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Fame and celebrity

How Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Who is America?’ lures politicians into supporting guns for toddlers

Cohen persuaded US politicians to call for ‘Kinderguardians’ – armed toddlers – and baffled Bernie Sanders with nonsense economic talk

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 4:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 9:02pm

As expected, Sacha Baron Cohen takes no prisoners with his satirical new show, which was surprise-announced last week.

Who is America?, which premieres on US channel Showtime on Sunday, is the politically charged new project from British comedian Cohen, creator of characters such as Ali G, Borat and Brüno. He wrote and directed the new seven-episode weekly series.

The personalities he portrays in “America” are no less outrageous. Erran Morad is a gruff, Israeli anti-terrorism expert waving the flag for a new programme he calls “Kinderguardians”, which would train kids ages 3 to 16 how to use guns.

That he gets gun-rights activists Philip Van Cleave and Larry Pratt to speak out in support of the initiative – and even film a training video for children, with characters such as Puppy Pistol and Gunny Rabbit – is the episode’s funniest bit, if sadly not surprising.

“The only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good boy with a gun,” Morad says. Adds Pratt: “Or even a good toddler.”

Morad ultimately recruits former and current congressmen to record public-service announcements for the fake programme.

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“We should think about putting guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens – good guys – whether they be teachers, talented children or highly trained preschoolers,” former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says, entirely straight-faced.

Cohen-as-Morad then heads to Washington to find political support for his programme, where he wheels in a number of notable right-winders including Former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh.

“The intensive three-week Kinderguardian course introduces specially selected children from 12 to 4 years old to pistols, rifles, semi-automatics and a rudimentary knowledge of mortars,” Walsh says directly into the camera.

“In less than a month – less than a month – a first-grader can become a first grenade-er.” He adds: “Happy shooting, kids.”

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On Sunday, Walsh told CNN that Cohen duped him by telling him that he was “getting an award from some Israeli TV station because I’m a great supporter of Israel”.

“After they conducted an interview, they had me read off of a teleprompter talking about some of the innovative products that Israel invented,” Walsh explained.

“Then they had me read about this 4-year-old child in Israel who, when a terrorist entered his classroom, somehow he grabbed the terrorist’s gun and held the terrorist at bay.

“And that was an example of how Israel trains and arms preschool kids on how to use firearms, and boy shouldn’t we do that in America?”

He said as he read it, he thought, “Well, this is kind of crazy, but it is Israel and Israel is strong on defence.” Later, “we found out this whole thing was made up.”

Walsh said he didn’t realise until 3am the next morning that he’d been “duped”. He reiterated on Twitter Sunday that “no, I don’t believe we should train & arm kindergarteners.”

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Another prominent character is the motorised scooter-bound Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick, founder of fictional right-wing news site Truthbrary.org, whose aim is to take down the “mainstreme” media.

The premiere kicks off with a sit-down interview between Ruddick and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who seems increasingly befuddled by Ruddick’s bizarre line of questioning.

“I was a healthy man, and then Obamacare came in and I was forced to see a doctor,” says Ruddick, sporting blond mutton chops and a leather jacket. “All of a sudden, I had three diseases.”

Ruddick then cites figures from the fictional International Institute of Truth and Knowledge, explaining that the only way to spread the wealth among Americans is by “keeping the 1 per cent, but you move the 99 per cent into the 1 per cent.”

After a few minutes of trying to understand Ruddick’s garbled logic, Sanders throws in the towel: “Billy, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I really don’t.”

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Other characters include the pussy hat-wearing Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, who shocks a card-carrying Republican couple in South Carolina with his extreme liberalism.

To challenge gender roles, for instance, he tells them that he makes his son, Harvey Milk, pee sitting down and daughter, Malala, urinate while standing.

A third character, freed criminal Ricky Sherman, is only occasionally amusing, convincing an art-gallery owner to give him her pubic hair for a paintbrush.

That’s after he shows her a series of crude “paintings” he made in prison, using faeces and his cellmate’s semen (or so he claims).

“America” made headlines last week when former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin criticised Cohen on Facebook, claiming she was “duped” into taping an interview for the

show.

Tribune News Service, The Washington Post