British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen said his Showtime series Who Is America? reflected the effect President Donald Trump’s “extreme and racist language” has had on the political landscape.
The series, which received mixed reviews and faltering ratings, consisted of prank interviews Cohen conducted in disguise with unsuspecting Republican politicians and activists.
“I was surprised, actually, how far people went on camera in Who Is America?,” the Borat actor told actress Sarah Silverman during an interview she moderated at the Showtime 2019 Emmy “For Your Consideration” event in Los Angeles on Wednesday.
“The language in politics has moved to a much more extreme and violent level, and that is reflected and exacerbated and amplified on the show,” he said. “The last time I went undercover was actually doing a movie called Bruno, and what I’ve noticed is that the political landscape has become far more extreme. That’s primarily because you have a president who is using extreme and racist language, so things that we would have found shocking and would have made a crowd, you know, their mouths open, aghast, in Borat now are the kind of utterances coming from the most powerful office in the country.”
Cohen acknowledged that the genesis of the series was his anger at the results of the 2016 presidential election.
“It was basically for me to just get this anger out my system. So I should really credit Donald Trump as the creator of the show,” he said.
Who Is America? generated controversy and condemnation before its premiere when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin revealed that Cohen lured her into an interview under false pretenses by posing as a disabled U.S. veteran.
Palin denounced Cohen’s deception as “truly sick” and explained that she had agreed to the interview “[o]ut of respect for what I was led to believe would be a thoughtful discussion with someone who had served in uniform.”
She challenged Cohen and CBS Corp., which owns Showtime, to donate the episode’s profits to “a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets.”
“Mock politicians and innocent public personalities all you want, if that lets you sleep at night, but HOW DARE YOU mock those who have fought and served our country,” Palin said.
“His disguise was basically a caricature of a conservative middle class Trump voter. He was asking her absurd, racist, homophobic, and sexist questions that were all meant to mock Trump voters as a bunch of ignorant and offensive kooks,” a source close to Palin told Breitbart News.
Palin ended up walking out of the interview in disgust at the offensive questions Cohen’s character asked her, a source close to Palin told People.
Despite all the buzz it generated, the much-anticipated Palin interview never aired. Cohen, who denied Palin’s accusation that he posed as a disabled veteran, claimed he decided to scrap all the footage of her headline-generating interview because it “just wasn’t funny enough.”
What Is America? wasn’t picked up for a second season, and Cohen explained to Silverman why it would be impossible to do more episodes.
“This type of stuff you would never be able to get past a publicist again. This was most popular in D.C., and this was in the Hill every day because they were people who were actually sometimes losing their jobs,” he said.