After much teasing, it was revealed earlier this week that comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has been working secretly over the last year to film a new series for Showtime called, Who Is America? Showtime describes it as a “seven-episode series [that] explores the diverse individuals, from the infamous to the unknown across the political and cultural spectrum, who populate our unique nation.” All signs indicate that it is a spiritual successor to Da Ali G Show, with Cohen taking on the personas of different characters in order to interview major politicians and cultural figures—and based on the number of conservatives coming forward to declare they got owned by him, hoo boy did he do a great job of it!
The first person revealed to have fallen for Cohen’s shenanigans was none other than former Vice President Dick Cheney. In one promo for the series, he gleefully signs a “waterboard kit.” “That’s a first,” Cheney noted, “the first time I’ve signed a waterboard.”
— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) July 8, 2018
Over the course of the week, a parade of odious and notable figures all came forward to admit they were fooled by Cohen, likely in an attempt to get ahead of whatever horrible things they said during the segments. That includes Sarah Palin, who called Cohen “evil,” “exploitive” and “truly sick,” and asked him to donate the proceeds of the show to pro-veterans charities. Instead, Cohen in the guise of new character Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. PhD, founder of TruthBrary.org (a clear InfoWars alt-Right conspiracy theory spoof), responded with a hilarious open letter on Twitter (note: that Twitter account has been active and tweeting for almost two months now):
— Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD (@BillyWRuddick) July 12, 2018
Palin went on Good Morning America this morning to go into painstaking detail about how she was duped, revealing she didn’t bother researching the program or host herself: “It was proposed to me as a legitimate interview to speak about veterans’ issues in our military and current events to a new audience,” Palin said. “It was supposed to be this big time Showtime documentary and it was passed on to me by a speakers’ bureau, which, you know, I would assume had done some vetting.”
The details about the segment are pretty funny: “Yeah, he started showing me these graphs and statistics that had typos in them and that just didn’t quite look right. Part of this propaganda, this data, that he was showing me had something to do with sex changes and transgenderism,” she said. “[He] said that [Chelsea Clinton] was a recipient of a government-funded sex change. It just got worse and worse and worse as the minutes went on in this bizarre, really embarrassing, humiliating interview.” Just as she who smelt it dealt it, so too does she who was morbidly embarrassed by an interview that made her look terrible go on national television to try to save face but instead continue to further embarrass herself.
But wait, there’s more: former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh, conservative radio host Austin Rhodes, former Arizona law enforcement officer and avowed racist Joe Arpaio, journalist Ted Koppel, and accused child molestor Roy Moore have all voluntarily come forward to admit they were fooled.
INBOX: Statement of Judge Roy Moore on Sasha Cohen’s CBS/Showtime series, Who is America? pic.twitter.com/uVBthwN6cQ
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 12, 2018
In a series of tweets, Walsh said he took part in the same event in February that ensnared Moore, a fake pro-Israel event that bestowed him with an award for his “Significant Contributions to the State of Israel.” You can read all about it here, but below is the best tweet:
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
He also talked about it on Good Morning America as well:
Politicians say they were tricked into interviews by comedian Sacha Baron, who’s now under fire: https://t.co/hQ5e1qcu6n pic.twitter.com/g6sXQZYhPX
— Good Morning America (@GMA) July 12, 2018
Rhodes told The Hollywood Reporter he was tricked during a live radio interview while the comedian was posing as Dr. Nira Cain, a professor of gender and women’s studies at Reed College in Portland. Rhodes said that “some of ‘Dr. Cain’s’ best hits from the interview included calling the U.S. Army ‘an active terrorist organization,’ saying that The Dukes of Hazzard is like the Southern version of Roots,’ and claiming that ‘white supremacists are responsible for most of the gun deaths in America.'” (There is also a series of fake Amazon listings for books written by Cain, including my personal favorite, “Immoral Toddlers.”)
Rhodes said he was shocked when he found out it was Cohen: “I was flummoxed. I have been a fan of Cohen’s work for years, and I have seen Borat probably 20 times from start to finish. How in the hell did I miss that this was Sacha Baron Cohen? When I replayed the show, literally the very next day, his voice was obvious, despite a clever attempt to disguise the voice we have heard in countless dialects and characters.” (You can see a screenshot of Cohen in character as Dr. Cain here thanks to security footage obtained by a local Augusta news outlet.)
The first rule of being interviewed by anybody is to ask if they’re secretly Sacha Baron Cohen; that’s just basic journalism school
— rachel syme (@rachsyme) July 12, 2018
Arpaio says that Cohen was disgused as a “Finnish comedian” when he interviewed him in October 2017. According to The Hill, Arpaio said of the interview: “I felt uncomfortable with some of the words they were using but I had to live through it. I am not the type of guy who gets up and walks out. I never walked out in thousands of interviews. I just take it.” He added that the thing that made him most uncomfortable was Cohen’s character talking about “golden showers.”
Frankly it rules that every terrible politician is being forced to release a statement like “Sacha Baron Cohen presented himself as an authentic Italian race car driver and tricked me into saying what I did about the Jews”
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) July 13, 2018
The only person to take the interview in stride seems to be Koppel, who told The Hollywood Reporter: “Everybody loves seeing well-known people get duped,” he says. “I relish it too, when it’s done well.”
Here’s how he described his interaction with Cohen:
Koppel says the pitch for the show was to have “ordinary folk interviewing the expert” — with Baron Cohen apparently posing as the former. But immediately the man began to press Koppel to admit that the Trump inaugural crowd was the biggest ever.
“When I disagreed, he showed me a photograph on his laptop of a huge inaugural crowd and a man holding a digital clock on a pole,” says Koppel. “The clock said 11 p.m. My interviewer pointed out that if the crowd was that huge at 11, hours after the actual inauguration, it had to have been the biggest ever.”
Koppel then pointed out the obvious problem with that claim: If it was 11 p.m., why was it still broad daylight? That’s when the conversation took an absurd turn.
“He said maybe it was an eclipse. And I said if it were an eclipse, it would have been dark,” notes Koppel. “And he said maybe it was an eclipse of the moon and the sun eclipsed the moon. I said, ‘Wait a second. The sun is many millions of miles away from the moon.’ At that point, I realized something was really wrong. And that’s when I said, ‘Guys, I don’t want to be rude; you’re guests in my home. But we’re done. Break down and time to leave.'”
The biggest question remains whether Cohen was able to snag any time with Trump himself. The very first teaser for the show was this Trump-centric message that brought up Trump’s appearance on Da Ali G Show and invoked Trump University:
— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) July 4, 2018
Who Is America? premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime. In anticipation, watch Cohen recount that fateful run-in with Trump below.