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Tuesday, 11 January, 2000, 11:53 GMT
Racism rap for Ali G

Street slang and stupidity have propelled Ali G to fame

Cult comic character Ali G has been accused of racism by some of Britain's leading black comedians.

They claim that Sacha Baron Cohen, who shot to fame as the spoof "yoof" TV interviewer on Channel 4's The 11 O'clock Show, is guilty of ridiculing black street culture.

"I find both him and his material quite offensive," said Curtis Walker, who fronted the recent BBC Two show Urban Heat.

Offended: Comedian Curtis Walker
"I don't like the idea of a white guy playing a black guy anyway and when he is playing to a stupid stereotype it is even worse," he added.

In his Ali G role, Cambridge graduate Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, impersonates a white youth affecting the street slang of a black gangsta rapper.

His speciality is embarrassing public figures by interviewing them in character and asking excruciatingly ignorant questions which they fail to understand.

But his critics, who were interviewed by the New Nation newspaper, claim he has only been successful because he is white.

Felix Dexter, who starred in the series The Real McCoy, said: "I can appreciate the humour of an innocent confronting an expert and neither understanding what the other is on about.

Ali G starts his own Channel 4 show in March
"But a lot of the humour is laughing at black street culture and it is being celebrated because it allows the liberal middle classes to laugh at that culture in a context where they can retain their sense of political correctness."

Channel 4 defended Ali G, who is due to start his own show on the channel in March, by saying that the critics were missing the joke.

"He is satirising the way white kids try to copy the black street culture and look ridiculous. If it's offensive to anyone, it's offensive to white people," said a spokesman.

Divided opinion

But according to the New Nation, only one out of seven black comedians interviewed by the New Nation did not find Ali G offensive.

However, a straw poll by the newspaper of its readers found that more than 80% were fans of the cult character, who won an award for best newcomer in last month's British Comedy Awards.

Michael Eboda, the paper's editor, accused Ali G's critics of "taking themselves too seriously".

The newspaper itself claims the character is rooted in a contemporary cultural phenomenon, "namely that many white and Asian youngsters adopt black personas and appear ridiculous".

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See also:
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10 Nov 99 |  Entertainment
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