Although there are countless talented comedians and actors out there, few are capable of making as great a mark as Sacha Baron Cohen. Not only has Cohen revolutionized the entire comedy and hidden camera genres of entertainment, but his work has also had significant impacts on culture and politics time and time again. As Borat would say, “Great success!!” Here are hilarious facts about the one and only Sacha Baron Cohen.
Sacha Baron Cohen reached a turning point in his life when he decided to take clown lessons from Philippe Gaulier, a Paris-based “master clown.” When he enrolled, the teacher dealt him an utterly brutal insult. Gaulier called him “so boring.” Still, Cohen credits these harsh lessons with drastically improving his comedic abilities. And those comedic abilities would soon be world-famous.
Cohen’s big break came with the success of his TV show, Da Ali G Show—a hidden camera show in which, disguised as various outrageous characters, he would trick unwitting people into behaving in inappropriate or embarrassing ways. By pretending to be a journalist and using all kinds of elaborate tricks to lure big name guests in, Cohen managed to prank an astounding amount of people. But how did he do it?
People often wonder how Cohen manages to get such high profile and otherwise serious individuals to sit down for interviews with his bizarre and wacky characters. Originally, he had a pretty clever trick. He would have a well-dressed person standing off to the side while he himself, dressed as Ali G, would be carrying equipment.
Naturally, most people assumed the professional-looking person to be the interviewer—only to be surprised when the cameras started rolling and Cohen began asking them questions. And this has led to some big scandals.
One of many Cohen-related controversies came about in 2000 when the actor, disguised as Ali G, offered an illicit substance to British politician Neil Hamilton. Hamilton happily accepted it and smoked it with Cohen. I guess he forgot that there were cameras rolling! Either way, the incident caused quite the stir in the British press. And Cohen's most controversial work was just around the corner.
Borat became Cohen’s most popular character and, in 2006, he took his fame to a whole new level with a feature film. However, it didn’t get off to a good start. Partway through the film’s premiere, a projector broke and the screening had to be delayed until the next day. Luckily, Cohen was in attendance and spent some time entertaining the crowd in person.
Given the extreme antics that Sacha Baron Cohen engaged in during the filming of Borat, it’s no surprise that the actor ran into trouble with the law along the way. After the filming of the famous hotel lobby scene, authorities issued a warrant for Cohen’s arrest—but it gets worse. Some members of his crew actually spent the night behind bars.
After that, Cohen even caught the attention of the FBI, who followed his team around for some time and opened up a file on him. And that wasn't all.
While working on Borat, Cohen would often remain in character for entire days at a time, even while the cameras weren’t rolling, to keep himself in the mindset of the role. He even took this to the extreme. When the Secret Service questioned him about his suspicious behavior, he still did not break character. That takes some serious dedication!
Fans will no doubt remember Pamela Anderson’s brief role in Borat and the scene in which the title character attempts to marry her by force. But as fun as this scene is to watch, it had some chilling consequences. When Anderson’s husband, rapper Kid Rock, saw the film, he hated it and became so angry with his wife for participating in it that the couple actually divorced as a direct result.
The creation of the Borat film saw one scandal after another for Sacha Baron Cohen. One of the craziest scenes in the movie shows the comedian performing a parody of the American national anthem at a rodeo. While filming this part, the crowd got extremely angry—and it nearly ended in a terrifying incident. Cohen and his crew had to flee the scene for their own safety, as a violent riot nearly broke out.
Several targets of Cohen’s pranks in Borat sued the actor when they realized that he tricked them. The etiquette coach, the college students, and even the random gentleman that Cohen chases down the street are all among the list of characters in the movie who sued Cohen in real life. Cohen has referred to himself as “the most sued actor in history.” But not everyone got duped...
As convincing as Cohen’s performances in Borat were, at least one of his victims claims the gag never fooled him. Pat Haggerty, the memorable public speaking coach who tries to teach Borat about American humor, claims that Cohen’s character seemed so over the top and absurd that he knew right away that it must be some kind of a joke.
He admits that he could not quite put his finger on what the joke was, but he played along anyway since he had been paid for the doomed tutoring session.
Ironically, despite the character of Borat’s overtly prejudiced beliefs, Cohen is actually speaking Hebrew in the film whenever the character appears to be speaking in his native Kazakh language. Cohen is fluent in Hebrew in real life, due to his Jewish heritage and the fact that his mother was born and raised in Israel.
So how does the real life nation of Kazakhstan feel about Cohen’s portrayal of them in Borat? Not great, as it turns out. Angered at the false stereotypes in the movie, the country’s government launched a campaign to promote Kazakhstan’s positive attributes and generate some good press for once. Thing is, Kazakhstan isn't even the only country Cohen has enraged.
In addition to Kazakhstan, Cohen also angered the entire small town of Glod, Romania. In Borat, all the scenes claiming to be filmed in Kazakhstan were actually filmed in this town. Cohen misled the town’s population of 1,000 residents into believing that they were taking part in a documentary about the hardships of their lifestyle. When they learned the truth, they tried to sue Cohen. Sound familiar?
In 2012, Cohen’s work continued to cause controversy—even when he himself was nowhere to be found! Athletes from Kazakhstan won a medal at a tournament, but there was a twist. The public’s jaws collectively dropped when stadium staff accidentally played Cohen’s fictional Kazakh national anthem from Borat instead of the country’s real anthem.
Cohen made headlines when he showed up at the 2012 Oscars and pulled an unexpected stunt. Dressed as the title character from his new film, The Dictator, the comedian poured a pile of ashes all over the suit of unsuspecting red carpet host, Ryan Seacrest. The publicity stunt definitely got him press...but it also got him embroiled in a years-long feud.
The infamous 2012 Oscars incident stirred rumors that the organizers had banned Cohen from future Academy Awards events. The Academy later said that although they hadn't banned Cohen, they did give him a warning. Even worse, Seacrest snubbed Cohen on the red carpet in 2016 until the comedian disrupted one of his interviews to give the host a hug.
While working on his 2012 comedy film, The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen had wanted to film parts of the movie at the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. However, the UN denied his request to film there, and their reason was disturbing. They said they “represent a lot of dictators” who would not be happy about a film making fun of them.
The popular film Bohemian Rhapsody told the story of the band Queen, but what you might not know is that the film was originally going to star Sacha Baron Cohen as the legendary Freddie Mercury. After all, Cohen looks a lot like the late, great frontman. So why didn't we end up seeing him in the Oscar winning film? It's actually quite the behind the scenes scandal...
Although Rami Malek ended up replacing Cohen, it was not an amicable switch. When Cohen got the part, he was supposed to be front and center as Mercury, but as the project went on, the surviving members of the band wanted to place more emphasis on their own roles in the story. Believe it or not, Cohen quit the project after producers told him he'd to share the stage.
Following the success of the Borat and Bruno films, Cohen became a popularly recognizable public figure. As a result, he indicated that he would be retiring both of the characters and moving on from his signature hidden camera style of humor. However, that all changed in 2017 with the surprise launch of a project that would again take the world by storm…
In 2017, Cohen released a new show called Who Is America? This show targeted American figures and set off a firestorm of controversies when it caught footage of a whole bunch of them engaged in shocking and embarrassing behaviors. In the most unforgettable scene of all, Cohen convinced a member of the Georgia legislature to pull his pants down and shout an offensive epithet as part of his “self-defense training.”
Facing immense pressure, the representative resigned his seat after the scene aired on the show.
Even Sacha Baron Cohen has his limits. When filming a scene for Who Is America?, the comedian made a truly chilling discovery. He inadvertently encountered network of child assaulters in Las Vegas who were willing to help one of his characters find a child to take advantage of. Cohen found this so disturbing that he refused to include it on the show, and even turned the footage over the FBI.
In the summer of 2020, a video went viral on social media showing Cohen performing a song at a right-wing rally and encouraging the audience to sing along to outlandish and offensive lyrics—but what many didn’t realize is just how catastrophic the aftermath was. When attendees started to realize what was happening, all chaos broke loose.
The crowd immediately started rioting, which was a reaction Cohen had seen before when it came to his film Borat. But it didn't end there. The attendees actually aggressively chased after Cohen, dogging him until he narrowly escaped into his truck and sped off. One attendee even pulled a gun on the actor during the scuffle. But this led to an even more stunning piece of news...
Naturally, this incident led many to speculate as to why Cohen had pulled the stunt. Lo and behold, rumors soon emerged claiming that the actor had been planning a surprise Borat sequel after a long hiatus. Cohen’s team confirmed that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was really happening. And it didn’t take long for a whole slew of brand new controversies to erupt.
The global lockdown hit in the middle of making Borat 2, but in typical Cohen style, he found a jaw-dropping way to work the crisis into his film. The fake Kazakh journalist convinced a pair of conspiracy theorists to let him quarantine with them at their home. The actor spent five full days living with the men, remaining in character as Borat the entire time.
While in lockdown with the pair of conspiracy theorists, Sacha Baron Cohen almost blew his cover. When he assumed his hosts had gone to bed, the actor pulled out his computer to catch up on some editing work for the film. However, at that exact moment, one of the men unexpectedly approached to check on Borat in his room.
Cohen had to scramble and quickly hide his device before the men saw it and realized that the persona of a technologically primitive foreign journalist had all been an act.
Perhaps the biggest scandal to emerge from the release of Borat 2 is the prank that Cohen and his co-star Maria Bakalova pulled. Their victim? Rudy Giuliani. Days before the release of the film, Cohen’s leaked a shocking photo. In the photo, Giuliani appears to be lying on a hotel bed with his hand down his pants. The photo immediately went viral, but many don't know the whole story...
In the photo, it looked like Giuliani was attempting to engage in an inappropriate relationship with Bakalova’s character. However, Giuliani quickly claimed that he had really been tucking in his shirt after removing a microphone. In a highly publicized spat, Giuliani called Cohen a “stone-cold liar,” while Cohen doubled down on Giuliani.
Cohen became a big fan of comedy growing up, but he particularly loved one specific comedian—Peter Sellers. His boyhood love of Sellers and his films inspired Cohen to ultimately imitate his classic style. Cohen used it to help develop his own irreverent brand of humor. He has called Sellers the “most seminal force in shaping [his] early ideas on comedy.” Like Sellers, Cohen would go on to take on both comedic and dramatic roles in his career…
Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t go directly from school to a career in comedy. Shortly after graduating from the prestigious University of Cambridge, the statuesque star worked as a part-time fashion model. Perhaps this experience later inspired his controversial Bruno character, an Austrian fashion reporter. After all, they say to always write what you know!
Although the modeling gig didn’t last too long, Cohen obviously liked some aspects of being in the spotlight. He appeared in a number of TV commercials in the 1990s. These included one for microwavable French fries and another one for Lee’s jeans that remained unaired. Around this same time, Cohen also made his way into a number of small-time TV jobs.
Controversy again erupted when, disguised as his character of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen got an entire room full of people to sing along to an overtly hateful song. Cohen had hoped that the incident would expose society—but the stunt faced a disturbing backlash. The Anti-Defamation League, a major Jewish advocacy group, wrote a letter to Cohen, arguing that the message of the song would be misunderstood and potentially incite hatred.
One of the funniest scenes in Borat shows the fictional journalist in an interview with a local American TV station. However, the real life results of this stunt were no laughing matter. Following the incident, the station fired Dharma Arthur, the producer who Cohen had tricked into booking Borat as a guest on the show.
Cohen’s 2009 film, Bruno, features a scene in which his title character travels to the Middle East to discuss the peace process with a man who the film labels as a member of a terrorist organization. However, Cohen soon landed in hot water due to this label, as it turned out that the man had no association with the group in question and was simply a peaceful grocer.
He sued Cohen over the incident, and the pair eventually settled out of court.
Even a superstar doesn’t get it right every time! Cohen’s 2016 film The Brothers Grimsby failed both at the box office and in the eyes of the critics. The film opened to a reception that was a whopping $7 million below estimates, and netted a loss of the same amount overall. Hey, brush yourself off and try again, Sacha.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has long been a popular target, so it’s no surprise that the public got excited when she admitted that Cohen duped her into an interview. However, when Who Is America? came out, everyone was surprised when Palin didn't appear in it. Why not? Cohen confessed that Palin simply did not yield any funny material and that he cut her from the show.
In addition to the comedic films that he is known for, Cohen is also a multi-talented performer who also boasts appearances in serious dramas, musicals, and even cartoons. His well-received performances in The Spy, Les Miserables, Hugo, and Madagascar are a few examples of times that Cohen has successfully branched out.
Cohen considers himself an activist and argues that, in addition to just being funny, his characters serve as tools for exposing prejudice. He also says they educate the public about the dangers of hatred and bigotry. In 2019, he got to speak publicly about this side of his work when he appeared as the keynote speaker at the Anti-Defamation League’s national conference.
Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t the only talented member of his family, or even the only one involved in his famous film projects. His brother, Erran Baron Cohen, is a professional musician and oversaw the soundtracks of Borat, Bruno, The Dictator, and other Cohen comedies. Who knew that making offensive movies was a family business?!
The wild process of creating the outrageous Borat movie angered enough people that Cohen and his crew began to frequently receive threats on their lives. These threats were enough to scare off the film’s original intended director from the project. That director, Todd Phillips, went on to successfully direct movies like The Hangover and The Joker.
Despite the mass popularity of Borat, many commentators out there hated the movie and condemned Cohen’s boundary-pushing style of humor. Prominent political pundits such as David Brooks and the late Charles Krauthammer accused Cohen of being a snob who targets rural Americans to unfairly laugh and poke fun at their expense.
Some countries actually banned Cohen’s Borat film. The entire Arab world forbade the film except for Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In the latter’s case, the film censors who approved it claimed that the majority of its contents were “vile” and “gross.” By the time he had finished editing it, only about half an hour of footage remained.
Sacha Baron Cohen comes from a Jewish family from London, England. His grandparents came from Germany and survived the Holocaust, which likely contributed to Cohen’s lifelong interest in the subjects intolerance. As a young student, Cohen even wrote a dissertation on the Civil Rights movement…but it wasn’t all serious stuff, obviously.
A turning point in Cohen’s career came when he successfully caught the attention of a TV producer by sending in a tape of himself playing a character called Kristo—an awkward foreign reporter from Albania. The producer liked the tape enough to give Cohen regular TV time, and “Kristo” slowly developed into Borat of Kazakhstan, Cohen’s signature character.
As ironic and unlikely as it sounds based on the character’s bigoted attitude towards the Jewish community, Cohen actually based Borat and his ridiculous mannerisms on a real life Jewish doctor that he had met in Russia. Of course, he took some creative license in adding outrageous and insensitive beliefs to the character.
Many fans wondered why the character of Azamat Bagatov, Borat’s sidekick in the original film, did not appear in the sequel. Few knew the truth behind the snub. Cohen had initially reached out Ken Davitian, the actor who portrayed Azamat, about a small role in a new project. Davitian declined, since Cohen insisted that the project would not be Borat 2. Well, that's not what happened...
Eventually, this unnamed project did in fact evolve into Borat 2...and Cohen didn’t bother to let Davitian know about it. Did he innocently forget, or did he secretly have some reason to leave his old co-star out? Either way, many fans were upset that the pair failed to find a way to get the original duo back together again for this special occasion.
A memorable scene in Borat 2 finds an extremely patient and polite Holocaust survivor named Judith Dim Evans lecturing Borat. She is telling him about why his insensitive stereotypes and beliefs are wrong. Filming this powerful scene moved Cohen so deeply, he did something he's never done before or since. Cohen had his crew reveal his true identity to the woman.
Sadly, this heartwarming moment turned into a real-life nightmare for Sacha Baron Cohen. After the lovely Judith Dim Evans passed before the release of the film, her family tried to sue Cohen over the incident. They claimed that the experience had upset her and that she never wanted the footage made public. However, a judge dismissed their case...and Cohen paid respect in a different way.
Although Cohen kept the footage with Evans in the sequel film, he didn't completely abandoned the woman who touched him so intensely. In fact, he even dedicated the film to this inspiring woman’s memory.
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