Britain and America are similarly split. Where we have Brexit breaking our country in two (52% verses 48%), America has Donald Trump fracturing society.
However, whilst the British government has broken down, our politicians still remain private, unwilling to say anything that’s not a prepared answer. Quite a contrast to someone like Trump, a man willing to spout anything and everything. The President’s turbulent attitude has been a hit – 62,984,825 people initially voting him into power – and inspired other politicians to speak their mind.
That lack of filter should make Who is America? a fascinating watch, and one segment of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show is certainly that. The sketch sees the comic portray Israeli terror expert Erran Morad as he attempts to convince various conservative gun-rights activists to support a proposal to give children the right to bear firearms. For a Brit watching, this seems ridiculous – our country barely allows policemen to carry weapons, let alone children – yet, these men are all too eager to throw their names behind the proposal.
It’s a terrifying revelation, thinking these people have influence over anyone. But funny? Absolutely. Watching these clowns make a mockery of themselves makes for the same cringe-inducing humour we’ve come to expect from Cohen, who’s working at his provocative and quick-witted best. By playing the straight-man, Cohen’s Erran allows each unknowing guest to be the butt of every joke without having to intervene too heavily. The section makes for the episode’s highlight, offering many chilling laughs as activist Philip Van Cleave attempts to sell “puppy pistols” to minors. (It’s a wonderful example of just how much people are willing to read off a teleprompter.)
Unfortunately, the other three characters Cohen plays are less successful. First, there’s Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., a far-right conspiracy theorist who runs the website Truthbrary (a spoof of InfoWars). Interviewing Bernie Sanders, the joke quickly becomes Cohen attempting a silly, ineffective gag that the 1% and 99% could be merged together. It all ends up a missed opportunity as Bernie just looks on, bewildered.
Next, there’s Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, a neo-liberalist who apologises for being a cis white male. Visiting two republicans for dinner, Cohen’s stories get more and more outrageous, going on tangents about his daughter “free-bleeding” on the American flag and his wife having a sexual relationship with a dolphin. They believe every word, all thanks to Cohen so effortlessly playing into the stereotypes we have of NPR-branded T-shirt wearing liberals.
Lastly, there’s Rick Sherman, a British ex-convict who paints using faeces. It’s crude potty humour and watching the art consultant over-intellectualise everything – as you probably would with a camera crew filming every moment – makes for a couple of fleeting laughs.Cohen does the heavy lifting again – and that’s the main issue with these three characters.
A gifted actor, Cohen’s jokes about periods and painting with semen are appealing to the lowest common denominator. The unwitting guests seem dumbfounded, so bemused at times that they barely say anything as Cohen steals our attention with these crude jokes, all of which takes away from the shock of seeing people believe these outrageous characters is lost (and whether the art dealer really believed Rick Sherman I would highly contest). Who is America? forgets, at times, that we're here to watch Americans speaking without a filter, rather than the British Cohen.
Still, there are many laughs to be had, even moments of comic genius (”How does one compete with a dolphin?”). Perhaps it will take some time to warm to these characters – after all, they have only made minor appearances so far. Whatever the case, Who is America? no doubt makes for necessary viewing for any Cohen fan.
Who is America? airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Mondays.