producers during a break and asked to be let in on the secret. Instead they turned him away saying, “No, he’s for real. You’re fine, you’re just overreacting.” “I said to myself ‘Patrick, you’re a professional,’ so I gave him my best hour of professional counseling,” Mr. Haggerty said. “Then I went home, watched a little TV, read a book and went to bed.”

When the producer paid him upfront and in cash, Mr. Haggerty said he “should’ve smelled a rat.”

Two days later, over a dinner table discussion of the incident, his son said “Dad, that’s Ali G! That’s Sacha Cohen! You’ve been had!”

But that was back in August 2005, when the family thought their father was going to be on HBO’s “Da Ali G Show.” All was forgotten until the trailers came out this past August and they realized what was really going on.

“We’re just having a lot of fun with it because I don’t feel duped or cheated,” Mr. Haggerty said. He and his kids are enjoying the 15 minutes of fame. “They think it’s wonderful,” he said. “They know who this guy is and they think he’s [funny].”

Mr. Haggerty, who lives in Kensington, attended a press screening of the film last week.

“I think I come off OK,” he said. “The people I was with and even strangers came up to me afterwards and said ‘You didn’t make a fool of yourself and he didn’t make a fool of you.’”

Mr. Haggerty admits to an appreciation for Mr. Cohen’s comedic chops. “I admire him because my session was completely unscripted,” he said. “We were supposed to go an hour, but it really went 70 minutes. He stayed in character the whole time and responded to me in character with the accent to everything I said.

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