Most comedies these days tend to play within the boundaries of legality, hence the reason why Jerry Seinfeld and his pals never decided to violently run down pedestrians with classic cars on the way to grab some coffee. But throughout the long history of people making jokes for money, occasionally, some humorists have run afoul of the law, such as how…
It Seems Pretty Much Anything ‘Borat’-Related Is Against the Law in Kazakhstan
Considering some of the stunts he’s pulled over the years, in some ways, it’s astounding that Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t currently doing time (or dead, for that matter). One character that’s particularly caused more than one legal problem is Borat, the clueless reporter from Kazakhstan.
In addition to being sued by virtually everyone who appeared on camera without a fake mustache, Cohen pretty much angered the entire nation of Kazakhstan, who, very understandably, didn’t take kindly to Cohen’s satirical barbs at their expense.
The film’s website even had the nerve to use a Kazakh domain: “borat.kz” — that is, until a “government-appointed organization” in Kazakhstan suspended the site. They claimed that it had “broken new rules” requiring that .kz sites maintain “two computer servers in Kazakhstan,” not to mention that the site was registered using “false names for its administrators.”
Oddly, just three years later, the country would go on to adopt “Very nice!” as their tourism slogan — presumably just beating out “Kazakhstan greatest country in the world; all other countries are run by little girls.”
John Waters Was Put on Trial for Shooting a Nude Scene
The films of John Waters are famously controversial, so much so that even renting out a copy of a Pink Flamingos VHS tape once led to a video store manager facing felony charges. But long before that, Waters was arrested during the production of his first feature film, Mondo Trasho.
According to Waters, he decided to film some scenes on the campus of Johns Hopkins University but “didn’t ask for permission.” Despite filming in the early morning hours, the scene — involving Divine driving a red 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible and picking up a nude hitchhiker — not shockingly attracted the notice of a local security guard, who called the cops. The police “raided the set” and arrested Waters and his crew (although not Divine, who escaped in the Caddy).
Charged with “conspiracy to commit indecent exposure,” Waters called up the ACLU, who sent a “famous radical Baltimore attorney” to defend them during the trial, which involved screening Waters’ early short films — all of which ended up being great publicity for the young filmmaker.
Speaking of criminal charges leading to great publicity…
Mae West Spent Over a Week in Prison for ‘Sex’
Before she became a pop-culture icon, Mae West helped kickstart her career by writing and starring in the Broadway show Sex. The show’s content (West played a sex worker) was so controversial at the time that the theater was raided by the NYPD’s vice squad, who arrested West and “20 of her cast members.”
Given the opportunity to close the show and have all the charges dropped, West admirably declined, stood trial, and was eventually sentenced to 10 days in a “workhouse” for creating an “obscene, indecent, immoral and impure drama.” At the start of her sentence, West took a limo to the prison, where she reportedly “dined with the warden,” ultimately getting out two days early for good behavior. If the objective of the raid was to quash West’s influence, it totally backfired, making her a bigger star than ever before.
W.C. Fields Was Arrested for Killing a Bird (That Was Likely Killed By a Cop)
Booze-loving, child-hating comedy legend W.C. Fields was once arrested for murdering a bird. Back in 1928, Fields was performing a stage routine in which he played an abusive dentist; at one point in the act, a live bird flew out of one patient’s giant ZZ Top-esque beard.
The trained bird was secretly released by Fields and would fly into the theater wings once the joke was over. One performance was attended by “two officers attached to the Humane Society” who said that they “saw the bird hit its head on the scenery and fall to the floor.”
Fields was arrested backstage and charged with torturing the bird, then hauled before a judge. During the ensuing trial, it was revealed that the canary actually died “en route to the vet.” Also, witnesses saw the arresting officer “drop the cage” containing the bird at one point. Fields’ lawyer also suggested that photographers swarming the scene of the arrest may have led to the fatality, with the smoke from their flashes asphyxiating the bird.
Ultimately, the judge released Fields and even admonished the cops for the “unjustifiable arrest of a reputable citizen.” Although to be fair, Fields reportedly tried to murder a swan with a baseball bat years later.
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