WATCH | That Sacha Baron Cohen vs Trump feud is still blazing - and it's hilarious
A history of the ding-dong that refuses to die
After a few years in the comedy wilderness, Sacha Baron Cohen added some extra joie de vivre for those Americans celebrating Independence Day on Wednesday: he was making a comeback.
The British comedian better known as Ali G or Borat has long skewered establishment figures: John Humphrys, Newt Gingrich, Tory grandee Rhodes Boyson and Gore Vidal, to name but a few.
But most of them have nobly worn the experience well – unlike Donald Trump, who has repeatedly lambasted Cohen ever since been interviewed by Ali G in 2003.
Baron has now folded the now-president’s abuse into a trailer for his mysterious forthcoming project. On July 4, he released a video on Twitter that, against the backdrop of Trump’s suggestion that Cohen “go to school and learn about being funny, you don’t know s---”, announced he had “graduated”.
Will the notoriously knee-jerk president take time out from dealing with America’s unfolding immigration crisis to reply to Cohen? Probably. But until then, let’s remember how the feud began.
In 2003, Cohen’s show Ali G in Da House had achieved that rare holy grail of British comedians: a transition across the pond.
Now showing on US network HBO, his Channel 4 spoof show had taken on a shiny American gloss with interviews of victims who were even more susceptible to irony. Among them was Donald Trump.
Then a fame-hungry business mogul (he wouldn’t appear on The Apprentice for a year, but was furiously racking up acting credits on Sex and the City and Zoolander), Trump was interviewed by Ali G alongside other business leaders to help the character understand how to be an entrepreneur himself.
Ali pitches a skeptical Trump his business idea – gloves that protect against the drips of a melting ice cream – while Trump tries desperately to leave the interview, before standing up and walking out after a matter of seconds – or so the edit seemed to suggest.
“I was the first person to actually realise that he’s a dick,” Cohen recalled in May 2016, when Trump’s presidential campaign was in full swing, but still unfathomable enough for anyone to predict how successful it would be.
“I interviewed him as Ali G, and I was trying to get Donald Trump to invest in this business idea I had, which was an ice cream glove.”
“He did not invest, and decided to move into politics instead,” Cohen recalled to James Corden on The Late Late Show, who then asked about Trump’s departure from the interview.
“He came and interviewed me years ago, when he was Ali G,” Trump later said. “He misrepresented. They said it was BBC and a major interview, and they had somebody dressed up as a good-looking guy from BBC. And then when I sat down for the interview it was Ali G. He asked me some absolutely ridiculous questions.”
Even nine years later, Trump failed to see the funny side: “After two questions I left the interview,” he told US cable network HLN. “And I was very proud of myself because I was the only one that left, because he dealt with politicians and they never left. But I left, and I never got credit for that.
“He claims that [he walked out],” Cohen told Corden, “He claims that he saw through the interview. But actually he was there for about seven minutes. Which is quite a long time.”
But Trump had waged war on Cohen long before his ambitions to become president took flight. In 2012, in his office, Trump recorded and uploaded a video rampage against the comedian after Cohen, under the guise of fictional dictator Admiral General Aladeen, poured what he claimed to be the ashes of Kim Jong-Il on the suit of Hollywood broadcaster Ryan Seacrest while on the Oscars red carpet.
Trump’s YouTube vlog sadly no longer exists, but reports from April 2012 show that he wished Cohen had been violently reprimanded for the stunt: “Believe me, if that ever happened to somebody with real security, Sacha Baron Cohen would not be in a good shape right now. He’d be in a hospital.
“He would have been punched in the face so many times, he wouldn’t know what happened. I only wish that Ryan took a swing at him.”
Trump later appeared on cable TV to explain his comments, which had appeared in a video that more widely criticised the Oscars – one of Trump’s favourite pre-presidential hobbies.
“I can tell you if that happened to me, or if that happened to people I know, that guy would have been unconscious laying on the ground and nobody would have blamed us,” he told the network. “He’s a bad guy, he’s a moron.” Trump went on to say that he would never have Cohen on The Apprentice because “he would get no ratings, nobody cares about him”.
However, people did care: The Dictator, the film that Cohen was promoting with his Seacrest stunt, was a box office triumph, taking $179.4-million (R2,4-billion) from a budget of $65-million (R880-million). Cohen, a Haberdashers’ Askes alumnus, had broken America.
Four years later, and Cohen had folded the Trump campaign into his next film, Grimsby. Cohen had adopted a new persona, that of Nobby, an alcoholic football hooligan with 11 children.
Nobby was met with lukewarm interest in the UK – the social climate in pre-referendum Britain didn’t take kindly to a middle-class Cambridge graduate impersonating a candidate for Jeremy Kyle – but the American media, in the midst of a perfervid election campaign, picked up on the character’s allegiance to Trump.
As Nobby, Cohen wore a Make America Great Again cap on the red carpet for Grimsby’s Los Angeles premiere, whereupon he described Trump as “the ultimate soccer hooligan” and “a loud ranting bloke”. Nobby continued: “It was Donald’s rallies that won me over. It’s like football matches in England – shouting, violence and abuse.”
If such satire was lost on Trump, Cohen made his intentions clearer in the film itself. One of the subplots sees Trump contract Aids from a US news anchor (original targets included the Queen and the Pope), a plot line that so worried executives at Sony, the studio that produced the film, that a disclaimer was included stating Trump’s lack of involvement in the film.
“If you were told that [Sony are] shying away from the movie because of the political implications, I can tell you that’s 100% true,” an industry insider said at the time. The lack of serious marketing campaign for Grimsby in the US was thought to have been inspired by the studio’s fear of antagonising the then future president.
“I had a bit of an argument with the studio,” Cohen admitted. “Because they said: ‘[At the end of the movie] you have to put a card in saying Donald Trump was not involved in this movie and Donald Trump is not HIV-positive.’ I refused to say that Donald Trump is not HIV-positive. I said: ‘I’ve got no idea whether he is.’ Show me your STD card and prove it.
“He’s had a number of lovers and what I don’t want is, god forbid he is HIV-positive, and he sleeps with somebody, and I get sued, because they’ve heard in my film that he’s not. So, we were in a battle for quite a while with the studio. There’s a compromise — which you’ll see when you go to see the film.”
Furthermore, Cohen found the scene a useful barometer: “We’ve just shown the movie in Germany, Holland, England, around America, Norway, Spain — and when Donald Trump contracts HIV, people are standing up and applauding.
“And, to me, that’s pretty worrying because, if he does become president, the hatred [towards] this guy is so extreme that people will wish ill on him.”
Fast-forward 17 months, and Trump is in the White House – something, ironically, that probably prevented him from attempting to sue Sony over Cohen’s Aids gag. And, as Cohen’s latest exploit suggests, there are plenty more Trump jokes where that came from.
– © The Daily Telegraph