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Everything we know so far about Sacha Baron Cohen’s secret project

Cohen began teasing the hotly anticipated project on July 4th and since then, a lot of new intel has come to light.

Everything we know so far about Sacha Baron Cohen’s secret project
[Photo: courtesy of Gavin Bond/Showtime]

Booyakasha. The guerilla comedy mastermind behind Ali G is back–and he’s already taken some high-level scalps.

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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.”

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 involved

Ever since Cohen let the cat out of the bag, comedy writers have been touting their involvement on Twitter. Some of the ones we’ve noticed so far include Jensen Karp, Demi Adejuyigbe, and Ian Karmel.

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:

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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.

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.

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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.

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