Sacha Baron Cohen and Showtime are reaping publicity dividends this week, thanks to Sarah Palin.
These benefits come on top of the already formidable buzz that Cohen and Showtime created with the announcement this past Monday that Cohen's newest -- and sure to be shocking (and probably hilarious) -- project is coming to Showtime this weekend.
In order to gin up the excitement, Showtime and Cohen have shrouded the show in secrecy, while at the same time sprinkling around some tantalizing tidbits.
The show is called “Who Is America?” Seven episodes have been made. They are a half-hour each. They have been “in the works” for a year, Showtime said in a news release. The only publicity photo Showtime made available was the one posted here (above), with Cohen partially obscured.
According to a promo spot that Showtime also released, former Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed on the premiere. He is seen in the promo suggesting that viewers tune in.
Whether or not that means Cheney's experience was a good one for him remains to be seen. Cohen's earliest successes in America were his interviews with powerful people conducted by his first signature character -- the hapless, hip-hop ignoramus Ali G -- on “Da Ali G Show” on HBO.
That show, which aired from 2000 to 2004, was one of the funniest TV shows ever made, period. The comedy often depended on Ali G securing interviews with people who didn't know the whole thing was a put-on.
He would then ask them questions that were so stupid and ridiculous that you would watch for their incredulous, often angry reactions on the edge of your seat.
The interview subjects on the old show included Newt Gingrich, Buzz Aldrin, C. Everett Koop, Sam Donaldson, Pat Buchanan, Gore Vidal, James Baker, Marlin Fitzwater and others. Anyone who saw these interviews when they first aired will never forget them. Personal favorite: The Koop interview.
With these interviews in mind, and Dick Cheney's participation in the promo spot for “Who Is America?,” it is reasonable to conclude that interviews with a similar flavor will be part of the mix on this new show.
Enter Sarah Palin, who is complaining this week that she was duped into an interview with Cohen that could be among the segments coming up on “Who Is America?”
In stories that have been widely circulated since Tuesday, Palin says she was invited to fly all the way from Alaska to Washington for an interview with a disabled American military vet for the purpose of highlighting the challenges faced by veterans.
She says she learned later that this “vet” was really Sacha Baron Cohen in disguise. She posted a statement on Facebook this week that said, in part: “I join a long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to the evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor’ of the British ‘comedian’ Sacha Baron Cohen, enabled and sponsored by CBS/Showtime.”
She described Cohen as having “heavily disguised himself as a disabled U.S. Veteran, fake wheelchair and all.”
She said she became fed up with his questions and walked out of the interview. She accused his producers of then providing her and daughter Piper (who accompanied her on the trip) with a car ride that took them to the wrong Washington-area airport on purpose.
These accusations, if true, reflect fairly negatively on Cohen (from whom this kind of thing is to be expected) and on CBS and Showtime (which is owned by CBS).
Masquerading as a clueless hip-hop maven from London is one thing. Disguising oneself as a disabled vet for the sake of comedy is a whole ’nother category. By highlighting this particular aspect of this new Cohen show, Palin might just make a dent in its debut.
On the other hand, the vast multitudes to whom this show is aimed need only to hear complaints from the likes of Sarah Palin for them to make watching this show a high priority.