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, Brüno, or any one of his any other onscreen alter egos, Baron Cohen's 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, an appropriate amount of outrage, plenty of headlines, an Oscar nomination and, coming soon, a sequel to Borat. Here are 10 facts about the man behind the mustaches.

1. Sacha Baron Cohen started out as a model.

After graduating Christ’s College, Cambridge, Sacha 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. Sacha Baron Cohen once hawked French fries in a commercial for McCain's.

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. Sacha Baron Cohen owes his success to a clown.

And not just any clown—but one of the best clowns in the business. 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. Sacha Baron Cohen 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 has been favorably compared to the late comedy master.

5. Sacha Baron Cohen's 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 being Ali G, he’d carry equipment in with the crew and do idiotic warm-up interview questions with his subjects while a sharply dressed colleague 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 Sacha Baron Cohen, and several have.

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. Sacha Baron Cohen is almost always in character.

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. Sacha Baron Cohen rarely appear 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. Sacha Baron Cohen 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.”

This story has been updated for 2020.

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

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The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

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Beyond Queen Elizabeth: 10 Fantastic Shows to Stream After The Crown

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Alex Bailey/Netflix

So you’ve already torn through the latest season of The Crown, which arrived on Netflix in mid-November. You’ve watched and evaluated the performances of the new cast members, including Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. You’ve done your Google searches on the events depicted in season 4, including the disappearance of Thatcher's son Mark. You’ve played back every scene featuring a corgi. What are you going to do now?

If you’re looking for something else that’s historical, royal, or just vaguely British, give one of these shows a try. They’re all available on a major streaming service and they all feature the same whispered bombshells and meaningful glances that make The Crown such a quietly devastating—and highly addicting—drama.

1. Victoria

Like The Crown, Victoria opens with a young queen ascending the throne after a death in the family. Only in this case, the queen is 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, who would rule Great Britain and Ireland for an astonishing 63 years. This costume drama hasn’t even covered a third of that reign, but it’s packed with plenty of royal scandal, real-world politics, and dramatic gowns into its three seasons. There’s no official word on when fans can expect the next batch of episodes, but writer Daisy Goodwin has promised “an absolute humdinger” of a fourth season.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

2. The Tudors

Henry VIII famously had a problem with commitment. He married six women, more than one of whom he had executed, making his life prime material for a soapy drama. Showtime delivered just that with The Tudors, which aired its final episode in 2010. The show covered each of Henry’s marriages and various international affairs in between, casting now famous British actors in some of their earliest roles. Henry Cavill appears in all four seasons as the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, and Natalie Dormer (a.k.a. Margaery Tyrell) dominates the first two seasons as Henry’s doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Outlander

Take all of the historical intrigue of The Crown, add in some time travel and a lot more sex scenes, and you have Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, this Starz original centers on Claire Randall, a nurse living in post-WWII Britain who is sent back in time to 1740s Scotland. Her travels don’t end there. Over the course of the show, Claire schmoozes with the French royal court in Paris and gets shipwrecked off the coast of the American colonies. She also falls in love with a Highlander named Jamie, even as she attempts to reunite with her husband Frank (played by Tobias Menzies, The Crown's current Prince Philip) in the present day.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Call The Midwife

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC show follows young women in medical training as they travel in and out of the homes of expectant Brits. By focusing on a working class neighborhood, Call the Midwife paints a picture of the London outside Queen Elizabeth’s palace walls, exploring in particular the stories of mothers in a post-baby boom, pre-contraceptive pill world.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Upstairs Downstairs

The first Upstairs, Downstairs aired in the 1970s—and when it ended, the tony Bellamy family had just been devastated by the stock market crash of 1929. The reboot (note the lack of comma in the title) picks up in 1936, with one of the original series' housekeepers serving a new family. Just like the original, it shows the very different lives of the “upstairs” aristocrats and their “downstairs” domestic staff, while nodding at current events that would’ve affected them both. A special treat for fans of The Crown: Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth in The Crown's first two seasons, playing the frequently misbehaved Lady Persephone Towyn.

Where to watch it: BritBox

6. Versailles

Ever wondered what it was like to party in the Hall of Mirrors? Versailles takes you inside the grand French palace of the same name, fictionalizing the lives of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his court in the mid-1600s. Versailles isn’t quite as critically adored as The Crown and its cohorts—many reviewers have written it off as a slighter historical series—but it’s got all the requisite melodrama and the jaw-dropping sets we’ve come to expect from these costume epics.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Poldark

When war breaks out between the Brits and American colonists, Ross Poldark leaves his hometown of Cornwall to fight for King George III. After eight years of battles, the redcoats lose, sending Poldark back across the ocean, where he finds that everything has changed: His father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin. This is where Poldark, the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s eponymous novels, picks up. While Ross Poldark is a fictional character, the show incorporates lots of real history, from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War to the subsequent revolution in France. Amazon Prime has all five seasons of the series, which ended its run in 2019.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

8. The Borgias

Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia were extremely influential nobles in 15th and 16th century Italy. In 1492, Rodrigo claimed the papacy and, with it, control of the Roman Catholic Church. That basically meant he and his children ruled the country: as long as Rodrigo was Pope Alexander VI, the Borgias could get anything they wanted. Showtime dramatized their power plays, betrayals, and rumored incest over three seasons of The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons in the lead role as Rodrigo.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Downton Abbey

If you missed out on the Downton Abbey craze in 2010, now is the perfect time to catch up. The entire series—which concerns the upper-crust Crawley family and their many servants—is available on Amazon Prime, and the 2019 movie is available on HBO Max (or for rent on Prime Video). Though the story is primarily set in the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie Smith’s withering insults are timeless.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. Coronation Street

If you want to understand the royals, you have to watch their favorite shows—and Coronation Street has long been rumored to be Queen Elizabeth’s preferred soap. (Prince Charles is also a fan; he appeared on the show’s live 2000 special.) Airing on ITV since 1960, Coronation Street follows several working-class families in the fictional town of Weatherfield.

Where to watch it: Hulu, Tubi

This story has been updated for 2020.