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Gag response

While teaching American humor to a gregarious and absurdly out-of-touch foreign journalist, Pat Haggerty realized something was off -- who was this guy?

Haggerty, a public- speaking coach from Washington, D.C., is one of the unwitting co stars of the surprise hit movie "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Haggerty has no hard feelings toward Borat, a.k.a. comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, but the same can't be said for others who were humiliated or even lost their jobs thanks to the awkward fellow with the bushy mustache.

Their embarrassment over the film's hilarious, cringe-inducing blend of fiction and improvised comedy is magnified by its success -- "Borat" has topped the box office two weeks in a row, earning a total of $67.8 million.

Last year Haggerty agreed to be filmed for what he thought was a benign documentary on his client's journey across America. He hurriedly signed a release form, was paid $400, and the lesson began. As cameras rolled, his client told raunchy stories in garbled English and laughed heartily at the expense of handicapped people.

"And then, I'm starting to smell a rat," Haggerty said. "Each passing minute I'm going, you know, this can't be real." Confused, he ended up playing along. He later figured out -- thanks to his son, an HBO-watching college student -- that he'd been duped. "They were exercising a First Amendment right," said Haggerty, adding that he enjoyed the movie.

Two of Cohen's targets -- fraternity boys who made drunken, insulting comments about women and minorities -- are suing 20th Century Fox and three production companies. The lawsuit claims that a production crew took the students to a bar to "loosen up" before participating in what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside of the United States, and that they signed waivers after drinking heavily. Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant said the lawsuit "has no merit."

Cohen's behavior also wasn't funny to former TV producer Dharma Arthur, who claims she was duped into giving Cohen airtime on a morning show segment in Jackson, Miss. Cohen's live appearance, in which he said he had to go "urine" and hugged a bemused weatherman, led her life into a downward spiral, she told the AP. She is seeking an apology.

Kathie Martin, who runs an etiquette school in Birmingham, Ala., was gracious and calm when Borat showed her nude photos of his son, but Martin admitted she was "taken aback" by his s htick during their on-camera meeting.

"Unless you can figure it out for yourself, you have no way of knowing you have been tricked into being part of a childish prank with an R rating attached," she said via e-mail. "And even if you figure it out, you've signed a release that Mr. Cohen's people say relinquishes any rights on your part to take action against them."

Ronald Miller of Natchez, Miss., and his wife attended a dinner at a plantation house, which they were told would be an interview with an "Eastern European television reporter coming to Natchez to film social customs in the South," he said. Borat disturbed guests, Miller said, by making anti-Semitic remarks and saying slavery was wonderful. He also invited a dinner guest -- a woman posing as a prostitute -- to join the group.

In another scene, former "Baywatch" babe Pamela Anderson was attacked by Borat's alter ego at a book signing, and he later chased her through a parking lot. Did she learn of his antics in advance? Yep, claims Anderson.

"I love Borat. . . . Of course [Sacha] and I planned this years ago," she wrote in a recent post on her website. "And it turned out perfect -- I'm so happy for him."


Cruise wedding frenzy mounts
Tom Cruise flew into a Rome airport yesterday on a private jet, airport officials said, setting off a frenzy among media and fans anticipating the star's high-profile wedding to Katie Holmes. Cruise arrived at Rome's small Ciampino airport from Los Angeles with about 10 people, including his mother and his three children, airport officials said. The couple is set to marry at an undisclosed Italian location Saturday. Speculation on the site has focused on Odescalchi Castle on Lake Bracciano , near the capital. Holmes, 27, and Cruise, 44, became engaged in June 2005.

Rights groups await rule
Malawi's High Court said it will rule next week on whether a coalition of human rights and child advocacy groups should help decide whether Madonna is fit to adopt a 13-month-old boy. Justice Andrew Nyirenda said yesterday he will rule Monday on whether to admit the 67-member coalition, which includes the Malawi Human Rights Commission, as a party in the proceedings. The coalition claims the proceedings have been irregular. Madonna says she has met all the country's requirements for adopting the toddler, whose father, Yohane Banda , has said the human rights group's lawsuit threatens his son's future. The pop singer, 48, and her husband, Guy Ritchie, were granted interim custody of David Banda by a High Court judge on Oct. 12.

High court backs 'Da Vinci' author
The Supreme Court yesterday handed a victory to "The Da Vinci Code " author Dan Brown , refusing to consider an allegation of copyright infringement. Lewis Perdue contends that Brown's thriller is substantially similar to his book, written years before the 2003 publication of "The Da Vinci Code." Perdue said a federal judge should have considered affidavits detailing similarities between his book, "Daughter of God ," and Brown's. An appeals court upheld the judge's ruling that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar.

'Our case, in essence, is that Mr. Fisher wrote the entirety of the organ tune.' Iain Purvis, lawyer for former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher, who is suing lead singer Gary Brooker and a publisher for a co-author credit of the 1967 hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and a share of the copyright and royalties.


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