When Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?” hit the airwaves in 2018, it quickly became the talk of the town in political circles. The Showtime series featured the comedian using a variety of fake personas to trick high-profile figures, ranging from notable politicians to famous internet trolls, into sitting down for embarrassing interviews. While the format was similar to previous Cohen projects like “Da Ali G Show,” it was recognized for Cohen’s remarkable ability to fool people, especially considering the fact that his fame had increased significantly over the years.
Speaking to Judd Apatow for his latest book “Sicker in the Head: More Conversations About Life and Comedy,” Cohen opened up about some of the enemies that the show made him in Washington. While few were surprised he was able to trick the likes of OJ Simpson and Joe Arpaio, Cohen recalled the story of duping someone who really should have known better: Senator Bernie Sanders.
“We know we’ve only got an hour with Bernie Sanders. He’s late. And he gets pissed off within five minutes, when he realized that he was with this idiot,” Cohen said. “He didn’t think it was part of a prank; he just thought, ‘This is not the show that you told me that we’re going to make.’”
Sacha Baron Cohen interviewed Sanders in character as the fake conspiracy theorist Billy Wayne, complete with a bad blonde mustache and a motorized scooter. Apparently the outlandish character was enough to fool Sanders, to the point where the Vermont senator’s staff was concerned that the show posed a legitimate national security risk.
“So, with Bernie Sanders, he comes out of it, and his team […] immediately calls up CBS, who owns Showtime, and they go, ‘What the hell is this? We’re going to the press with this. Who was this?’ And the good thing was CBS didn’t know what it was. So, they asked Showtime. They go, ‘Do you know anything about this show?’ Showtime said, ‘Yeah, we’re making it; it’s legitimate.’ Sanders’ people said, ‘We don’t know. These could be terrorists, and if you don’t pull the interview we’re going to go to Congress and get a congressional hearing on this terrorist group that’s going around D.C.’”
But all’s well that ends well, and Showtime ultimately stood by Cohen and aired the interview. While the turn of events was surely embarrassing for Senator Sanders, he was hardly the only high-profile politician to fall for Cohen’s ruse. At least his pants remained zipped for the entirety of his interview, which is more than some of Cohen’s targets can say.