10 Outrageous Facts About Sacha Baron Cohen

Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

Not only is Sacha Baron Cohen the premier in-character satirist of this era, he’s peerless. An incendiary genius, Baron Cohen is the only person in the world doing what he does at the level at which he does it. Whether it’s as Borat or his new Who Is America? character Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD, his comedy works not because he tricks the people he’s interviewing into saying horrific, racist, sexist, xenophobic garbage, but because he makes them feel safe enough to say their worst opinions out loud, on camera.

His fearlessness in making serious people look silly has earned him a global audience and an appropriate amount of outrage—not to mention an Oscar nomination. Here are 10 facts about the comic behind the mustaches.

1. HE STARTED OUT AS A MODEL.

After graduating Christ’s College, Cambridge, Baron Cohen briefly worked as a fashion model before hosting low-paying local and regional TV shows in the early 1990s. Obviously is was good prep for crafting the stylish Brüno, who infiltrated Milan, Madrid, and Paris Fashion Weeks.

2. HE ALSO HELPED SELL FRENCH FRIES.

Like a lot of people in the entertainment industry (Hi, bank enthusiast Tina Fey!), Baron Cohen also appeared in a commercial before getting his big break. Far from embarrassing, though, the pun-heavy, absurdist pitch for microwavable French fries (“chips” if you’re English) would fit in well in today’s manic advertising age. Baron Cohen played a chef for about a nanosecond of screen time (as seen above).

3. HE OWES HIS SUCCESS TO A CLOWN.

One of the best clowns, in fact. Baron Cohen studied with the legendary Philippe Gaulier in Paris. Gaulier is known for his rigid deadpan, frizzy hair, and heartlessly brutal feedback. A post-fame Baron Cohen—who credits Gaulier for his success—returned to the clowning school on its 20th anniversary to perform in workshops. “He was so boring," Gaulier said of his former pupil. "But being boring is normal. Sometimes you have to be boring before you can discover something new.”

4. HE IDOLIZES PETER SELLERS.


Charley Gallay, Getty Images for Disney

Fans of both Baron Cohen and Peter Sellers will immediately see the connection between the two performers. Sellers made a mark dramatically transforming himself into a multitude of comic characters: the farcical, naive Inspector Clouseau; the shrieking, alien hand syndrome sufferer Dr. Strangelove; the television-brained Chance the gardener in Being There. All feature DNA that could morph into Baron Cohen’s characters. Baron Cohen said that Sellers was the “most seminal force in shaping his early ideas on comedy,” and he’s been favorably compared to the late comedy master.

5. HIS EARLY STUNTS INVOLVED MAKING PEOPLE THINK HE WASN’T THE INTERVIEWER.

How does Baron Cohen catch so many people off guard? In the early days of Ali G, he’d carry equipment in with the crew and do idiotic warm-up interview questions with his subjects while a sharply dressed confederate stood nearby. Subjects would assume the guy in the suit was the interviewer, and then the cameras would roll with Ali G still in the interviewer’s chair. This is, of course, after everyone has signed release forms.

6. A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THREATENED TO SUE HIM.

 Awards host Borat poses in the Awards Room at the 12th annual MTV Europe Music Awards 2005 at the Atlantic Pavilion on November 3, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal
Gareth Cattermole, Getty Images for MTV

Baron Cohen has almost always had lawyers and producers guiding what’s in and out of bounds, but it’s no surprise that he’s been slapped with lawsuits by several people. After Borat, the Kazakhstan government threatened a suit (Baron Cohen responded by encouraging them in character as Borat), and the Romanian village where he shot his “Kazakhstan” segments wasn't pleased about being lied to either. He’s been sued by frat boys, a bingo hall employee, and a Palestinian grocer. The first two cases were dismissed, and the third was settled out of court.

7. THE FBI HAD A FILE ON BORAT.

Baron Cohen grew accustomed to the police showing up to his projects early on, but the FBI also got involved during the Borat shoot. “The FBI were following us for a while,” Baron Cohen told NPR. “They had so many complaints that there was a Middle Eastern man ... driving through America in an ice cream van that the FBI assigned a team to us.”

8. HE OBSESSIVELY STAYS IN CHARACTER.

Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the Carlton Hotel as The Dictator during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images

Part of Baron Cohen’s ability to avoid cracking during hide-under-the-carpet awkward moments is that he goes method, remaining in character regardless of whether cameras are rolling. That means he’s Borat or Brüno or someone else ridiculous during production meetings, while being questioned by the Secret Service after being pulled over outside the White House, or while an angry mob of rodeo fans are threatening to kill him.

9. HE RARELY APPEARS IN PUBLIC AS HIMSELF.

Focus on his characters has afforded the extremely private Baron Cohen a shield against those who would snoop into his real life. Almost all of his red carpet appearances are in character (which he frequently uses in the art itself), and he spent years giving remarkably few interviews without the put-on. During his rise to fame, Rolling Stone boasted having “the only interview as himself.” “I think that essentially I’m a private person, and to reconcile that with being famous is a hard thing,” Baron Cohen said. “So, I’ve been trying to have my cake and eat it, too—to have my characters be famous yet still live a normal life where I’m not trapped by fame and recognizability.”

10. HE LIED ABOUT ADAPTING A ROMANCE NOVEL WRITTEN BY SADDAM HUSSEIN TO AVOID BEING TARGETED BY A DICTATOR.

When Baron Cohen and Larry Charles were developing The Dictator, they were worried that the main influence for his Admiral General Aladeen character, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, would react violently to being the butt of the joke. To skew attention away from the satirical target during filming, they fed media outlets the story that the movie was based on the romance novel Zabibah and the King, written by Saddam Hussein (and published anonymously). No violence occurred because of the movie, but Baron Cohen was banned from filming at the United Nations because, as he claimed officials said, “We represent a lot of dictators, and they are going to be very angry by this portrayal of them, so you can’t shoot here.”

YouTube Will Air a Different Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical for Free Each Friday

Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2018.
Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2018.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Broadway may have temporarily shut down all productions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, but Andrew Lloyd Webber is here to make sure that musical theater aficionados still get their fill of top-notch content for the foreseeable future.

According to Broadway Direct, Webber’s production company, The Really Useful Group, has partnered with Universal on a new YouTube channel called “The Shows Must Go On!,” which will air a different Webber musical each Friday at 2 p.m. EST on YouTube. If you can’t tune in right at that time, don’t worry—the show will stay posted for 48 hours after it airs.

The series debuted last Friday, April 3, with 1999’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which stars Donny Osmond in the titular role and an ultra-talented supporting cast with Richard Attenborough, Maria Friedman, Joan Collins, and more. This week’s offering, tying in nicely with Easter, will be the 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring Tim Minchin, Melanie C—a.k.a. the Spice Girls’ Sporty Spice—and Ben Forster. (If you’re interested in comparing it with 2018’s live concert version with John Legend and Sara Bareilles, you can catch that on NBC this Sunday.)

The schedule for future Fridays hasn’t been released yet, but Webber did mention in the announcement that it’ll include what he calls “the most important one, my disaster musical, By Jeeves,” a 1975 production based on P.G. Wodehouse’s classic stories. Other potential productions that could be part of the series include The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, School of Rock, and, of course, Cats.

In addition to full-length Broadway musicals, the channel will also post individual songs and behind-the-scenes content about how musicals go from stage to screen. You can subscribe to the channel here so you don’t miss any opportunity for a living room singalong.

[h/t Broadway Direct]

One The Office Fan Has a Theory About Why Michael Scott Hates Toby Flenderson

NBCUniversal, Inc.
NBCUniversal, Inc.

NBC's hit workplace comedy The Office has spawned its fair share of fan theories, including one that suggests Michael Scott was actually a genius and another which teases the idea that Dunder Mifflin employees' often off-the-wall antics were due to the fact that they were all suffering from radon poisoning.

One wild theory, proposed by Redditor Athena_Nikephoros, aims to get to the bottom of Michael Scott's deep hatred of Toby Flenderson. In many episodes, the Dunder Mifflin manager doesn't shy away from making degrading comments against Toby. And who could forget Michael's less-than-warm welcome when the HR manager returned from Costa Rica?

Seeing how Michael's antics would have gotten him fired many times over in a real-world office environment, it seems odd that Toby never took action against Michael. But as reported by Screen Rant, one fan theory suggests that his contempt stems from a childhood trauma.

While we don't know much about Michael Scott's early life, we do know that he had a stepdad named Jeff, so the theory partially stems from the idea that perhaps he resents his biological father for divorcing his mom. Michael speaks about his issues with his real father during a mandatory counseling session with Toby. Since the HR rep is divorced, it's possible that Michael transferred his hatred for his own father to Toby, who is just an unlucky receiver of Michael's pent-up resentment.

The theory suggests that because Michael desperately longs for a family of his own, he may harbor ill feelings toward Toby for not being able to make it work with his own family.

"Michael has no sense of subtlety or nuance, and so doesn't see that Toby is a far better father and human being than his own dad," the Redditor writes.

Michael isn't the only one who distrusts the no-nonsense HR rep; some fans think Toby is actually the Scranton Strangler.

[h/t Screen Rant]

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