For almost 20 years, Sacha Baron Cohen has pranked some of the biggest names in media and politics. His characters, most notably Borat, and before that, Ali G, make us laugh and cringe as they are put in extraordinary situations dealing with real people.
Borat saw the titular character upset an entire rodeo with his rendition of Kazakhstan’s national anthem. Bruno almost caused a riot when the gay Austrian fashion designer pranked an entire wrestling stadium by getting locking in the main cage with his lover.
Recently, Cohen’s new show, Who Is America, has aired on Showtime and caused quite the stir online. We’ve met many new characters that the actor seamlessly becomes through extensive prosthetics and make-up.
Sacha Baron Cohen carefully constructed characters that would best shine a light on the current sensibilities of a nation divided on political and social issues. The far right, the extreme left, and the plain ignorant are on display, seen against the backdrop of his fictitious characters.
Erran Morad and Dr. Nira Cain have proven to be the stars of the show’s freshman season, often providing some of the most outrageous pranks with the most extreme consequences. Morad is an Israeli soldier who teaches Americans about terrorism, whereas Dr. Cain is a left-leaning Gender Studies teacher who wishes to ‘heal the divide’ within the USA.
Filming for the show apparently took place last summer, after this article from Metro Spirit started floating around about a man’s experience getting pranked by Cohen as he appeared on his radio show as Dr. Cain. Austin Rhodes, the host of WGAG Radio Talk Show, clearly recounts his experience of filming with Cohen and the crew. As a self-confessed Borat fan – he couldn’t believe he was duped.
“I had no clue,” Rhodes said, laughing. “When I found out, all I could think of was ‘oh wow.’ I mean, I’m a big fan of Borat and I enjoy his other movies and shows, too. So when I learned I had sat in this studio with Sacha Baron Cohen for 90 minutes, I was like, ‘How in the world did I not see it?’”
The story they told him was that ‘Sarah Taylor’, a television producer, was making a series called Bridging The Divide – which would air on either CBS or Showtime. Even though Rhodes was the host of the largest radio show in Augusta, Georgia, he couldn’t believe he would appear on a series that would be broadcast nationally.
“I wasn’t given the actual name of the interview subject until we were on the air, but I immediately Googled him, and came across what I now know was a sham website pushing a few oddly named books and several lecture series. The books did show up on Amazon, but the links to purchase them went nowhere.”
Austin Rhodes admits that during the 90-minute recording, he had no idea he was talking to the same person that brought him one of his favorite comedies. Every advert break was spent with producers distracting the radio hosts with discussions as ‘Dr. Cain’ went to the bathroom. Upon studying the security footage later, they realized it was Sacha Baron Cohen getting his makeup adjusted.
During the interview, the two discussed topics pertaining to US terror organizations. Dr. Nira Cain’s character claimed that the biggest terrorist group in the US was its Army, and that white supremacists are responsible for most of the gun deaths in America.
“He was either the most amazingly bizarre left-wing extremist in the country or a complete lunatic. To be honest, I believed at the time he was both.”
Pennies started dropping afterward when they went through the 40-50 emails that were sent in during the broadcast claiming they must have been the victims of performance art. Either that, or it was “the greatest vindication of conservatism ever broadcast over the air.” The host and his producers started noticing other peculiar things, like the sheer size of the camera crew and the fact that their guest randomly stood up and left halfway through recording. The producers explained he had fallen ill and that the interview was over.
All of a sudden, it became obvious that he had been pranked. The very things that were being discussed on air, the strange behavior, the odd departure – it all made sense afterward.
Austin Rhodes doesn’t regret how the interview went or fear how he will be perceived in the final cut of the footage. The interview went out live on air and his team still has the original footage of the show. Since he will be able to set the record straight if his words are twisted, he doesn’t think the piece will be too incriminating.
Still, his biggest regret is that he never got a chance to shake the celebrity’s hand and interview him as himself – Sacha Baron Cohen. “I hope we can set that up. I would say he owes me one.”
Who Is America airs on Mondays on Showtime. At the time of writing, Austin Rhodes has not appeared alongside Dr. Nira Cain on the show.
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