Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pranks politicians

Former Congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL) talks to CNN's Michael Smerconish about being pranked by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

Posted: Jul 16, 2018 11:19 AM
Updated: Jul 16, 2018 11:19 AM

Sacha Baron Cohen has been punking people for the last 20 years in various guises, which at first blush made his Showtime series, "Who is America?," sound like just more of the same. But the provocateur has reeled in some big fish -- who have dutifully denounced him -- as marks, adding sizzle to what otherwise amounts to serving old wine in a new bottle.

Sarah Palin, Alabama politician Roy Moore and former congressman Joe Walsh are among those who have lashed out at Cohen in advance, essentially turning themselves into ambassadors for Showtime's marketing department.

Other high-profile figures will be featured over the course of the series, although the premiere opens with Bernie Sanders, indicating that Cohen's targets won't all be of one ideological stripe, even if conservatives receive the lion's share of abuse. "I was forced to see a doctor, and suddenly I have three diseases," Cohen's Southern conservative character tells a fidgety Sanders, seeking to illustrate the evils of Obamacare.

As with his earlier work in this vein, including "Borat" and "Da Ali G Show," Cohen's shtick is a kind of performance art, built around just how far he can push his subjects, whose instincts to walk away or yell "cut" are curbed by the fact that they're being interviewed on camera. He is, basically, boiling a frog -- becoming gradually more outlandish, waiting to see how long it takes before they exhibit some inkling that the situation is abnormal.

Perhaps for that reason, most of the edited segments run four or five minutes, with each half-hour picking on a range of guests and topics, from a Trump delegate in South Carolina to a Southern California art gallery owner who thinks she's meeting an aspiring artist who has spent 20-plus years in prison, having taught himself to paint using bodily secretions.

The piece de resistance, though, comes during the closing third, as Cohen masquerades as an Israeli gun enthusiast, convincing gun-rights advocates and Republican politicians to endorse his proposal to train toddlers in the use of firearms.

Walsh turns up during that sequence, which also includes former Mississippi senator Trent Lott and GOP congressmen Matt Gaetz, Dana Rohrabacher and Joe Wilson. Those interviews are riotously funny, if only because everyone seems so earnest -- or at the very least, polite -- about someone asking them to read copy that proposes arming four year olds, backed up by claims peppered with scientific gibberish.

While the complaints have focused on the deceptive practices Cohen and his collaborators employed, the elected officials engender far less sympathy than the ordinary folks who have been duped, lacking the media savvy or support system to help sniff out this fraudster.

Cohen's ability to adlib in character has always been his greatest gift, even if it's tempting to wince at times at his excesses, which can tend to place a higher priority on discomfort than comedy.

Simply by virtue of the noise generated it's hard not to say the show already qualifies as a success by its star and Showtime's standards, although given that "Borat" triggered several unsuccessful lawsuits, in terms of potential grief, the network's legal department might beg to differ.

As for whether "Who is America?" finds an answer to its title, as with Cohen's past efforts, the series generally provides exaggerated snapshots of America, connected by one overarching picture: the hypnotic, numbing effect that the promise of TV exposure can induce, even on those who should theoretically know better.

"Who is America?" is currently available on demand and premieres July 15 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 71°
Florence
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 67°
Fayetteville
Scattered Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 70°
Decatur
Broken Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 72°
Scottsboro
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 89927

Reported Deaths: 1580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11650225
Mobile8998191
Montgomery6198143
Madison493225
Tuscaloosa391263
Baldwin317522
Shelby300232
Marshall294730
Unassigned263351
Lee249140
Morgan220615
Etowah191425
DeKalb167713
Elmore158437
Calhoun15359
Walker145763
Houston130912
Dallas128023
Russell12201
Franklin118420
Limestone118313
St. Clair118212
Cullman111311
Colbert107612
Lauderdale105312
Autauga101020
Escambia96515
Talladega89013
Jackson8163
Chambers81438
Tallapoosa80478
Dale77619
Butler75135
Blount7223
Covington70420
Coffee7035
Chilton6976
Pike6547
Barbour5625
Lowndes54624
Marion53524
Marengo51514
Clarke4849
Hale44925
Bullock43711
Perry4284
Winston42811
Wilcox4029
Monroe3884
Randolph38810
Conecuh37110
Bibb3643
Pickens3639
Sumter36118
Washington31011
Macon30813
Lawrence3060
Crenshaw2843
Choctaw27312
Henry2433
Greene24011
Cherokee2337
Geneva2260
Clay2165
Lamar1942
Fayette1695
Cleburne1141
Coosa902
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 109627

Reported Deaths: 1073
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby21296285
Davidson19320199
Rutherford604251
Hamilton562147
Knox392634
Williamson323022
Sumner316069
Unassigned29244
Out of TN282312
Wilson206420
Montgomery171111
Bradley170510
Sevier17025
Trousdale15726
Putnam154713
Robertson143216
Hamblen121713
Tipton11049
Blount10987
Maury10665
Washington10382
Madison88912
Bedford86210
Macon83413
Hardeman79411
Sullivan7809
Lake7440
Bledsoe6681
Loudon6493
Fayette6178
Anderson5995
Dickson5871
Gibson5582
Cheatham5445
Dyer5427
Rhea4971
Jefferson4892
McMinn47920
Lawrence4746
Obion4274
Henderson4260
Carter4245
Lauderdale4216
Coffee4112
Warren4004
Hardin3987
Cocke3911
Cumberland3756
Greene3695
Haywood3695
Smith3613
Monroe3569
Roane3561
Giles3449
Hawkins3244
McNairy3105
DeKalb3041
Franklin2854
Marshall2632
Weakley2603
Lincoln2511
Carroll2263
Hickman2260
Crockett2233
Wayne2141
Claiborne2120
Henry2110
Campbell2071
Marion2064
Chester1921
White1913
Grainger1680
Polk1661
Johnson1600
Decatur1591
Unicoi1360
Overton1341
Union1180
Cannon1170
Jackson1071
Grundy1012
Humphreys1013
Scott1010
Meigs960
Sequatchie940
Benton921
Morgan791
Fentress740
Hancock741
Perry740
Stewart700
Clay620
Lewis561
Houston550
Moore420
Van Buren320
Pickett221

 

 

Community Events