Sacha Baron Cohen's comic creation Borat is perhaps Kazakhstan's most influential cultural ambassador, which is precisely the problem. Travelling the world with an unseen camera man, Borat is known for enthusiastically proffering phony pellets of cultural exchange ("In Kazhakstan we have many hobbies: disco dancing, archery, rape and table tennis...").
But it was his recent hosting duties at the MTV Europe Awards, where he famously mistook Madonna for a transvestite ("He was very convincing. It was only his hands and his testi-satchels that gave it away,") that brought Borat to a higher level of visibility and, not surprisingly, the Kazakh government was none too pleased:
Cohen appears to have drawn official Kazakh ire after he hosted the annual MTV Europe Music Awards show in Lisbon earlier this month as Borat, who arrived in an Air Kazakh propeller plane controlled by a one-eyed pilot clutching a vodka bottle.
"We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way," Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashykbayev told a news briefing.
"We reserve the right to any legal action to prevent new pranks of the kind." He declined to elaborate.
This would not be the first time one of Baron Cohen's characters got him into trouble, the most noteworthy being the incident at a Roanoke rodeo where Borat's mutilation of the "Star Spangled Banner" led to a near riot. But with an entire country threatening legal action against him, this could elevate the comedian to Lenny Bruce-levels of comedy-martyrdom, doing for cow-punching and recreational rape what Bruce did for freedom of speech.