In one of the biggest surprises of the year so far, controversial funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen – he of Ali G, Borat and Bruno fame – has just dropped a new TV show, without anyone knowing prior to this weekend that he even had one on the way.
Featuring a host of new characters, Baron Cohen’s latest, Who Is America?, promises to skewer the US and some of its most prominent people, using the comedian’s classic tactic of using ‘innocent’ character-hosts to draw surprising answers from interviewees.
As Who Is America? lands on TV, we take a look back at Sacha Baron Cohen’s 15 most shocking moments, from a career spent baiting unwitting victims.
15. Kinder Guardians
The show has only just begun airing, and already Who Is America? is generating heat for Baron Cohen, with politicians like Sarah Palin accusing the comedian of ‘duping’ them into controversy-baiting interviews. The clip above, which sees Baron Cohen’s new character Colonel Erran Morad convince a number of US politicians to endorse a programme that arms toddlers with guns, has provoked outrage.
14. The Trump interview
Though tame by Baron Cohen standards, the interview that Ali G managed to secure with Trump is now shocking for how thoroughly it emphasises the stupidity of the current President of the United States. Donald, apparently, thinks human beings trading rocks “hundreds of millions of years ago” was the first business, and the very fact he was tricked into sitting down for a one-on-one with the character should set off alarm bells for anyone who thinks he knows what he’s doing as Commander-in-Chief.
13. Bruno’s interview with a ‘terrorist’
More controversial for what happened behind-the-scenes than for what happens in the clip itself, the interview that Baron Cohen’s fashion reporter Bruno gives in 2009’s Bruno with a ‘terrorist leader’ might just be a case of false representation in the extreme. The subject of the interview, Abu Aita, filed a $70 million lawsuit against Baron Cohen claiming he wasn’t a terrorist at all, while a Palestinian terror group sent death threats to Baron Cohen in response to the bit.
12. Neil Hamilton
In 2000, during the first run of Da Ali G Show, Baron Cohen brought disgraced former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton on for a chat. As if it wasn’t enough that Hamilton was getting air time, Ali G also offered Hamilton a ‘spliff’ – which the ex-Tory promptly smoked, causing outrage in the conservative press.
11. Ryan Seacrest meets Kim Jong-il
To promote his 2012 film The Dictator, in which he stars as North African despot General Aladeen, Baron Cohen took to the Oscars red carpet. He brought with him two female security guards and an urn containing the ‘ashes’ of Kim Jong-il, which Baron Cohen used to break red carpet protocol by pouring them all over TV’s Mr Nice Guy, Ryan Seacrest, live on air.
10. Baby fashion shoot
Bruno appearing on a chat show with a baby he ‘adopted in Africa’ by swapping the child for an iPod is only the second most shocking scene involving kids in fashion in 2009’s Bruno. Baron Cohen in the clip above exposes how scary the world of child starmaking can be, and how desperate some parents are just to make their sons and daughters famous – including getting them to “lose a few pounds” and operate heavy machinery.
9. James Broadwater
This would have reached higher on the list if James Broadwater, a congressional candidate seen in this clip doorstepping with Borat, had ever actually had much success in politics. Still, that the Republican party has ever fielded a candidate (five times!) who was willing to call the Democrats the ‘homosexual party’ and say in interview that Jews are going to hell, is shocking enough.
8. Dick Cheney’s waterboarding kit
— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) July 8, 2018
If responses from critics have been mixed on the show so far, Who Is America? still promises to feature some shockingly entertaining moments. In the first teaser that audiences got of the show, Baron Cohen – in character as Col Morad – could be seen easily convincing former VP Dick Cheney to sign his ‘waterboard kit’.
7. Baron Cohen ‘kills’ live on-stage
It’s not often you get to see Sacha Baron Cohen playing himself in public, though even when he does he still enjoys using the opportunity to play pranks on an unsuspecting audience. When he received the Charlie Chaplin Award for Excellence in Comedy in 2013, Baron Cohen did a bit where he accidentally ‘killed’ an elderly woman, then proceeded to dedicate the award to her.
6. Borat at the MTV Movie Awards
So controversial it aired once, live, and never again, a joke Baron Cohen made about Jessica Simpson at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards sparked anger from critics at the time. About Simpson’s choice of dress, Baron Cohen – in character as Borat – said that he liked Simpson’s mouth, being able to see it through her pants.
5. The Brothers Grimsby’s AIDS joke
There’s absolutely nothing subtle about The Brothers Grimsby, Baron Cohen’s most recent cinematic effort, and the most savage gag in the film is so deliberately designed to offend that it’s almost a work of art. Having already given Daniel Radcliffe AIDS in the film, Baron Cohen follows up by having Radcliffe shot and splashing blood into the mouth of Donald Trump, who himself becomes infected.
4. Ron Paul
Sacha Baron Cohen has always been at his best when he manages to successfully use his baiting interviewing technique to expose outwardly respectable people for what they really are. In this clip, Bruno attempts to seduce the married, then-73-year-old Republican party bigwig Ron Paul, backing Paul into a corner where he resorts to using homophobic slurs.
3. The Borat fight scene
An epic of depraved, gross-out humour, the fight scene between Baron Cohen’s Borat and his obese producer Azamat – both of them naked – in Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan would be squirm-inducing to watch even if the two actors didn’t carry on the fight out in amongst the general, unsuspecting American public.
Before he even had his own show, Baron Cohen was producing some of his finest, most outrageous material. In this clip, Baron Cohen interviews participants at punk festival EvilFest as an early version of the flamboyantly gay Bruno, prompting the interviewees to scowl and perform Hitler salutes in a scene that feels genuinely dangerous for the comedian.
1. Borat’s song
Long before Who Is America?, Baron Cohen was exposing a dark underbelly of America that other ‘serious’ TV hosts could never have captured on film. In this clip from Da Ali G Show, Borat sings Throw the Jew Down the Well to a crowd of bar patrons in the American south. They soon come to eagerly join him in a singalong.