Sacha Baron Cohen first made fun of Donald Trump on “Da Ali G Show,” despite not thinking he would ever enter the political arena again, Cohen reveals that Trump’s presidency is exactly what inspired his most recent satirical series “Who Is America?”
“Under Obama, there was no motivation to do it,” Cohen told Don Cheadle during their Actors on Actors interview. “I thought I would never do this kind of undercover stuff again, because it’s exhausting. It’s terrifying for me. It’s occasionally dangerous. And then Trump gets in, and I immediately felt disappointed and angry. This was a guy who I’d had no respect for. I’d interviewed him as Ali G. And in ‘Borat,’ I defecated in front of Trump Tower.”
Despite his anger, Cohen said he channeled his feelings through humor, feeling a responsibility to make a political statement as the implications of the 2016 election began to unfold. “That guy becomes the president? And he gets to be the president through adopting these despicable views that were so reprehensible that everyone dismissed him,” the comedian said. “People felt powerless. I thought, I have to do something with this anger and frustration.”
While Cohen’s work is known for its provocation, he did admit that he’s cognizant of how his words effect others, something he’s been forced to become more aware of after criticism for his non-PC humor. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt, but I want to see people’s real thoughts,” he said. “I’m provoking them sometimes to see the effect of this new political culture that we’re in.”
He also noted that despite its contemporary nature, the series’ themes are tied to much bigger political ideologies than what’s in the headlines today. “It’s not just Trump. We’re in the biggest revolution that’s happened in the history of civilization,” he said. “We are in the Internet age. It’s bigger than the Industrial Revolution. It’s transformed the way people think; no one knows what facts are anymore. It allows people who are spreading lies to actually seem like they’re legitimate.”
His passion on the subject came through in the conversation as he continued to criticize the President for his Twitter thumbs and racism. “Trump without Twitter probably would not have become president, which is why Jack Dorsey is in the White House, having a meeting with Trump,” he said. “He’s sitting across the president, who’s actually the biggest celebrity endorser of his corporation. And Jack Dorsey and Twitter cannot implement any restrictions against white supremacists or racists.”
He continued, “We’re living in a dangerous society right now. We’re living in a society where the space that we grew up in — which is the idea that society is getting better, where people are equal despite their differences — that concept is being disintegrated. Democracy is being disintegrated, and that’s terrifying to me.”
“Actors on Actors” will air on PBS June 18th and 20th.