On the Fourth of July, comedian, provocateur, and expert troll Sacha Baron Cohen started plugging something new. Like most of his work, it appeared to be ambitious and (probably) controversial; it was at least tangentially related to President Donald Trump. First, there was a “message” from Trump, a diatribe against Cohen made with spliced-together audio, along with the promise that “Sacha graduates SOON.”
A message from your President @realDonaldTrump on Independence Day pic.twitter.com/O2PwZqO0cs— Sacha Baron Cohen (@SachaBaronCohen) July 4, 2018
Then on Sunday came a short video reporting that Cohen’s been “undercover secretly filming a new show for a year.” At the end of that video, former vice president Dick Cheney giddily signed a “waterboarding kit.”
To know that Cohen—the guy behind caricatures as crude, caustic, and unforgettable as Ali G, Borat, and Brüno—had something fresh up his sleeve was undeniably exciting. That whatever he was working on was shrouded in secrecy also implied he was going back to the mockumentary style that he’d recently ignored for more traditional comedy fare like The Dictator and The Brothers Grimsby. (Projects that, no offense, didn’t exactly capture the zeitgeist as well as Da Ali G Show or Borat.) Finally, on Monday, Showtime released a trailer for Cohen’s show that mercifully contains some basic information:
After all that, here’s what we officially know about Cohen’s mysterious new show: It’s called Who Is America?, it premieres this coming Sunday on Showtime, it’s political, and Dick freakin’ Cheney agreed to (or was tricked into) doing an interview for it. Oh, we also know that Cohen reportedly wanted O.J. Simpson to be on the show in some form, which is maybe the best indicator out there of what Who Is America? will be. Elsewhere, Showtime’s president and CEO David Nevins offered a little more insight: “[Cohen] is the premier provocateur of our time, but not for the sake of ‘gotcha’ moments,” Nevins said in a statement. “Behind the elaborate setup is a genuine quest for the truth about people, places and politics.” That certainly checks out. Borat was ridiculous, yes, but also a scathing examination of American Islamophobia post-9/11.
To call the show “Who Is America?” and deploy Cohen’s distinct form of trolling in the age of Trump is an ambitious gambit: Cohen’s work is at its best when it is over-the-top, controversial, and exceptionally crass. Combining Cohen’s trolly verve with dystopian and depressing Trumpian discourse has as much potential for disaster as it does awards. There’s still so much we don’t know about Who Is America?, which these days is in and of itself a rare and exciting notion. One thing we can definitely assume, however: This show is going to make a lot of people—including Trump, who, for some reason, didn’t seem interested in Ali G’s “ice cream gloves”—angry.