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Rabbi: funny man turns a mirror on society

Sacha Baron Cohen’s box office persona known as Bruno is fashionable, a bit freaky and quite flagrant about his sexuality.

He’s also the future of Jewish comedy, at least according to one borough rabbi.

It’s official: Henny Youngman is rolling in his grave.

While Rabbi Simcha Weinstein of Congregation B’Nai Avraham on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights sees Cohen’s character driven comedy−fest on par with the stylings of Larry David and Sarah Silverman, he freely admits that he hasn’t seen Bruno, in which Cohen plays an Austrian television personality who is ready to turn the world on its ear.

As he charges through life, Bruno tackles America’s obsession with fame, Hollywood focus groups, charities and the new trend among celebrities to adopt babies from Third World countries.

He tries to bring peace to the Middle East, although he tends to confuse Hamas with hummus (it also doesn’t help that his fashionable take on Orthodox clothing got him run out of Israel.)

No, Bruno isn’t for everyone and the value of Cohen’s comedy −− which focuses more on shock value than anything else −− is debatable. But to Weinstein, the author of “Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st century” (Barricade Books: 2008), that isn’t the point.

What’s more important is that Cohen is doing something that all great comedians do.

“He turns the mirror on society,” Weinstein explained. “He’s educating through humor, which is good and bad. Sometimes the audience is not as sophisticated as the comedian. If they’re not hip to the joke, the joke will fall flat.”

So Cohen’s a sophisticated comedian? Is that why Bruno tries to have sex with Presidential candidate Ron Paul?

Weinstein said he’s the first to agree that not everything in the movie is appropriate for all audiences.

“But comedians throughout history have been able to play an important role as both jester and educator, like Mel Brooks with ‘Springtime for Hitler.’”

“I’m a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen, and respect the fact that we could all use a good laugh or two these days,” he continued. “But I’m also a rabbi. His raunchy humor makes me deeply uncomfortable, too. It certainly isn’t material for a Shabbat sermon.”

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