*This list was originally published on July 12, 2018. We will continue to update it as Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show, Who Is America?, continues to air.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Showtime comedy Who Is America? debuted to the best kind of press possible: people, especially Twitter-happy conservatives, revealing they were tricked by Showtime and Baron Cohen while he was in character. The “I’ve Been Duped by Sacha Baron Cohen” Club is growing exponentially by the day at this point, so we decided to create this handy guide to help you keep up with it all the politicians, broadcasters, and public figures taken in by SBC.
The former vice-president of the United States and Guy Who Accidentally Shot Some Guy in the Face has not officially commented on his appearance on Baron Cohen’s show yet, but Showtime’s first promo for the series featured Cheney signing one of Baron Cohen’s characters’ “waterboard kit,” and proudly so:
It’s unclear if Chaney has any shame over this clip, but what’s done is done: He was Baron Cohen’s first publicly revealed victim. Congrats to him!
Sarah Palin was the first person to voluntarily reveal that she’d been tricked by Baron Cohen, claiming in a blog post that she and her daughter were flown across the country to be filmed for what she called “a legit Showtime historical documentary”:
For my interview, my daughter and I were asked to travel across the country where Cohen (I presume) had heavily disguised himself as a disabled US Veteran, fake wheelchair and all. Out of respect for what I was led to believe would be a thoughtful discussion with someone who had served in uniform, I sat through a long “interview” full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm — but finally had enough and literally, physically removed my mic and walked out, much to Cohen’s chagrin. The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse.
Palin went on to call out Baron Cohen’s “evil, exploitive, sick” humor, tell him her daughter thinks he’s a “piece of ****,” and reveal arguably the best part of the whole story:
And as an aside, for further insight into the wealthy corporate enablers of this kind of “joke”, I’ll add that after great costs on our part in time and resources to contribute to their “documentary” the Cohen/CBS/Showtime production team purposefully dropped my daughter and me off at the wrong Washington, DC airport after the fake interview, knowing we’d miss all flights back home to Alaska. After refusing to take our calls to help get us out of the bind they’d put us in for three days, I wrote this off as yet another example of the sick nature that is media-slash-entertainment today.
Baron Cohen responded to Palin’s claims in character as “Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D.,” clarifying that he is not, in fact, a disabled veteran but only fought for his country once “when I shot a Mexican who came onto my property.” He also demanded an apology from Palin:
Showtime later released a statement responding to Palin’s claims that Baron Cohen had posed as a veteran:
There has been widespread misinformation over the past week about the character of Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D., performed by Sacha Baron Cohen on the Showtime comedy series Who Is America? Baron Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran, and viewers nationwide who watched the premiere on Sunday can now attest to that. In Sunday’s episode, during an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, Baron Cohen in character as Dr. Ruddick was asked by the Senator if he is disabled, and he stated that he is not and uses a mobility scooter to conserve his energy. In addition, Baron Cohen never presented himself as a veteran of the U.S. military to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the booking process or during the filming of her interview, and contrary to her claims he did not appear in a wheelchair. In both the interview with Governor Palin and the interview with Senator Sanders, he did not wear military apparel of any kind.
Congressman turned conservative radio host Joe Walsh officially became Baron Cohen victim No. 3 when he revealed on Twitter — while also calling on viewers to boycott Showtime — that he had fallen for a fake pro-Israel event put together by Baron Cohen’s team that honored Walsh with an award for his “Significant Contributions to the State of Israel.”:
Ted Koppel was the third public figure to reveal he was tricked by Baron Cohen and the first public figure who was seemingly a pretty good and reasonable sport about the whole thing. Koppel told The Hollywood Reporter that a Showtime rep named Julia Harris offered him the opportunity to appear on a six-episode series for the network called Age of Reason. A film crew showed up at Koppel’s house in Maryland in November 2017 to shoot his segment, in which he was interviewed by Cohen disguised as a man in a wheelchair “with an oxygen tank hanging off one of the handles.”
Koppel said “I felt sorry for the guy, which is obviously how you’re supposed to feel,” and he got into a debate with Baron Cohen’s character about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, what time it was when a photo of the inauguration was taken (it was a daytime photo, but there was a digital clock in the photo that said it was 11 p.m.), and finally, what an eclipse is. “I said if it were an eclipse, it would have been dark. 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,” Koppel said. “And that’s when I said, ‘Guys, I don’t want to be rude; you’re guests in my home. But we’re done. But break down and time to leave.’ ”
Koppel, who did not sign a release for the shoot, shared the full email he received about the bogus six-episode TV project with THR:
My name is Julia Harris and I am working on a new project to be aired on Showtime called AGE OF REASON (working title). Our show features conversations with distinguished experts in science and public policy, highlighting the brightest and most reputable minds on today’s most important topics. Our show has been picked up for 6 episodes, and we are currently in production.
Our project’s goal is to cut through the noise and disinformation surrounding today’s most important issues in a way that’s clear and accessible to everyday Americans. As one of the world’s most well-respected media figures who has really seen it all throughout his career, we’d be thrilled to have Mr. Ted Koppel on our program.
As well as the many political points we would love him to help explain (immigration, health care, our current political state, etc.), we would love to hear Mr. Koppel’s personal story — his background and how that helped shape his views, and where he sees opportunities and obstacles ahead. We hope to make a real difference in elevating these conversations with facts and reason.
Our team is tentatively scheduled to shoot on Nov. 9th, 12th, and 14th in the Washington, D.C. area. Would Mr. Koppel have time to sit down with us on any of those dates? We’d love to tape with him for 30 mins to an hour if possible but would be grateful for any amount of time he can spare. We would be happy to provide transportation to and from our studio, and if he is not in the D.C. area, we can also provide a first-class plane ticket.
“Everybody loves seeing well-known people get duped,” Koppel told THR, confirming his good-sport status. “I relish it too, when it’s done well.”
Baron Cohen victim No. 5 was disgraced former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who released a statement revealing he agreed to attend what sounds like the same pro-Israel event as Joe Walsh. “I am involved in several court cases presently to defend my honor and character against vicious false political attacks by liberals like Cohen. If Showtime airs a defamatory attack on my character, I may very well be involved in another,” Moore said in his statement. “As for Mr. Cohen, whose art is trickery, deception, and dishonesty, Alabama does not respect cowards who exhibit such traits! It’s been a long time since I fought for my country in Vietnam. I’m ready to defend her again!” Here’s his full statement:
Augusta, Georgia–based talk radio host Austin Rhodes is actually the first conservative figure who went public with his Sacha Baron Cohen dupe story (he told the local news about it at the time), but in terms of the story hitting national headlines he’s Baron Cohen victim No. 6. Rhodes told The Hollywood Reporter that he agreed to be interviewed on what was pitched to him as a show called Bridging the Divide in August 2017. This is the first appearance of a new Baron Cohen character named “Dr. Nira Cain,” a gender and women’s studies professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, who hosted the fake show with the aim to understand Georgia-based Trump supporters. Rhodes gave a 1,000-word statement to THR about the experience, which reads, in part:
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 my favorite, claiming that “white supremacists are responsible for most of the gun deaths in America.”
At some point it occurred to me that the silliness of his remarks meant we were likely being “put on,” but it never occurred to me to what extent.
The interview abruptly ended, without prior notice, when he failed to return from his latest sprint to the restroom. We made it through roughly 90 minutes, and his producer apologized for Dr. Cain’s gastrointestinal meltdown and subsequent exit to seek relief.
Throughout his outrageous appearance, many of my listeners thought the absurdities they were hearing from “Dr. Cain” had to be made up. We probably received 40 to 50 emails during Cain’s interview speculating that his appearance was “performance art” — either that or the greatest vindication of conservatism ever broadcast over the air.
Then we received an off-air call from one listener, who specifically asked that we not name him, that quickly solved the mystery. At some point, my producer had mentioned the name of the supervising producer of the “documentary” on the air: Todd Schulman. The listener told us that Schulman was the man who had secured his participation as a guest in the infamous “Southern dinner scene” in the hilarious Cohen movie Borat. A quick IMDB check revealed Schulman to be connected to virtually every project Cohen had starred in dating back to the Da Ali G Show, including Cohen’s new show.
Near the end of his statement, Rhodes says he’s a huge Baron Cohen fan (“I have seen Borat probably 20 times from start to finish”) and that when it comes to how he might be portrayed on the show, he’s not worried. “Obviously, my conversation with the ‘Dr. Nira Cain’ character was broadcast live as it happened, so whatever we hear or see, we still have the original program to clarify context or tone if needed,” he wrote. “I am not worried at all. My biggest regret is not being able to shake his hand as Sacha Baron Cohen or interview him (as himself). I hope we can set that up. I would say he owes me one.”
Lucky No. 7 is former Arizona sheriff, proud “concentration camp” overseer, and Trump pardon winner Joe Arpaio, who confirmed to Breitbart that he too was duped by Baron Cohen, this time disguised as what Arpaio described as a Finnish comedian. According to Arpaio, he was contacted sometime last fall by two producers who wanted to feature him in a Showtime show about 20 of the most popular people in America. He agreed to participate, went to Los Angeles in October 2017, and was taken to a “warehouse-like facility” for the interview, which he was told would air live to 2 million people. Unlike Ted Koppel, Arpaio admitted to Breitbart that he “signed some kind of contract before filming, which I have done numerous times, did not read all the info.” Arpaio was particularly uncomfortable with Cohen’s character using words like “blow job” and “golden shower”:
Arpaio recalled Cohen using “highly inappropriate” phraseology that he says made him “very uncomfortable.”
“He came up with certain words which were hard for me to hear,” Arpaio said, including “blowjob” and “talking about people working for” a “hand job.”
So I started getting a little pissed,” he said. Cohen also mentioned “golden shower,” Arpaio stated. Arpaio’s typed notes to document some of those words [sic].
“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,” he said. “I never walked out in thousands of interviews. I just take it.”
“I was kind of shocked,” Arpaio continued. “But I figured this is Finland and this is a famous comedian.”
Speaking on the Mike Broomhead Show, Arpaio described the character not as a Finnish comedian but a “famous talk show host from Sweden” and his decision to go along with the interview as maybe not the smartest move: “I was a little suspicious, and I think I made a mistake … I was really concerned that I walked into this trap.”
Victim No. 8 was revealed as Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who confirmed to the Daily Beast that like Walsh and Moore, he was asked to participate in an event celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary. “They totally got me,” Gaetz admitted, describing a “man with short dark hair and heavy makeup” who had a conversation with him about Israel in his congressional office. “I recall he would ask these questions and I would give answers and then he would just sit there, kind of like hoping for some advance of the moment. But I have a very high tolerance for awkward moments. And so there were moments where we just sat there staring at each other,” Gaetz said. “There were points in the interview where he wanted me to like hold up images of weapons systems and endorse those weapons systems. And I said, I would not do that, of course. I don’t know these weapons systems, I’m not going to talk about them.”
Gaetz went on to say he’s a big fan of Baron Cohen’s other characters (he apparently shared his Borat impression with The Daily Beast) and insisted that he’s not worried about his appearance on the show: “I can’t wait to see it.”
Senator Bernie Sanders appeared in the opening segment of the premiere episode to talk with Baron Cohen’s character Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. about Obamacare and economic inequality and listen to Ruddick’s nonsensical plan to move the 99 percent into the one percent. “The rest of the population, by definition, they’re not in the one percent. They’re the rest of the population. All of the population is a hundred percent.” Not really a bad look for Sanders, so it’s no surprise that he felt no need to give a statement about the appearance before the episode aired.
Jane Page Thompson and Mark Thompson
South Carolina couple and Trump Republicans Jane Page and Mark Thompson welcomed Baron Cohen’s liberal character Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello into their home for a fake show called Heal the Divide. They politely listened as Cain-N’Degeocello told them about everything from starting a “Menstrual Flag Program” sponsored by the Clinton Foundation to how his partner Naomi likes to have sex with dolphins. During the episode’s closing credits, the couple is asked by a crew member to assess Cain-N’Degeocello’s “values system,” to which Mark replies, “Can I be crudely honest? Fucked up.”
Fine-art expert Christy Cones met with Baron Cohen’s ex-con character Ricky Sherman to assess his bodily-fluid paintings and cut off some of her pubes for him during the premiere episode. She went so far as to call Ricky’s art “genius.” Reflecting on the ordeal, she later told the Washington Post, “Am I supposed to say I’m embarrassed? All conversations about art are important.”
Dana Rohrabacher, Trent Lott, Joe Wilson, Philip Van Cleave, and Larry Pratt
Unlike Gaetz and Walsh, these guys didn’t attempt much damage control before their contributions to the Kinder-Guardians segment by Baron Cohen’s Israeli character Erran Morad. You can read more about their appearances here, but for now, here’s a notable line from each one:
Rohrabacher: “Maybe having the young people trained and understand how to defend themselves in their school might actually make us safer here.”
Lott: “It’s something that we should think about, America. About putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens — good guys — whether they be teachers, or whether they actually be talented children or highly trained preschoolers.”
Wilson: “A 3-year-old cannot defend itself from a assault rifle by throwing a Hello Kitty pencil case at it.”
Van Cleave: “Point Puppy Pistol’s mouth right at the bad man!”
Pratt: “Children under 5 also have elevated levels of the pheromone Blink-182, produced by the part of the liver known as the Rita Ora. This allows nerve reflexes to travel along the Cardi B neural pathway to the Wiz Khalifa 40 percent faster, saving time and saving lives.”
Jeffrey Lord — the Trump supporter who was fired by CNN last year for tweeting “Sieg Heil!” — admitted he was tricked into appearing on Baron Cohen’s show as well. Speaking to the Wrap, Lord said he was asked by Showtime to appear in a new series he described as “regular folk interviewing experts.” He went to the show’s Washington, D.C., office thinking he’d be interviewed by a Trump supporter who turned out to be Baron Cohen in disguise. Here’s the full statement Lord gave to the Wrap about his Baron Cohen encounter, in which he claims he knew it was a setup and “the joke is on” Showtime:
My first thought? I am being set up. This is Showtime’s/Hollywood’s idea of what a Trump supporter is. Second thought … too late. Relax. Have fun. No thought of Sacha Baron Cohen. So on we go. Among other things he fulminated about supposed “charges” that Trump was in to prostitutes. He shows me a photo of Trump with a young girl. It is … Ivanka. I politely point this out. He railed against everything from the studio set up and more that I can’t recall, always presenting himself as pro-Trump and indignant. He had a “son” who would appear to calm his “Dad” down. Sitting almost knee-to-knee with the guy I am looking intently at the very dark eyes and the rest. I had the obvious thought that the hair and beard were make-up. It simply didn’t add up. Oh well, I thought. I am taking care of my then-soon-to-be 99 year old Mom. I have long ago learned what is important in life and what is not. This is silly. I have a sense of humor, a good one at that. This will disappear once shown in a nanosecond. Once done I walked outside with the Showtime staffers and burst out laughing. And got paid! Thank you Showtime! The joke is on them!
Georgia state representative Jason Spencer released a statement regarding what sounds like a pretty damning Who Is America? appearance. New York Times writer Sopan Deb shared a statement by Spencer saying he was tricked into appearing in a “bogus self-defense and anti-terrorism training” video and that Baron Cohen’s team “exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety … This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected. Furthermore, there are sensitive parts of this training that took place under a kidnapping scenario where I was repeatedly asked to shout provocative language which I requested be removed, but I was not afforded that opportunity to have final approval over footage used that was initially extended to me by the film makers.” Full statement:
Spencer proposed a bill in 2016 that would ban Muslims from wearing veils and threatened a black female Democrat last year who criticized his pro-Confederate monument stance, saying “I can’t guarantee you won’t be met with torches but something a lot more definitive.”
Bachelor alum Corinne Olympios revealed she was tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen, telling The Daily Beast she filmed a segment with him when he was in disguise as a “crazy Italian man.” Olympios says she agreed to film a segment with the promise of winning a “reality star of the year” award, but when she began to shoot the segment — which involved a hazmat suit and being separated from her phone and manager — she started getting suspicious:
According to Olympios, the crew was so committed to the bit that they even pretended they couldn’t speak English. “I was like grabbing every cameraman, like, am I going to die? Am I ok? Where’s the exit? why can’t I leave?” she recalled. “And they’re all looking at me like trying not to laugh or say anything, and they’re like, no English, no English. I’m like, oh my god, I’m going to die here. It’s going to happen!”
“So they saw that I was getting really mad and they were like ok, we just have one more thing for you to do, [your manager]’s waiting right outside for you, so I’m like, fine. I’m reading this child with gun thing, and I’m like what the fuck is wrong with you guys, I can’t say this, I don’t believe in this. They’re like no, no, it’s fine, it’s just for Italy, you have no friends in Italy, who cares…At this point I just want to get out of there, so I just did it.”
When she left, Olympios says she started to cry: “I was like everyone’s going to think I’m a supporter of children with guns, and I said that I helped cure Ebola and that I went to Africa for three months, everyone knows I didn’t live in Africa for three months!” When she eventually realized it was for Baron Cohen’s show she was “almost relieved,” and she seems to be a good sport about the whole thing: “Now that I know more about him, I’m kind of honored that he chose me to talk to. I think it’s really, really cool … I hope people can see that and they’re not going to freak out about me saying certain things, because people that know me know that I’m a really amazing person. And so, yeah, I just hope that I don’t offend anyone, but none of it was serious anyways!”