No one comes out of a Sacha Baron Cohen show looking good. Your mere presence on Showtime’s Who Is America? means you’ve already been duped by a guy in a costume. It’s an impossible game to win, but some guests make it out relatively unscathed by refusing to play along.
The people who look the worst on Who Is America? tend to look that way because they are the worst — egged on by Baron Cohen’s characters, they reveal their own deeply held, morally repugnant beliefs. Or, just as bad, they reveal that they’re willing to say morally repugnant things in order to be on television. Here is a ranking of all the guests in Who Is America? episode five, from those who leave with their reputations intact, to those who … do not.
5. David Clarke
Maybe it’s the childlike nature of OMGWhizzBoyOMG that keeps awful people from saying what they really think. Former Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke has offered far more offensive remarks in non-gotcha situations over the years than he did for Sacha Baron Cohen’s YouTube unboxing star: He’s befriended Donald Trump and made enemies of poor people, black people, and anyone who’s ended up in one of his jails. He even proved too crazy for a position in Trump’s administration, though not before hinting that he was offered a job there. But here, Clarke comes across as remarkably measured, refusing to take WhizzBoy’s bait about Nazi Germany, only admitting flatly, “You have to be willing to use force to arrest people.”
4. Corey Lewandowski
Sacha Baron Cohen’s greatest moments come when he makes guests comfortable (or sometimes uncomfortable) enough to reveal their true natures — often racist, homophobic, or otherwise abhorrent. But as with so many people in the Trump Universe (see David Clarke, above), former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has already willingly revealed what an awful person he is, most recently when he made the “womp womp” noise on CNN regarding a child with Down syndrome who had been taken from her parents at the U.S.–Mexico border. Here, faced with the type of Trump voter he probably met a thousand times on the campaign trail — conspiracy theorist Billy Wayne Ruddick, Jr. — Lewandowski just goes into lobbyist autopilot, deflecting and demurring controversial questions and generically praising Trump. (And this is a guy who was still talking about Barack Obama’s birth certificate right up until the 2016 election.) He may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot. At least not enough of an idiot to fall into this kind of trap.
3. Jake Inphamous
With a name like Jake Inphamous, you’re sort of asking to be mocked, but as a player in the EDM nightclub scene, perhaps you’re also immune to mockery. With the second appearance of ex-con Rick Sherman, a pattern seems to be emerging: He exists to expose the silliness of art scenes that are too eager to embrace something just because it appears to be gritty or controversial. This time around, the former shit-painter claims to have spent his last two years in jail creating an EDM track out of sounds he recorded himself: a head being cracked by a metal tray, vomit, piss, “buggery,” and a stabbing. Inphamous, a nightclub promoter and DJ manager, loves all the “realness,” remarking that “the scene really needs stuff like that” and that Sherman’s ridiculous track is “a masterpiece, man.” He’s even okay with the sounds of what’s presented as an actual stabbing: “I mean, if it’s happening, you might as well capture it.” (Perhaps actually doing the stabbing in order to make the song would have been a bridge too far, but we’ll never know.) Other than that, he’s just kind of gross, proclaiming with a glimmer in his eye that “DJs love BJs.”
2. Mahbod Moghadam
The biggest joke on Mahbod Moghadam is essentially the same one pulled on Bachelor star Corinne Olympios earlier this season: Uber-wealthy photographer Gio Monaldo insists that each be Photoshopped into pictures that made it look like they did charity work in far-off places. But it was much harder to feel sorry for internet douche Moghadam, who was forced out of lyrics-annotation site Rap Genius (now just Genius) for writing an awful, unfunny “close reading” about the 2014 misogyny-driven killings near Santa Barbara. He doesn’t hesitate to go along with Baron Cohen’s ruse — at least we don’t see him hesitate — and he’s even deep enough into his own ego to accept Monaldo’s suggestion that he artificially increase the size of the bulge by using a doll’s arm. It takes a certain kind of self-centeredness to be so naïve in a situation like this one, and clearly Moghadam believes himself to be at the center of a universe that would never mock him. Or his trademark sunglasses.
1. Daniel Roberts
The Who Is America? character that’s getting the most mileage out of Baron Cohen’s victims is definitely-not-former-Mossad agent Erran Morad, who slyly gets a different title each episode. (This week, he is a brigadier.) It’s no coincidence that Morad is the most believable of the America characters, at least when he’s first encountering his guests. Here, he puts the president of Youth Shooters of America through anti-terrorism paces in a series of increasingly ridiculous exercises. Though they seem silly, the first two are mostly harmless: Having a conversation with loud voices and trying to disarm a “diaper bomb” on a doll. But when Roberts is gung-ho about gnawing on a strap-on dildo as a deterrent to his own beheading, he goes from someone willing to play along and have his paranoid beliefs reinforced to being a total rube. It draws a straight, bright line between his political stances and his gullibility.
Honorable Mention: Sacha Baron Cohen
It must be a little frustrating for Sacha Baron Cohen when his targets don’t bite. But when big moments fail to materialize on Who Is America, he’s falling back on easy jokes with no real satirical target: the quips about prison rape in the Rick Sherman segment, the implication that the EDM clubbers were actually cheering for murder, attempting to trick people with unclear language into saying something dumb (like WhizzBoy’s golden showers question to Joe Arpaio last week, and his “do your fingers smell of box?” to David Clarke this week). It’s not that these jokes are offensive, they just seem a little cheap and off-voice. Baron Cohen is a master of giving people with questionable values exactly the right type and length of rope to hang themselves, and when it works, there’s nothing funnier or more satisfying. Who Is America? has already produced a bunch of those moments, though they’re fewer and farther between than they were on Da Ali G Show. Baron Cohen is obviously not in the same deplorable universe as his nutty right-wing guests — hence the “honorable mention” — but these tonal stumbles can make the sharper stuff feel less so, just by their proximity.