Review: Who Is America? on Showtime

This past Sunday, the new Sacha Baron Cohen show, Who Is America?, debuted on Showtime. If you don’t like satire, you won’t like this show (just wait, they’ll re-boot Two and a Half Men). If you like satire, you’ll love it.

This show won’t bridge any cultural or political divide that currently exists. But, is that the job of a comedian? No.

Is Who Is America? brutal? Yes. 
Is it unfair? Perhaps. 
Is it funny? Yes. Very.

For the people crying that Cohen bamboozled them, they need to just shut their pie holes. The minute you enter public life, you become a target. Maybe that’s not fair but it’s the environment we live in. Suck it up.

I won’t pretend to know how the show was pitched to participants, but I think that if you haven’t heard of a media figure or news outlet, maybe you shouldn’t provide an interview. If these cry-baby’s want to blame someone, don’t blame a comedian for doing their job, blame the gatekeeper who wasn’t doing theirs.

The characters:

Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D. – A MAGA man, and founder of truthbrary.org,  who interviews Bernie Sanders on a mobile scooter (which he uses not because of any illness but to “conserve his bodies finite energy”). Ruddick despises Obamacare because he was “forced to see a doctor”and then suddenly diagnosed with “Diabetes 1&2, obese legs and chalky deposits.” He then attempts to explain to Sanders his plan to erase economic disparity by putting the 99% into the 1%. Watching Sanders listen to Ruddick’s insane math “science” is priceless.

Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello – By way of apology, this character introduces himself as a “CIS gender, white heterosexual male”. He travels around the country in an NPR shirt “… listening respectfully without prejudice to Republicans with the hope of changing their racist and childish views.” This guy is the absolute worst example of a progressive (but I’m sure he exists). The Republican couple he interviews here are sweet, kind and listen very respectfully to this character’s completely deranged stories about child rearing and infidelity. This couple did what no other Republican seems to be capable of doing, they listened to a different point of view (albeit, a wildly unbelievable one). This was a bizarre segment that saw Cohen push the boundaries of his improvisational skills. I almost like the couple more than this character … and I’m a progressive.  

Rick Sherman – a British artist and ex-con who spent 21 years in prison for making “one mistake, 14 times.” This segment paints a perfect picture of exactly how preposterous the world of fine art can be. Sherman claims to have been discovered by a prison guard who became enthralled by the feces protest on Sherman’s cell wall, to which Christy declares “Wow, that’s art!” He shows her some of his fecal (and other bodily substances) sketches and she calls him a “genius” at which point Sherman excuses himself to make more art.  Christy looks it the camera and proclaims “Who knew the world was capable of such oxymoronic, paradoxical juxtapositions?” Uh-huh. Okay. Sure (wait until you see what Sherman’s paint brush is made of).

Col. Erran Morad – An Israeli anti-terror expert (think Freddy Mercury on steroids) who believes that the idea of America arming teachers “… is crazy, they should be arming the children.” Morad, with the help of gun advocate Phillip Van Cleave, creates an instructional video for three-year children called “Kindergaurdians”. What follows is an incredibly insane proposal for active gun toys and a song about where to shoot “bad men”, sung by Van Cleave with Morad supplying the chorus of “SHOOT!” Then Morad takes the video to Congress. Now if you think Congressman would be against arming three-year-old children … you’d be wrong. After watching this, whatever faith you had in American politics (if you still had any) will be decimated. This segment is pure genius and hysterical but, at the same time, genuinely infuriating.

Can an argument be made that it’s marginally unfair to have an English comedian poke fun at American cultural and political mores? Maybe. But this is what Cohen does. However unpalatable you may find him, or the show, it appears that only someone on the outside can provide the distance and clarity we seem unable to provide ourselves. 

Sacha Baron Cohen is an improvisational genius and he’s never been better than he is here. Who is America? does what good satire should do, hold a mirror up to society. 

This is not who we are, but this is who we are right now.” – Seth Myers

Who Is America? is so good that I genuinely fear for Sacha Baron Cohen’s life and I hope that the show won’t end the way the Paddy Chayefsky’s classic satirical film Network ended.

But who knows? Although none was needed, Who Is America? provides even more proof that today, anything’s possible.

A version of this was originally published at TheLatest.com, July 17, 2018.