Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

Who Is America? wants headlines. It wants to entertain, sure, but it really wants to see its stunts ripple throughout the 24-hour news cycle. That’s a key difference between this show and Sacha Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G Show—where the latter sought (mostly) to investigate humanity, politeness, and professional behaviors in the face of extreme uncomfortability, Who Is America? paints direct targets as Baron Cohen clears the path to its intended destination. Here, the satire is more pointed and, as such, the stakes much, much higher. This laser-focused approach has produced its fair share of magic, from Kinder Guardians to Jason Spencer’s ass to the Quinceañera, where the darkness and bad intentions of Baron Cohen’s marks emerged with only the slightest nudge. It’s less enjoyable, however, when it’s Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello shoving a graphic, pedophilic “children’s book” in the face of an anti-porn crusader, waiting fruitlessly for the dude to snap. Sometimes, it feels as if Baron Cohen is trying to drag his marks into dark alleys, rather than letting them venture into it on their own. Sure, some people need that level of psychological force; others, meanwhile, might’ve produced something much more juicy had it been played a little looser.

Advertisement

That’s how it feels during OMGWhizzBoyOMG’s interview with the lunatic Sheriff David Clarke, the kind of guy who seems primed to self-own in a situation like this. Instead, his interview trundles along, with Baron Cohen bending over backwards to try and get Clarke to say that, even in 1930s Germany, he’d rally against anti-fascist protesters. Clarke, a big proponent of making his enemies “taste their own blood,” takes the bait to some degree—enough for a few far-flung headlines to emerge—but the line of questioning is so extreme that even a fool like him seems to get that something’s going on. “You don’t wanna take sides,” Clarke says in response to WhizzBoy’s line of questioning, a statement that’s, yes, terrifying in its own right (and absurd in light of his far-right history), but cautious in the same manner anyone would be when around someone who’s spouting such extreme rhetoric in a public forum. WhizzBoy isn’t a nuanced character by any means but Baron Cohen was at least a touch more subtle with Sheriff Joe Arpaio last week, relying more on cultural and generational obfuscations than leading questions and multiple blunt references to Germany in the 1930s. Here, it just seems like Baron Cohen is trying (and mostly failing) to bulldoze Clarke into that dark alley. That’s disappointing when we know he’s capable of subtler tactics.

Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

Billy Wayne Ruddick’s interview with Corey Lewandowski wasn’t all that different. Again, it felt like Baron Cohen was overplaying his hand a bit, with Ruddick, a far-right nationalist, calling the scum who marched on Charlottesville “honest, fascist people who just wanna express their right to start a genocide.” Is it satisfying to face an ardent Trump loyalist like Lewandowski with such a searing simplification of his base? Sure, but it’s also out of character for Ruddick—the kind of guy who would emphasize that, no, the neo-nazis were actually just there to protest the removal of Confederate statues—as were his repeated assertions that, because Trump wasn’t looking at the “titties” of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he was definitely a “feminist.” Baron Cohen knows that “feminist” is a dirty word to a guy like Lewandowski—who clearly has issues with women—but what he fails to grasp is that it would also be one to a guy like Ruddick. Baron Cohen’s individual performances this season have been incredible, but here it feels as if he’s compromising his character to land a punchline.

Advertisement

That’s not always the case, though. Israeli terror expert Erran Morad, by virtue of his homeland, profession, and aggressive demeanor, is able to get away with a lot more than, say, OMGWhizzBoyOMG, whose fascistic tendencies, while amusing set against his colorful aesthetic, resound as wholly unbelievable in actual life. As in previous episodes, Morad’s segment was this entry’s strongest; here, he pairs up with Daniel Roberts, the founder and President of Youth Shooters of America, an organization devoted to getting guns in the hands of literal children. As he did with Spencer, Morad is here to impart terrorist defense techniques, though he’s got a few new tricks up his sleeve, one of which includes biting dicks. This results in the truly indelible visual of Roberts on his knees with Morad’s strap-on cock in his mouth, a visual gag that will go down in Who Is America? history beside Jason Spencer’s ass-out waddle and that old, beefy Trumper dressed like a teen princess.

Time and again, Morad has proven Baron Cohen’s most effective vehicle for debasement, which might have something to do with the aura of confidence and masculinity the character exudes. Fragile men love “tough guys.”

Advertisement

I also really enjoyed ex-con Rick Sherman’s segment this time around. We haven’t seen him since the first episode, when he anchored the entry’s worst bit with his poop paintings, and I much prefer this light satire of EDM culture to that previous dalliance with the art world. Baron Cohen’s spent a healthy portion of his career pointing out the shallow nature of LA art circles—that was, more or less, Brüno’s entire M.O.—so it’s nice to see a new target in nightclub promoter Jake Inphamous, who gets amped by the audio samples of prison stabbings and forced sodomy that Sherman’s woven into his beats. Here, it feels as if Baron Cohen might be trying a bit too hard to indict Inphamous (and the eventual crowd) for overlooking the severity of the samples in favor of the beat, but the joke is really in how EDM, as a genre, is built entirely on one thing: the drop. You could play audio of pigs getting slaughtered so long as those womps hit at just the right moment.

Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

Billionaire playboy Gio Monaldo, meanwhile, recruits Mahbod Moghadamone, one of the gross tech bros behind Rap Genius, for a photoshoot. Here, he pulls a lot of the same stunts as he did on The Bachelor’s Corinne Olympios in episode two—greenscreening him into charity photos with sponsored products—but Moghadam, a pitch-perfect representation of the Silicon Valley “brogrammer,” is a much better mark. “I kid you not, Jesus came down and told us wassap and he told us this was gonna be the biggest site,” he babbles in an interview. Later, he tells Gio that “the, uh, sunglasses are kind of my trademark.” Seriously, though: How many Silicon Valley characters have been based on this guy?

Advertisement

Who Is America? will be remembered for its headlines—Dick Cheney signing a torture device, for instance—but an episode like this one shows that it needn’t be overly reliant on its relevance. Sometimes, shit is just funny.

Stray observations

  • Do we agree with Ruddick that Miss Piggy was the “most respected” of all the Muppets?
  • Sherman proudly shouting that his beats feature “genuine sodomy!” was almost as funny as Inphamous’ “DJs get BJs.”
  • That Morad sketch was top-to-bottom gold. I like that there were different flavors of joke in there; the character’s segments are usually wound so tightly around guns and racism that they can sometimes overflow with morbidity. Here, we get a screaming match where Morad grills Roberts on his favorite books. “WHY IS IT SO INTERESTING?” he screams after Roberts reveals he reads Tom Clancy. “GETTING INSIDE THE CHARACTERS!” Roberts hilariously responds.
  • “My mouth is big enough for two of these!” Roberts yells through the rubber cock in his mouth.
  • Gio stuffing Moghadam’s shorts with a baby doll’s arm was funny enough, but him swapping it out for the arm of a black doll? Chef kiss.

Advertisement