The joke’s on you: Ali G’s ‘Me Julie’

This week Ali G releases his first single, ‘Me Julie’. Caroline Sullivan wishes he wouldn’t.

AS A RULE, music and comedy are about as compatible as Marilyn Manson and Sunday school picnics. This includes both inadvertently comedic music — Victoria Beckham’s solo output, say — and records that are funny on purpose, like the Ali G/Shaggy single, ‘Me Julie’, which came out this week.

We can absolve the Poshes of this world on the grounds that their primary intent is not to induce laughter (and we’ll even extend the benefit of the doubt to George Michael, whose perv-lord costume in the ‘Freeek!’ video veers close to classic comedy).

But it’s harder to be generous to people like Ali G creator Sacha Baron Cohen, who really should know better.

Cohen has decided that what’s hilarious as a TV sketch will be equally side-splitting as a three-minute single — the latest in a long line of comedians, from Benny Hill on, to do so. But enough’s enough. It’s time to say a few words to him, in the undoubtedly futile hope of deterring others.

Now hear this, Cohen: you’re an amusing fellow, and if you never do another thing you can at least die in the knowledge that for the first few years of the 21st century, your epochal Ali G defined British comedy (as for the less funny Borat character — remember him? — well, nobody’s perfect).

Your forthcoming film, Ali G In Da House, could even break the leader of the Staines Massive in America. But it doesn’t give you the right to put a few of your catchphrases to a floppy ragga tune, add a chorus (“Julie/Me love you truly”) and charge your public £3.99 for the pleasure.

It’s easy to understand what led Cohen to make a record — though it doesn’t make it right. Ali G is a hugely popular creation whose predominantly 18- to 25-year-old fans are also, coincidentally, the prime CD-buying demographic. Furthermore, he’s duetting with Shaggy, one of last year’s most successful artists. A match made in Top of the Pops heaven?

In strictly commercial terms, Cohen’s venture has paid off — it’s predicted ‘Me Julie’ will enter the chart at number two on Sunday, just behind Will Young.

Nonetheless, if it follows the pattern of other singles by comedians, ‘Me Julie’ could well mark the start of Ali G’s decline. Comics who test fans’ loyalty by making records swiftly get their comeuppance.

The records may be hits (collaborations by French & Saunders and Bananarama, and Mel Smith and Kim Wilde both reached the top three, as did a Richard Blackwood solo single); some, such as Benny Hill, Hale & Pace and Vic Reeves and The Wonder Stuff, even top the charts. But what happens afterwards? The CD is taken home, played approximately three times, and then left to gather dust.

The hapless buyer belatedly realises the record is a load of rubbish that probably took a whole half hour to record. They’ve been had by a comedian who arrogantly believed he was so popular he could get away with anything. Cue a sharp drop in that very popularity.

Benny Hill may have recovered from the debacle of ‘Ernie, Fastest Milkman in the West’, but he’s the exception that proves the rule. Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones were never quite as popular after the former’s parody of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’, while Richard Blackwood seems to have vanished since his awful rap record, ‘Who Da Man’?

Arguably, Vic Reeves’s career has glittered less brightly in the years since he ineptly covered the bubblegum tune ‘Dizzy’. And when do you ever hear about either Hale & Pace or their charttopping ‘The Stonk’?

It may be too late for Sacha Baron Cohen, but the comedy stars of tomorrow would be wise to take note.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 13 March 2002

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