From Borat to Morad: Who is America? takes a jab at the American divide, but is it funny?
Sacha Baron Cohen is back with a new show. It is intriguingly titled Who is America?, and has Mr Cohen going back to his roots as a faux current affairs journalist engaging with politicians, liberal and conservative alike.
Unfortunately, for all his comic brilliance, the show leaves the question of Who is America? unanswered.
Cohen broke into the scene with characters such as the gay Austrian fashion critic Bruno, and the obnoxious Kazakh journalist Borat. No one was safe from Cohen’s biting social commentary through his satirical news pieces, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or sex. With Who is America?, Cohen capitalises on the current divisive political climate in the United States.
Through the show, Mr Cohen dons several characters: an ultra-conservative blog publisher, a former con artist on a path to redemption through unconventional art, a former Israeli army officer, and a liberal activist. Hands down, out of all of them, the funniest has been the former Israeli army officer, Colonel Erran Morad – and not only because of the disguise donned by Cohen. After all, his other disguises are top notch as well. The reason why the segment shines is because it is the closest Mr Cohen gets his subjects to reveal too much without getting suspicious. And therein lies the challenge this show faces.
— Who Is America? (@SHOwhoisAmerica) July 23, 2018
First of all, this show is very aptly timed, given its subject matter. Political fragmentation is at an all-time high in the US, and President Trump seems to extend this gap further with every passing day. His tweets keep getting more unhinged, the conservatives in America keep leaning more towards the right, and the liberals seem to be at their wits end on how to compete in American politics.
It has been a boon for American, nay, western media all around. Pick any international daily – especially any American newspaper – and it is all about Trump. Watch any late night comedy show or turn on any news station, and you will find anchors and stand up comedians lamenting, mocking or reporting Trump. Trump has become the gift that keeps on giving, and everyone wants a piece of the action. It is only natural that someone with the comic chops and smart of Mr Cohen would also want to capitalise on it.
“I’m racist! I’m racist against Muslims” and “there’s black People in this town, they’re not welcome but they’re tolerated” and “that mosque would look good covered in fire” wow. Just wow. #WhoIsAmerica
— Baemien 🌿 (@callmebaemien) July 23, 2018
This episode of #WhoIsAmerica is actually shocking.
You had an elected US state representative *screaming* clear blatant racist language and Dick Cheney, former Vice President, *literally* signed a bottle ‘for water boarding’ without hesitation.
— George Aylett (@GeorgeAylett) July 23, 2018
Yet Cohen falls short in his efforts. For much of the first episode, it seems like his interviewees are trying to stay polite and civil in the face of increasingly obnoxious and ridiculous questioning. While Borat and Bruno were unassuming and unscripted, the characters in this show seem to be educated, at least in their own beliefs. As such, it is almost as if they are forcing the interviewee to say things as opposed to Borat, who would be so out there himself that there was no way his questions or answers could be taken seriously.
The reason the last segment as Morad stands out is because he doesn’t have to push or prod his subjects – they come out with outlandish statements on their own with unbelievable conviction, leaving the audience in a state of shock.
If an actor can do this, imagine what a KGB agent can do.
— Marcia Zaninetti🖇💙 (@MarcitaZa) July 24, 2018
As Morad, Mr Cohen goes on a spree interviewing lobbyists and politicians about gun laws in America, and comes out the other way with heavy evidence of how much gun laws are supported and encouraged in the United States. Lobbyists and politicians support Morad’s suggestion of arming kids as young as five-years-old, and even agree to be a part of an ad campaign to promote arming children. Given the steady stream of mass shooting incidents that occur in America fairly regularly, one shudders to think how strong the gun lobby is and the lengths it can go to sell and own guns.
The reason this segment stood out was due to the evidence of the kind of thinking that exists in America. While other segments also had politicians and lobbyists, they seemed a bit forced, with Mr Cohen spewing more and more ridiculousness only to have his interviewees trying hard to keep a polite demeanour.
— Who Is America? (@SHOwhoisAmerica) July 21, 2018
The show still has some episodes to go. Prominent politicians and lobbyists have come forward claiming they were duped by Cohen into saying things that were taken out of context. Though more was expected from somebody of the calibre of Mr Cohen, perhaps there are better segments that have been saved for later?
Sadly, we never really find out who America is – the undiplomatic lobbyists, the polite citizens, or the politicians that stick to their principles. Through it all, Mr Cohen just comes across as a comedian on the bandwagon trying to make a quick buck harping on the divisive politics in today’s America.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.