Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of Ali G, Borat, and Who is America? Is More Devout Than You Think
Sacha Baron Cohen creates mayhem with his comedy. Cohen’s form is unique. The actor incorporates guests unwittingly in interviews and non-scripted interactions. By pretending to be characters who seem delusional, Cohen can lower the inhibitions of guests to reveal hidden biases or conformity to discrimination. This has led to lawsuits, the resignation of a state congressman, and a seemingly endless amount of statements by individuals, both regular citizens, and celebrities, explaining why they are not racist, homophobic, sexist, or anti-Semitic. Cohen’s profoundl religious belief in Judaism has shaped his confrontational style, choice of profession, and even his comedic skits.
Cohen was born in a conservative Jewish home in northwest London. The actor would embrace his family’s faith for the rest of his life. Judaism influenced Cohen’s area of study at university, civil rights and the interconnection with Jewish communities. Cohen was pursuing comedy at the same time. The comedian has told the media learning about Jewish participation in civil rights led to him to choosing comedy as his profession. The Jewish population in the United States during the middle of the 20th century was the most politically liberal group. This included heavy involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Cohen believed it was his moral obligation to expose injustice. His social activism began with marches against Neo-Nazis while at school.
Cohen created characters such as “Borat,” an ill-mannered Kazakh journalist, to test how much someone would participate in anti-Semitism. Borat would regularly make guests agree to far-fetched statements such as “Jews changed shape to steal money and eat children.” In a particularly famous scene in the self-titled movie, Borat got an entire bar in Arizona to sing “throw the Jew down the well.” Cohen has explained he does not believe everyone he gets to participate is an anti-Semite. The act intends to expose how willingly people will participate in outright discrimination.
Interestingly, Cohen does not like to credit his faith when directly asked. Although the British actor spends many interviews discussing influence on specific parts of his life, he rarely credits his faith on the whole. Perhaps Cohen could be afraid of being singularly defined by his religion or that he has a complicated relationship with religion. Either way his faith has helped paved the way for his success as a global superstar and respected comedian.