Sacha Baron Cohen returned to the limelight with a vengeance with the October 2020 release of the sequel to his headline-making 2006 hit Borat. In Borat 2, Cohen resurrected his comedy creation to reprise the Kazakhstan journalist whose cultural cluelessness brings out unvarnished, hilarious and often cringe-worthy responses from the people he interviews.
Since his early days in showbiz, Cohen has cultivated his talent at creating characters (others include wannabe rapper Ali G and gay Austrian fashion journalist Brüno) and unleashing them on unsuspecting interviewees to elicit jaw-dropping responses. This is especially true of Borat 2, which follows the character on a road trip through pre-election America on a quest to gift his 15-year-old daughter to Mike Pence as a bribe to entice America’s vice president to help Make Kazakhstan Great Again.
Over the years, Cohen’s characters have pulled the wool over the eyes of numerous celebrities, cleverly hoodwinking these stars into participating in outrageous interviews they don’t realize will wind up in one of his film or TV projects. For a refresher course in just how many stars he’s fooled, keep on reading to find out about the many celebs who got pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen.
Ali G spiced up Victoria and David Beckham's lives
Long before Da Ali G Show made its way to HBO, Sacha Baron Cohen was honing his skill at pranking celebrities on British television. One of his highest-profile moments came in 2001, when David and Victoria Beckham agreed to an interview to benefit Britain’s Comic Relief telethon. Their interviewer: Cohen’s Ali G.
The Beckhams proved to be good sports, yet it also appeared they may not have completely grasped quite who they dealing with. As The Guardian recalled, that was all too apparent when the character asked the erstwhile Posh Spice a shocking question that threw her off guard. “Now there is rumors that you used to suffer from an eating disorder,” Ali G began in his signature garbled syntax. “Tell me, was you actually dyslexic?”
Taken aback, Victoria replied, “I’ve never actually been dyslexic and I’ve never actually been anorexic either, so that’s just rumors.” Cohen’s character also took as shot at the Spice Girls’ music and their preteen fanbase by asking if the couple’s son Brooklyn, then two, enjoyed listening to his mom’s music “or is he getting a bit old for it now?”
Donald Trump didn't invest in Ali G's 'ice cream glove'
When Sacha Baron Cohen brought his characters to American television for HBO’s Da Ali G Show, he expanded not just his viewership but his roster of potential targets. One of these was a future president of the United States. In the 2001 segment, Cohen’s Ali G pitches an array of gonzo inventions to investors in New York City, and saves the wackiest one for Donald Trump: “ice cream gloves” that, he explained, “make the ice cream not go on your hands and make it all well sticky.” Trump, clearly annoyed by the silliness, ends the interview by excusing himself and walking off.
In 2012, Trump offered his assessment of Cohen. “He’s a bad guy, he’s a moron,” Trump told HLN. A few years later, Cohen reflected on the Trump interview during a 2016 appearance on James Corden’s Late Late Show. “I was the first person actually to realize that he’s a d**k,” he said of Trump.
Even as president, Trump continued to slam Cohen. In October 2020, White House correspondent Steve Herman tweeted that Trump, when asked about Cohen, declared, “That’s a phony guy and I don’t find him funny. To me, he’s a creep.”
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin schooled Ali G about the moon
Another of Sacha Baron Cohen’s victims on HBO’s Da Ali G Show was revered former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong to become the second human to step foot on the surface of the moon during the historic Apollo 11 mission.
The interview starts on a completely bonkers note and only grows loonier, with Ali G kicking things off by asking Aldrin if he was jealous that “Louis Armstrong” was the first person to walk on the moon. Aldrin corrects him — “It was Neil Armstrong,” he says — and proceeds to offer a serious answer. Aldrin continues to provide legitimate answers to dopey questions, even as the character continually refers to Aldrin as Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear. At one point, Armstrong patiently schools his interviewer on the fact that the moon is uninhabited when asked whether “the people” who lived on the moon were friendly toward him, “or was they scared of you?”
When Cohen asked him if humans “will ever walk on the sun,” Aldrin once again had to set his interviewer straight. “The sun is too hot,” he calmly explained. “It’s not a good place to go to.”
Andy Rooney gave Ali G a grammar lesson
One of Sacha Baron Cohen’s most notorious moments from Da Ali G Show was his contentious sit-down with 60 Minutes‘ Andy Rooney, who died in 2011. In video of the encounter, Rooney takes an instant dislike to Ali G. “You’ve done this before?” he asks contemptuously. When Ali G attempts a slang-inflected answer, Rooney interrupts, “What is your language, your basic language? English?”
The interview goes off the rails immediately when Cohen’s character asks, “Does you think the media has changed since you first got in it?” Rooney corrects his grammar, only for Ali G to try to brush him off. But Rooney stands fast: “No, it’s the English language. The English language would say, ‘Do you think the media has changed.'”
After more grammatically incorrect questions, the exasperated Rooney declares, “I have 50 books on the English language if you’d like to borrow one.” After about two minutes, Rooney cuts the interview short. “Is it because I’s Black?” Ali G asks. Rooney responds incredulously, “You’re Black?” The character then accuses Rooney of being “racialist,” earning one final rebuke. “Racist, not racialist,” explains Rooney while throwing the interviewer out of his office.
Paula Abdul sat down with Brüno
Sacha Baron Cohen followed Borat with 2009’s Brüno, portraying a flamboyant Austrian fashion journalist. In one outrageous scene, Paula Abdul arrives for an interview and sees a grouping of men on their hands and knees, serving as human furniture — or, as Brüno calls them, “Mexican chair-people” (“Demi Moore has two of them in her house,” he insists). Initially taken aback, the American Idol judge reluctantly takes a seat, resulting in the bizarre spectacle of Abdul earnestly discussing her “humanitarian work” while sitting atop another human.
When she appeared on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen years later, Abdul explained she was tricked by an offer to accept an award and appear on German television, rationalizing Brüno’s weird appearance and other oddities were probably much like “a Japanese game show.” After exiting, Abdul told her publicist what just happened, relieved she never signed a release — only to learn that a release (“in German”) had already been signed. After months “on pins and needles” worrying about the footage coming out, it wasn’t until she began receiving media requests asking to comment on her experience working with Cohen that she figured out she’d been duped.
Ryan Seacrest was pranked on live TV
Paula Abdul isn’t the only American Idol star to be tricked by Sacha Baron Cohen. A few years later, Ryan Seacrest was hosting his pre-Oscar red carpet extravaganza when he interviewed Cohen, in character as Admiral General Aladeen from his 2012 comedy The Dictator. “Hello, death to the West!” Cohen says cheerily, cradling a gold urn supposedly containing the cremated remains of “my dear friend and doubles tennis partner” Kim Jong-il.
As he explains that the deceased North Korean despot’s dream was “to come to the Oscars to be sprinkled over the red carpet and over Halle Berry’s chest again,” Cohen dumps the ashes all over Seacrest’s tux, feigning an accident. While being hauled away by security, he yells to Seacrest, “If somebody asks you what you’re wearing, you will say Kim Jong-il!”
Seacrest later addressed the incident on his radio show, reported The Hollywood Reporter, insisting he “definitely did now know” what Cohen had planned. While Seacrest took it in stride, the incident infuriated previous prankee Donald Trump. After taking to Twitter to call him “a moron,” Trump told HLN that if Cohen had tried that stunt on him “that guy would have been unconscious.”
Bernie Sanders received a lesson about percentages
The success of Da Ali G Show, Borat, and Brüno created a conundrum for Sacha Baron Cohen. He and his characters had become so well recognized it became difficult to ambush people. So, when he returned in 2018 with his politically geared Showtime series Who Is America?, Cohen used extensive prosthetics and makeup to create new characters. One of these was Billy Wayne Ruddick, the dimwitted conspiracy theorist behind the Truthbrary website, who uses a scooter not because he’s disabled but “to conserve my body’s finite energy.”
Costumed as Ruddick, Cohen spoke with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who explained that the top one-10th of one percent of America’s wealthiest people owns as much as the other 90 percent. Cohen-as-Ruddick interrupts to ask,”But rather than complain about the one percent … why not make the rest of America, put them into the one percent.” As Sanders attempts to explain how percentages work, Ruddick pulls out a meaningless chart from the “International Institute of Scientific Truth and Knowledge” to offer a lengthy and nonsensical explanation. “Billy,” declares Sanders, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Bachelor alum Corinne Olympios ended up in an odd PSA
Former Bachelor star Corinne Olympios was also duped by Sacha Baron Cohen for Who Is America?, delivering a ridiculous fake PSA to sponsor child soldiers in Africa and donning a hazmat suit at the behest of a new Cohen character, Italian billionaire Gio Monaldo.
Olympios told Vanity Fair she’d been conned by the offer of an award and accompanying magazine photoshoot. “Everything was so professionally done,” she said, admitting things took a weird turn after the photoshoot when she was ushered into another room — where her manager wasn’t allowed in, and her phone taken away. While the cameras rolled, Cohen did his thing. “Then he kept going with these crazy questions,” she divulged. “He said something like, ‘Tell everybody how you cured Ebola in Africa, and how you went there.”
Finally, she put her foot down and demanded to see her manager — only to find out he’d been sent home. After regaining her phone, she contacted her manager and let him know how she felt about what went down. “I called my manager like, ‘How dare you leave me. That was f**king insane. I thought I was going to die. It was the weirdest s**t ever. I hate you. I feel like America’s going to hate me,'” she recalled. “I was hysterically crying for like three hours.”
Sarah Palin's Who Is America? footage 'wasn't very good'
Former Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin took to social media in 2018 to reveal she was “duped” for Who Is America? by Sacha Baron Cohen. In a lengthy Facebook post, Palin wrote, “Ya’ got me, Sacha. Feel better now?” Palin blasted him for “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor,” alleging she was suckered in by an invitation to participate in a “legit Showtime historical documentary” honoring military veterans.
After sitting through “a long ‘interview’ full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm,” she wrote that she’d “finally had enough and literally, physically removed my mic and walked out, much to Cohen’s chagrin.”
However, Palin’s bit never aired. “Just like her candidacy for vice president, she wasn’t good enough to make the show,” Cohen told the Daily Beast‘s The Last Laugh podcast. Admitting there was “quite a lot of pressure” to include Palin’s segment from the network, Cohen explained it simply “wasn’t very good … You need someone to fully engage and answer the questions.” He also noted that Palin offered “rote answers as if she was on a presidential campaign.”
O.J. Simpson sat down for a killer interview
The finale of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? featured a very special interviewee: O.J. Simpson. Cohen, costumed as Italian playboy Gio Monaldo, is accompanied by his girlfriend, Christina, who doesn’t recognize the NFL star who was infamously acquitted of murder in 1995. Gio tries to jog her memory by reminding that Simpson was once a “Buffalo Bill” and appeared in the Naked Gun movies. Nothing rang a bell until Gio feigns a stabbing motion — then the lightbulb clicks on.
After Christina exits, Gio jokingly tells Simpson, “She’s gorgeous, but sometimes I want to kill her,” expressing his desire “to send her on a private helicopter and throw her over the Grand Canyon — oopsie-daisy!” As Gio keeps describing various murder methods, Simpson gives him a high-five while laughing along. Gio then asks if Simpson can introduce him lawyer Johnnie Cochran, but Simpson explains Cochran had passed. “What,” asks Gio, “you didn’t kill him too, did you?”
After Gio points out they’re both “ladykillers,” Simpson laughs hysterically and insists, “No, I didn’t kill nobody.” Responds Gio, “Ah, I didn’t either,” explaining his wife died by suicide by placing herself “into a bag full of rocks and managed to drag herself into the sea.”
On the Daily Beast‘s The Last Laugh podcast, Cohen said he “got a little cocky” with this interview. “I was like, you know, I’d got a guy to get his buttocks out,” he said. “I’d interviewed a vice president, can I get O.J. Simpson to confess to murder?”
Sacha Baron Cohen fooled the audience at an award show
Sacha Baron Cohen usually tricks celebrities on a one-on-one basis, but in 2013 he raised the bar by pranking an entire audience full of Hollywood stars at the Britannia Awards. It all started with Salma Hayek taking to the stage, accompanied by an elderly woman in a wheelchair, to present Cohen the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy. That woman, declares Hayek, was Grace Cullington, who was just five when she worked with Chaplin in his 1931 film City Lights. (Or was she?)
Cullington presents Cohen with “Charlie’s actual cane from City Lights,” leading him to mime a bit of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character. When he leans on the cane, however, it snaps in two, sending him stumbling into Cullington and hurling her wheelchair off the stage. Cohen leaps down to see if she’s okay, attempting to give her mouth-to-mouth until giving up and returning to the stage.
Anyone who hadn’t figured out they’d been played were clued in by his opening remarks. “Grace Cullington is the oldest… um, sorry, was the oldest…” he says, as a member of the security team picks up Cullington’s motionless body, throws it over his shoulder and walks off. As you’ve probably deduced, “Cullington” was in on it. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “The senior citizen was actually a stuntwoman, and the only Cullington from the silent era was Margaret Cullington, who had a small part in Chaplin’s ‘A Dog’s Life.'”
Rudy Giuliani had some explaining to do after Borat 2
The most headline-grabbing scene in Borat 2 comes when Borat’s 15-year-old daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) interviews Rudy Giuliani, personal lawyer of President Donald Trump. After some flirtatious banter, Giuliani and the actor enter an adjoining bedroom that happens to be outfitted with hidden cameras. After asking for her contact info, Giuliani lies back on the bed and thrusts his hand into his pants. Just then, Borat bursts in, causing Giuliani to bolt upright in shock. “She 15!” Borat tells the former NYC mayor. “She too old for you!”
Giuliani reacted via Twitter. “The Borat video is a complete fabrication. I was tucking in my shirt after taking off the recording equipment,” he wrote. “At no time before, during, or after the interview was I ever inappropriate. If Sacha Baron Cohen implies otherwise he is a stone-cold liar.”
Cohen (in character as Borat) responded in a video shared on Twitter. “I here to defend America’s mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. What was an innocent sexy-time encounter between a consenting man and my 15-year-old daughter has been turned into something disgusting by fake news media,” he said, warning Giuliani would “reach into his legal briefs and whip out his subpoenas.”
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