Before we’d even seen Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show, politicians including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin had announced they’d been duped into being interviewed by one of his over-the-top fake personas.
Now that Who Is America? has debuted, it’s clear why they might be in damage control.
The first episode shows two Republican congressmen appearing to back a fake Israeli program called Kinder Guardians which aims to arm children in schools.
This is Cohen’s first TV show in a decade
The British comedian first made a name for himself in the late 90s and early 2000s with his blinged-up character Ali G, who called himself the “voice of da yoof”.
Some of Cohen’s interviewees (/victims) at that time were former US speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, second-man-on-the-moon Buzz Aldrin, and then-businessman and current resident of the White House Donald Trump.
Two other characters from Da Ali G Show were Borat, the Kazakh journalist who later starred in the 2006 mockumentary of the same name and earned his creator a best actor Golden Globe, and Bruno, the Austrian fashionista who similarly had his own movie in 2009.
He’s back performing as new characters
- Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr, a conspiracy theorist and founder of alt-right website Truthbrary.org (“Obamacare came in, I was forced to see a doctor, and suddenly I had three diseases”)
- Dr Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, a liberal gender studies academic (“I’m a cisgender white heterosexual male, for which I apologise”)
- Ricky Sherman, a British ex-prisoner turning his life around as an artist (“I made one mistake, just 14 times”)
- Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terror expert (“I am the terrorist terminator”)
Cohen wears make-up, prosthetics and costumes to get in character, which is why, despite his infamy, his interview guests couldn’t tell who they were dealing with.
The first episode of Who Is America? was released on July 15, with the other six to air week-by-week.
Politicians support fake guns-for-kids program
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America?
First, Morad gets help from Philip Van Cleave, leader of the Virginia Citizens Defence League, to make a video about how to use a gun, filmed in the style of a TV show aimed at children.
“Today we’re going to teach you how you can stop these naughty men and have them take a long nap,” Van Cleave says to camera.
Then, Morad talks to Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus of Gun Owners Of America, who responds enthusiastically to his message that it’s important not just to arm teachers, but also children as young as four.
“The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good boy with a gun,” Morad says.
To which Mr Pratt replies, “Even a good toddler”.
Finally, Morad tries to get support from politicians in Washington DC.
He doesn’t have success with everyone, with Florida congressman Matt Gaetz asking him incredulously, “You want me to say on television that I support three- and four-year-olds with firearms, is that what you’re asking me?”.
But he got some big names to speak on video, including:
- Congressman Joe Wilson (“A three-year-old cannot defend itself from an assault rifle by throwing a Hello Kitty pencil case at it. Our founding fathers did not put an age limit on the Second Amendment.”)
- Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (“Maybe having young people trained and understand how to defend themselves in their school might actually make us safer here.”)
- Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (“It’s something we should think about in America, about putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, good guys, whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children.”)
- Former congressman Joe Walsh (“The intensive three-week Kinder Guardian course introduces specially selected children from 12 to 4 years old to pistols, rifles, semi-automatics and a rudimentary knowledge of mortars. In less than a month a first grader can become a first grenadier… Happy shooting, kids.”)
Mr Rohrabacher has since lashed out at Cohen
Mr Rohrabacher said he only spoke broadly in the video about training young people of responsible age in self-defence, and called the segment a “sick fraud” intentionally designed to be deceptive for political reasons.
“At no time did I endorse training toddlers in handling guns. Nor was the idea even presented to me directly. If it had been, I would have rejected it.”
Mr Walsh, meanwhile, explained on Twitter that he’d been asked to read from a teleprompter:
Joe Walsh tweet: “What can I say Bradley? @SachaBaronCohen got me. Do I believe kindergarteners should be armed? Hell no.”
Mr Wilson said in a statement, “Public officials of both parties, like everyone, can be the target of practical jokes — and that’s what you’ve seen in this instance.”
Neither Mr Wilson nor Mr Lott have commented.
It wasn’t only conservatives who were mocked
Who Is America tweet: Meet #BillyWayne Ruddick, Jr., PhD., formally served United Parcel and unbiased journalist. #WhoIsAmerica #Showtime
Bernie Sanders’ interview was with Ruddick Jr from Truthbrary.org.
When the former Democrat presidential hopeful starts talking about the distribution of wealth in America, Cohen’s character responds:
“Rather than complain about the 1 per cent, or the 0.1 per cent, why not make the rest of America, put them into the 1 per cent?”
A confused Sanders replies, “If you put everybody into the 1 per cent, it wouldn’t be the 1 per cent.”
A debate then ensures about the mathematics of the suggestion, with Ruddick Jr citing figures from the “International Institute of Scientific Truth and Knowledge” which he says proves it’s possible.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I really don’t,” Mr Sanders eventually says before the segment cuts.
Appearances from Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney to come
The former Alaska governor says she was invited to contribute to a “Showtime historical documentary” and was interviewed by someone heavily disguised as “a disabled US Veteran, fake wheelchair and all”.
She says she sat through “disrespect and sarcasm” before walking out, calling Cohen’s humour “evil, exploitive, sick”.
“Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country,” she said.
Showtime said in a statement that Cohen “did not present himself as a disabled veteran” or wear any military apparel when he met with Ms Palin.
Meanwhile, another trailer for Who Is America? showed Mr Cheney being asked to sign a “waterboard kit” — a large plastic bottle.
Tweet @SachaBaronCohen trailer