Did failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin help promote Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” for no good reason? You betcha! The finale of the seven-episode Showtime series ended on Sunday night without an appearance from the former Alaska governor, which means what ever she said or did with a Cohen character ended up on the cutting room floor.
Earlier this month, Showtime programming head Gary Levine hinted that “there are several people who have thrown themselves into buses that may not be heading their way.”
Before the premiere of “Who Is America?” last month, Palin went public with the claim that she was duped by Baron Cohen, and claimed the comedian had presented himself as a disabled war veteran in a wheelchair. However, Showtime later revealed that Baron Cohen was actually in the guise of his character Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D., a conspiracy theorist (in the vein of Alex Jones) who uses a motor scooter to conserve his energy.
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The character of Ruddick was first revealed on the show’s premiere episode, when Cohen — in character — interviewed Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“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,” Showtime said in a statement after the show’s launch. “In both the interview with Governor Palin and the interview with Senator Sanders, he did not wear military apparel of any kind.”
Some interviews never saw the light of day, as “Sacha is incredibly hard working and selective in the final product,” Levine said. “And he’s always refining it. He has a very high bar. We will see what we see.
“This is Sacha the comedian who just keeps working and working,” he added. “He’s refining stuff right up until it goes on the air. He screens it in front of audiences, it looks like he’s doing it off the cuff but it’s remarkably organized and deeply researched. I am in awe of his work ethic and his team.”
Baron Cohen has not done any interviews regarding “Who Is America?” so it’s unclear why Palin didn’t make the cut — perhaps the bit ultimately wasn’t that funny, or perhaps this was the bit — riling her up and then not actually showing anything. Ultimately, the series ended with a credit for Palin, as “Special Publicity Consultant (Inadvertent).”
Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer that he hoped to bring back “Who Is America?” for another cycle — but now that the show’s secrets are out, it may not be easy.
“There will be a process. I don’t know if I’m going to be making any announcements” anytime soon, Nevins added, but “he had be at hello.”
“Who Is America?” has been touted by Showtime as having triggered strong subscription growth for the premium network, particularly its streaming service.
The show was a risk, Nevins said, that “I am really glad we took… I think Sasha is one of the greatest comedians of our time. He is the Daniel Day-Lewis of comedy.”
Baron Cohen had previously been best known for his characters such as Ali G and Borat, but created a whole new army of disguises for “Who Is America?” including Ruddick; left-leaning activist Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello; former Israeli Mossad agent Erran Morad; British ex-con Rick Sherman; Finnish YouTuber OMGWhizzBoyOMG!, and Italian photographer Gio Monaldo.
The series finale of “Who Is America?” featured Gio Monaldo interviewing O.J. Simpson, who nervously laughed as Monaldo reminded his female companion who Simpson was by miming a stabbing.
Among Baron Cohen’s targets during the series run were Georgia State Rep. Jason Spencer, who resigned after he was seen shouting racist taunts on the show, as well as former vice president Dick Cheney, who signs a “waterboarding kit.”
Other notable marks have included Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, former presidential candidate Jill Stein, former Alabama judge Roy Moore, former Sen. Trent Lott, and Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke.