Booyakasha. The guerilla comedy mastermind behind Ali G is back–and he’s already taken some high-level scalps.
On the 4th of July, Sacha Baron Cohen did the most patriotic thing a person can do in America right now: tease an upcoming project making fun of the president. What initially seemed like a vague promise of future folly turned into an official announcement of imminent, must-see TV. Cohen tweeted out a promo for his upcoming Showtime series, Who is America?, featuring footage of Dick Cheney signing Cohen’s “waterboard kit.”
— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) July 8, 2018
It’s understandable that people might have forgotten about Cohen’s estimable gifts as a fake interviewer. After his 2006 film, Borat, catapulted him directly onto Hollywood’s coveted comedy A-list, he immediately faltered. The followup, 2009’s Bruno, based on another character he had created years before on Da Ali G Show, fizzled at the box office and with critics. Subsequent narrative projects like The Dictator and The Brothers Grimsby not only lacked Cohen’s old magic, but they also seemed to scrub memories of prime SBC directly from fans’ brains.
However, the current state of the world–with post-Brexit fallout in his native Britain and Trump’s bumbling tyranny in the U.S.–seems to have fired Cohen up again and helped him rediscover his roots as a brilliant political comedian. Although scant footage is available so far, Who Is America?, which premieres on Sunday, July 15, finds Cohen exercising his flinty improvisational skills in interviews. Here’s what we know about the show so far.
Who’s been pranked so far
Cohen appears to have cast a wide net. Following the initial image of Dick Cheney, a cavalcade of complainers has emerged to admit that they, too, had been duped. Whether they’re aware of it or not, the mostly right-wing roster of people railing against Cohen for being mischievous has only publicized the hell out of his show, raising expectations to a level they can’t possibly fulfill (although we’ll be watching.) The list includes:
- Former Vice Presidential candidate turned Instagram sponcon-hawker Sarah Palin, who wrote about the experience on Facebook
- Former senatorial candidate and alleged pedophile Roy Moore
- Convicted felon and confessed concentration camp enthusiast Joe Arpaio
- Conservative radio host Austin Rhodes
- Florida congressman and Trump hypeman Matt Gaetz.
- Ted Koppel
- Noted musket-haver Joe Walsh, who hilariously tweeted “#boycottShowtime” in response to his duping
I was rushed to the studio, production was a mess, I sat down and we started talking pro-Israel stuff, Israeli defense, and then out of left field the interviewer starts talking about how children should defend themselves against terrorist attacks. #BoycottShowtime pic.twitter.com/kdwA0h9VyR
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) July 11, 2018
According to Matt Drudge, the list also includes: Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, Alberto Gonzales, Trent Lott, and David Patraeus. As of this writing, none of these folks have managed to preemptively immolate themselves, which means that either their interviews ended up not being embarrassing, or they’re consulting crisis management experts right this minute.
How he’s been able to do it
At the peak of his fame, Cohen was way too visible to get away with this kind of thing, but perhaps his slightly deflated popularity in recent years helped him pull it off. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Showime’s producers have been claiming to be working on a docuseries called The Age of Reason since at least late 2017. The show was presented to Ted Koppel as containing “conversations with distinguished experts in science and public policy, highlighting the brightest and most reputable minds on today’s most important topics.” The reason people like Ted Koppel may not have recognized Cohen or suspected they were being had is that the producers mentioned “ordinary people” would be doing some of the interviews.
Although it’s unclear who Cohen is pretending to be based on his odd accent in the bit of Cheney interview released so far, the character he used on Palin is named Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick. Cohen, or perhaps someone at Showtime, launched a Twitter account for the character in mid-May, complete with links to stories from his website, Truthbrary.org, which seems firmly rooted in Alex Jones territory.
— Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD (@BillyWRuddick) July 12, 2018
What to watch for
In his Ali G prime, Cohen would often makes himself the butt of the joke for most of an interview and then go in for the killshot. Although in his 2004 interview with Trump, he was unable to wring any laughs at the then-game show host’s expense. (As much as I hate to admit it, Trump actually comes across in the interview as sharp and savvy.) Similarly, the main thrill of his interview with Newt Gingrich is that he landed it at all.
What will hopefully be more representative of what’s to come in the new show is Cohen’s interview with Pat Buchanan.
He starts off by asking Buchanan how long he was president for and spends a few minutes being generally aloof. Where he succeeds beautifully is steering Buchanan into a position of attempting to justify the second Iraq War. Mislabeling weapons of mass destruction as “BLT’s” may sound like a juvenile gambit–and it is–but it ends up being all the rope Buchanan needs to hang himself.
Fast Company is looking forward to finding out what Sarah Palin and all the others listed above do with the rope they’re given.