Borat is latest in a colorful parade of alter egos

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Is he for real, or is he Borat?

Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
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Borat with French subtitles

Borat visits the White House

Dame Edna Everage performs "Disco Matilda"

Father Guido Sarducci sings a Beatles medley

Pee-wee Herman's drawing lesson

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That's the question Sacha Baron Cohen appears to be asking as he conducts his business in character leading up to the opening of his mockumentary, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

So convincing, and offensive, is Borat's persona -- a homophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist -- that in response to his antics and the film, the government of Kazakhstan took out a four-page advertising section in The New York Times to counteract any negativity, and, last week, The Moscow Times reported that a top Kazakh official had invited the British comedian for a visit.

Despite positive reviews, Twentieth Century Fox reportedly will give "Borat" a test-the-waters opening, on 700 screens instead of the planned 2,000.

Is Cohen's Borat hilarious? Outrageously offensive? However you view him, he knows how to create buzz -- and not just as Borat. He also reimagines himself as self-styled Brit gangsta Ali G, seen on HBO's "Da Ali G Show."

Cohen isn't the first entertainer to go all out as his alter ego. Comedians and musicians seem to have the market cornered. Comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi donned hats and dark glasses as Blues Brothers Elwood and Jake. Then there's David Bowie going all alien glam as Ziggy Stardust.

Cliff Arquette as Charlie Weaver
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These performers were trying to pull off the neat trick of creating an alternate reality for the public: They became their characters.

Here are other entertainers who, like Baron Cohen, have reinvented themselves as their alter egos (real name/character name):

Cliff Arquette/Charley Weaver -- After a radio and theater career and long stint on "The Jack Paar Show," Weaver, with flattened hat and unruly tie, resided for years in a corner of "Hollywood Squares," where he was ever-ready with a wink and a double-entendre answer.

Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon/Minnie Pearl -- Grand Ole Opry and "Hee Haw" fave with the price tag hanging from her hat scandalized her affluent Nashville family by entering showbiz.

Don Novello/Father Guido Sarducci -- The chain-smoking "priest," left, billed as a correspondent for the Vatican's "L'Osservatore Romano," was a "Saturday Night Live" staple in the late 1970s.

Barry Humphries/Dame Edna Everage -- "Hello, Possums!" The purple-haired Aussie is in demand as a talk-show host, on tour and on Broadway. Her Web site cites Humphries as "her longtime manager."

Paul Reubens/Pee-wee Herman (pre-problems): Manchild Pee-wee starred in a groundbreaking kids' TV show and movies. Reubens had sidelined his alter ego after his arrest at an X-rated movie theater, but "Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Movie" has been announced for 2007.

Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon as Minnie Pearl
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Sharon Eberson can be reached at 412-263-1960 or . PG film critic Barry Paris contributed to this story.


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