Getty Images / Stephane L'hostis

Sacha Baron Cohen is back in the news for the same exploits which catapulted him from regional fame in Britain to a worldwide phenomenon thanks to the antics of his characters, Ali G, Borat, and Bruno, who all provided sharp critiques on business, fashion, politics, and more.

His new show, Who is America?, premiered last night with a new set of characters like Info-Wars conspiracy theorist, Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., social justice warrior, Nira Cain-N’Degocello, former convict turned artist, Rick Sherman, and Israeli terrorism expert, Erran Morad. Collectively, there was a critique on important issues like gun control and school shootings, and those decidedly less based on life and death like contemporary art.

While his latest effort on Showtime is certainly a welcome addition to the 2018 television landscape, it also made us nostalgic for the content which made Cohen such a comedy force to be reckoned with in the first place.

Here are Sacha Baron Cohen’s best moments as Ali G, Borat, and Bruno.

Ali G vs. Donald Trump

It’s hard to imagine a more bizarre scenario than when Ali G pitched “Ice Cream Gloves” to a person who would eventually become President of the United States. Yet, it happened, Trump tried his best to be cordial, and Ali G was left to consider other venture capitalists.

Borat vs. David Letterman

As a world-class Kazakhstani journalist, Borat Sagdiyev often blissfully off-put his interview subjects by injecting all sorts of inappropriate content. What was particularly gratifying about his experience on The Late Show was that even as guest – sitting opposite of a veteran talk show host like David Letterman — he still managed his signature shock and awe tactics with his answers rather than his questions.

Bruno vs. New York Fashion Week

On the surface level, Bruno attending New York Fashion week seems rather safe as it’s an environment where the flamboyant Austrian isn’t as jarring as somewhere like the Deep South. And yet, it’s his love of fashion and his exuberance for the event which reveals that the industry is ironic, misguided, and exploitative.

Ali G vs. David & Victoria Beckham

While many of Ali G’s tactics relied on subjects being unaware that they were sitting across from a comedian in costume, his interaction with David and Victoria Beckham — who are in on the gag — still provides plenty of comedy gold.

Borat vs. country music

Many of the critics of Cohen’s work often take him to task for humiliating regular people for their beliefs. However, it’s hard to not recognize that these people are often the constituents of politicians who have controversial stances on issues — and thus ruled fair game.

While attending a country and western bar in Tucson, Arizona, Borat takes the stage to perform a song called, “In My Country There Is Problem.” The initial lyrics speaks to issues relating to “transport” and how big Kazakhstan is, but quickly revers into Anti-Semitic slurs about the Jewish faith — all while delivered in an “awe shucks” sing-song delivery.

Ali G vs the NBA

Like in the case of David and Victoria Beckham, various NBA stars like Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Richard Jefferson, and Ben Wallace, were all aware that this was a collaboration between the comedian, Spike Lee, and Turner Sports. Yet, he still seemed to evoke a strong reaction even though the superstars knew that they were poised to become the punchline for a supposed journalist who thought there were springs in an NBA basketball and that Ben Wallace used his afro as a defensive ploy.

Ali G vs Andy Rooney

60 Minutes stalwart, Andy Rooney, was a notable grump — often complaining about the minutia which plagues our daily lives. Whether by accident or not, Rooney wouldn’t let Ali G’s slang pass for the English language. And so begins a back and forth between young and old, serious and not, which gets to the point where you the viewer thinks that Rooney may summon up all his strength he has left to bludgeon Ali G to death with one of his many heavy books on the shelves.

Ali G vs. Buzz Aldrin

Ali G really found his stride with Buzz Aldrin. He crafts what are seemingly legitimate questions and then twists them at the very last moment when he refers to Neil Armstrong as “Louis Armstrong” and tackles the moon-landing conspiracy by suggesting that the moon isn’t real.

Borat vs. the dog show

Borat is at his best when he seems to understand the world he is in, but it’s drastically different than what he is accustomed to in Kazakhstan. Thus, the seemingly innocent world of dog shows is thrown for a loop when he suggests drowning “losers” in the river in a sack, and wants to manually extract semen from a prized canine.

Bruno vs. Alabama

Bruno’s experience in the “gayest part of America” is less than four-minutes long. Yet, it cuts deep to the core of rampant homophobia which still plagues the deep South today. His work along the sidelines at an Alabama football game seem particularly harrowing and showcase Cohen’s fearlessness when it comes to his work.

Ali G vs. Pat Buchanan

With the war simmering between the United States and Iraq over whether or not Saddam Hussein had access to weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s), Ali G. manages to get Pat Buchanan to speak about BLT’s in regards to mass genocide against the Kurdish people.

Bruno vs. Pastor Quinn

In this exchange between Bruno and a supposed “gay converter,” the Austrian reporter has a hard time understanding what is considered a homosexual act. As he seeks clarity between showering naked with another man and eating chocolate, one gets the impression that Bible verses can be used to justify almost anything.

For more recommended viewing, check out our list of the best TV shows of 2018 so far.

Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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