Sacha Baron Cohen has a long history of tricking prominent people into doing ridiculous interviews.
The comedian, whose new Showtime series, “Who Is America,” premieres Sunday night, first started interviewing unsuspecting dignitaries in his native Britain on Channel 4’s “Da Ali G Show.” He crossed the pond in 2003, bringing his irreverent personas — the suburban London-bred gangster Ali G, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev and Austrian fashion reporter Bruno Gehard — to HBO.
As Ali G, Cohen tried to convince Donald Trump, 14 years ahead of moving into the White House, to invest in an “ice cream glove.” He referred to Buzz Aldrin as “Buzz Lightyear,” and asked the pioneering astronaut whether “the people” living on the moon were friendly. “Or was they scared of you?”
He asked Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., what punishments he thought suicide bombers should receive. “It’s very hard to do anything to a suicide bomber,” Kerr volunteered, but Ali G pressed on: “But don’t you think if you said, if you does suicide bomb we’s gonna give you 20 years in jail that them wouldn’t do it?”
In a 2003 column, The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd reported that Cohen tricked former secretary of state James Baker “and others into granting interviews by sending them flattering letters on fancy stationery from United World Productions, inviting them to be part of a six-part series for Channel 4 on British TV aimed at explaining the U.S. Constitution to young people.”
Slate tracked down one such letter, which heaped praise on its recipient and credited the interview request to an organization called Somerford Brooke Productions. Reporter Sam Schechner noted that Somerford Brooke was actually an officially registered company, which — along with other fictitious entities — was registered at the same address of Fremantle Media, the parent company of the now-defunct production house that produced “Da Ali G Show.”
As Borat, Cohen infamously butchered the national anthem at a rodeo in Salem, Va. The Roanoke Times reported that Cohen and his film crew had narrowly escaped an angry mob. Organizer Bobby Rowe said he had been approached by someone claiming to be a representative of a company making a documentary about a “traveling immigrant.”
“I’ve been snookered before, but not to that degree,” Rowe told the paper, which speculated that Cohen may have staged the antics as part of an upcoming film. That theory proved to be true, with snippets of the event making it into Cohen’s 2006 film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
“It was proposed to me as a legitimate interview to speak about veterans issues and our military and current events to a new audience,” Palin told “Good Morning America’s” Robin Roberts on Friday. “It was supposed to be this bigtime Showtime documentary and it was passed on to me by a speakers bureau.”
On Thursday, Cohen appeared to respond to Palin’s account of the interview via a character named Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., who Cohen retweeted.
(Showtime declined to comment on whether Ruddick is a character associated with “Who Is America?”)
Also on Thursday, Moore — who lost a 2017 bid for an Alabama Senate seat, following allegations he had pursued multiple underage girls decades ago — said in a statement that he had accepted an expenses-paid trip to Washington in February, expecting to be honored for his support of Israel. “I did not know Sacha Cohen or that a Showtime TV series was being planned to embarrass, humiliate, and mock not only Israel, but also religious conservatives such as Sarah Palin, Joe Walsh, and Dick Cheney,” he wrote.
In an apparent promo for “Who Is America?,” former vice president Dick Cheney agrees to sign a so-called “waterboard kit.” Cheney also appears in an official but vague teaser for the show, posted to Showtime’s YouTube page: “I hope you’ll tune in next week for an interview with me,” Cheney says.