Who is Sacha Noam Baron Cohen?

Who is Sacha Noam Baron Cohen? The entertainment and acting world knows him as Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen  is a British comedian, actor, and writer. He is most widely known for his portrayal of three unorthodox fictional characters, Ali G, Borat, and Brüno. In his routines, Baron Cohen's characters interact with unsuspecting people who do not realize they are being set up for comic situations and self-revealing ridicule.

Baron Cohen's work has been recognised with several Emmy nominations, an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, a BAFTA award, and a Golden Globe for Best Actor for his work in the feature film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. After the release of the film Borat, Baron Cohen stated that because the public had become too familiar with the characters, he would retire Borat and Ali G. Similarly, after the release of Brüno, he has stated he would also retire the title character.[3]




Baron Cohen was born 13 October 1971 in Hammersmith, West London, England. His mother, Daniella (née Weiser), was born in Israel, while his father, Gerald, was originally from Pontypridd, Wales.[4][5] Baron Cohen is the middle of three sons,[6] with elder brother Erran and younger brother Amnon.[6] His family is Jewish.[7] His paternal grandfather was born in Pontypridd, Wales, and his maternal grandmother, who lives in Haifa, Israel, trained as a ballet dancer in Germany.[8][9][10][11] Baron Cohen's brother Erran is a composer and has worked on several of his films. Internationally renowned autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen is his cousin.[12]


Baron Cohen first attended St Columba's College Prep School, St Albans, Hertfordshire, before moving on to attend Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, a private school in Elstree, Hertfordshire, near London. He went on to the University of Cambridge, entering Christ's College, Cambridge, where he read history under Niall Ferguson and wrote his dissertation on Jewish involvement in the American Civil Rights movement, with emphasis on the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi.
At the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club, Baron Cohen acted in plays such as Fiddler on the Roof (in which he played Tevye) and Cyrano de Bergerac. While at Cambridge, he performed in Habonim Dror Jewish theatre performances.[13]


Early roles

After leaving university, Baron Cohen worked for a time as a fashion model, appearing in many fashion magazines.[13] By the early 1990s, he was hosting a weekly programme on Windsor cable television's local broadcasts with Carol Kirkwood, who later became a BBC weather forecaster. In 1995, Channel 4 was planning a replacement for its series The Word, and disseminated an open call for new television presenters. Baron Cohen sent in a tape of himself in the character of Kristo, a fictional television reporter from Albania (who developed into the Kazakh Borat Sagdiyev), which caught the attention of a producer. Baron Cohen hosted Pump TV from 1995-1996. In 1996, he began presenting the youth chat programme F2F for Granada Talk TV. The late nineties saw Baron Cohen make his first feature film appearance in the British comedy The Jolly Boys' Last Stand, then in 2000 Baron Cohen played the part of Super Greg for a series of TV advertisements for Lee Jeans which never aired, yet the website for Super Greg created an internet sensation.[14] He also attended Ecole Philippe Gaulier, studying under Philippe Gaulier whom he credits with enabling him to find the play and pleasure to create characters such as Ali G and Borat.

Ali G character

Baron Cohen appeared during 2-minute sketches as his fashion reporter Brüno on The Paramount Comedy Channel during 1998. He shot to fame when his comic character Ali G, an uneducated, boorish junglist, started appearing on the British television show The 11 O'Clock Show on Channel 4, which first went to air 8 September 1998.
Da Ali G Show began in 2000, and won the BAFTA for Best Comedy in the following year. Also in 2000, Baron Cohen as Ali G appeared as the limousine driver in Madonna's 2000 video "Music", directed by Jonas Åkerlund, who was also responsible for directing the titles for Da Ali G Show.

In 2002, Ali G was the central character in the feature film Ali G Indahouse, in which he is elected to the British Parliament and foils a plot to bulldoze a community centre in his hometown, Staines. His television show was exported to the United States in 2003 (with new episodes set in America) for HBO.
Ali G's interviews with famous people (often politicians) gained notoriety partly because the subjects were not privy to the joke that Ali G, rather than being a real interviewer, was a comic character played by Baron Cohen. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Baron Cohen would always enter the interview area in character as Ali G, carrying equipment and appearing to be an insignificant crew member. He would arrive with a suited man, whom the interviewee naturally thought was the interviewer. Baron Cohen, as Ali G, would sit down to begin conducting the interview by asking the interviewee some preliminary questions. The interviewee, however, would remain under the impression that the smartly-dressed director would be conducting the interview until short notice prior to cameras rolling: this would grant an advantage of surprise, whereby the interviewee would be less likely to opt out of the Ali interview prior to its commencement.[15]
The resulting willingness of Baron Cohen's targets to answer his frequently risqué questions often created surprising conversations. Interviewees have included:
Baron Cohen is a supporter of Comic Relief, and (as Ali G) has hosted some interviews for benefit of the charity.[citation needed]

Borat character

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, a feature film with "Borat" at the centre, was screened at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and released in the United Kingdom on 2 November 2006, in the United States on 3 November 2006 and Australia 23 November 2006. The film is about a journey across the United States in an ice cream van, in which the main character is obsessed with the idea of marrying Pamela Anderson. The film is a mockumentary which includes interviews with various American citizens that poke fun at American culture, as well as sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, jingoism and Baywatch.

It debuted at the #1 spot in the US, taking in an estimated $26.4 million in just 837 theatres averaging $31,600 per theatre, the fourth highest per-theatre average of all time for movies opening wide (500 screens or more), behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Spider-Man.
Baron Cohen won the 2007 Golden Globe in the "Best Actor - Musical or Comedy" category, his sixth such award. Although Borat was up for "Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy", the film lost to Dreamgirls. On 23 January 2007, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He shared his nomination with the film's co-writers, Ant Hines, Peter Baynham, Sy Mordecai Finesto, Dan Mazer, and Todd Phillips.
Aside from the comic elements of his characters, Baron Cohen's performances are interpreted by some as reflecting uncomfortable truths about his audience. He juxtaposes his own Jewish lineage with the anti-Semitism of his character Borat.[16]
In 2007, Baron Cohen published a travel guide as Borat, with dual titles: Borat: Touristic Guidings To Minor Nation of U.S. and A. and Borat: Touristic Guidings To Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.[17]
On 21 December 2007, Baron Cohen announced he was retiring the character of Borat.[18]

Brüno character

Another alter ego Sacha Baron Cohen performed as is 'Brüno', a flamboyantly gay allegedly-19-year-old Austrian fashion show presenter, who often lures his subjects, unwittingly, into making provocative statements and engaging in embarrassing behaviour, as well as leading them to contradict themselves, often in the same interview. Brüno asks the subjects to answer 'yes or no' questions with either "Vassup" (whats up), or "Ich don't think so" (No), or sometimes "Ach, ja!" (Ah yes!) or "Nicht, nicht" ("Nicht" means "not" in German). In one segment on Da Ali G Show he encouraged his guest to answer questions with either "Keep them in the ghetto" or "Train to Auschwitz". Brüno's main comedic satire pertains to the vacuity and inanity of the fashion and clubbing world. In May 2009, at the MTV Movie Awards, Baron Cohen appeared as 'Brüno' wearing a white angel costume, a white jock strap, white go-go boots and white wings, and did an aerial stunt where he dropped from a height (using wires) onto Eminem, Baron Cohen landed on his lap and his rear in Eminem's face, prompting Eminem to exit the venue with fellow rappers of D12 (Eminem later admitted to staging the stunt with Baron Cohen).[19]


After an intense bidding war that included such Hollywood powerhouses as DreamWorks, Sony, and 20th Century Fox; Universal Pictures paid a reported $42.5 million for the rights to the movie.[20] A number of shill companies and Web sites were created in order to draw potential interviewees into interviews by creating an illusion of legitimacy.[21] The film was released in July 2009.

Future projects

It has been confirmed that Baron Cohen will star as Freddie Mercury of the rock band Queen in an upcoming film about the period in the band's history from 1971 leading up to the Live Aid concert in 1985.[22] It was Baron Cohen himself who contacted screenwriter Peter Morgan with the idea of portraying the flamboyant lead singer.[23] Baron Cohen will appear in Martin Scorsese's upcoming adventure film Hugo Cabret. His next film "The Dictator", will be a loose adaptation of the novel Zabibah and the King, written by Saddam Hussein. It will tell "the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed."[24] Borat and Bruno film director Larry Charles will direct the film.[25] On 21 January 2011 it was confirmed that Baron Cohen will play the part of Saddam Hussein.[26]


Baron Cohen has encountered many controversies regarding some of his comic characters.
  • Two residents of Glod, the Romanian village in which the opening scenes of Borat were filmed, hired attorney Edward Fagan to sue the makers of Borat for $30 million. They alleged that the intent of the film was misrepresented to them, that the poorest members of their village were made to look like "savages", and that they were underpaid, particularly when their minute salaries were compared to the millions earned by the completed movie. During several segments, children were filmed with guns and other weapons and in another scene, an amputee who lost his arm was told to wear a rubber fist sex toy.[27] The lawsuit was dismissed in New York hearing on the grounds that the allegations were too vague to stand up in court.[28]
  • In an interview with former British MP Neil Hamilton in 2000, Ali G offered Hamilton what was allegedly cannabis, which Hamilton accepted and smoked, creating some minor controversy in the British media.[29]
  • At the 2006 MTV Movie Awards, Borat introduced Gnarls Barkley's performance of "Crazy", where he made a comment about Jessica Simpson, saying that he liked her mouth and that he could see it clearly through her denim pants. His appearance was cut from subsequent rebroadcasts.
  • Baron Cohen has had some troubles because of racist or prejudiced comments his characters have made (see Da Ali G Show). HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer has replied to the criticisms: 'Through his alter-egos, he delivers an obvious satire that exposes people's ignorance and prejudice in much the same way All in the Family did years ago.'[30] Regarding his portrayal as the anti-Semitic Borat, Baron Cohen says the segments are a "dramatic demonstration of how racism feeds on dumb conformity, as much as rabid bigotry", rather than a display of racism by Baron Cohen himself.[31] "Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice", Baron Cohen explains.[9] Addressing the same topic in an NPR interview with Robert Siegel, Baron Cohen says "...and I think that's quite an interesting thing with Borat, which is people really let down their guard with him because they're in a room with somebody who seems to have these outrageous opinions. They sometimes feel much more relaxed about letting their own outrageous, politically incorrect, prejudiced opinions come out."[32]
  • Baron Cohen, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, says he also wishes in particular to expose the role of indifference in that genocide. "When I was in university, there was this major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw, who said, 'The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.' I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic."[9] Regarding the enthusiastic response to his song, "Throw The Jew Down The Well", he says, "Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism."[9]
  • The government of Kazakhstan threatened Baron Cohen with legal action following the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards ceremony in Lisbon, and the authority in charge of the country's country-code top-level domain name removed the website that he had created for his character Borat (previously: http://www.borat.kz) for alleged violation of the law—specifically, registering for the domain under a false name. The New York Times, (among others), has reported that Baron Cohen, (in character as Borat), replied: "I'd like to state that I have no connection with Mr Cohen and fully support my government decision to sue this Jew".[33] He was, however, recently defended by Dariga Nazarbayeva, a politician and the daughter of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who stated 'We should not be afraid of humour and we shouldn't try to control everything, I think.'[34] The deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan has recently invited Baron Cohen to visit the country, stating that he could learn that 'women drive cars, wine is made of grapes, and Jews are free to go to synagogues.'[35] After the worldwide success of the Borat film, the Kazakh government, including the president, altered their stance on Baron Cohen's parody, tacitly recognising the invaluable press the controversy created for their country.[36]
  • Baron Cohen encountered another problem around his Borat character. Two of the three University of South Carolina students who appear in Borat sued the filmmakers, alleging that they were duped into signing release forms while drunk, and that false promises were made that the footage was for a documentary that would never be screened in the USA. On 11 December 2006, a Los Angeles judge denied the pair a restraining order to remove them from the film.[37] The lawsuit was dismissed in February 2007.[38]
  • Baron Cohen walked onto the runway during the Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada fashion show in Milan on 26 September 2008. In the character of his latest alter-ego Brüno, he was wearing a costume made out of velcro. He appeared on the stage with a blanket and items of clothing stuck to his velcro suit. Lights were turned off while security intervened and escorted him off the stage, and the fashion show resumed normally shortly thereafter. Baron Cohen and his team allegedly accessed the fashion show using fake IDs.[39]
  • During an appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, Baron Cohen stated he was restricted from answering David Letterman's question as to how he managed to get an interview with Pat Buchanan while in character as Ali G due to pending "legal reasons".[40]
  • A lawsuit was filed on 30 April 2010 in the District of Columbia by Palestinian Christian Ayman Abu Aita of Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine against Sacha Baron Cohen related to his interview which was used in Brüno. Aita alleges that he has been defamed by false accusations that he is a terrorist. Aita included David Letterman in the suit based on comments made during the 7 July 2009, appearance by Baron Cohen on the Late Show With David Letterman.[41] On November 4, 2010 the DC Case was dismissed with Aita given 120 days to file in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York or have the case permanently dismissed (see DC Case Docket Sheet).
  • While introducing an award at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, Baron Cohen was lowered upside-down from the rafters dressed as an angel right into rapper Eminem's lap after an apparently staged problem with his wire harness. Baron Cohen had only a jockstrap on underneath and fully exposed his buttocks in Eminem's face. Eminem swore repeatedly, demanding that his friends, members of D12, each of whom were sitting next to Eminem, remove Baron Cohen, then left the auditorium.[42] Baron Cohen then announced the winner while still hanging from the wires above the stage. It was later revealed that Eminem and Baron Cohen had planned the gag together.[43]

TV, radio and magazine appearances

Baron Cohen guest-starred in the finale of the fifth season Curb Your Enthusiasm, with Dustin Hoffman as a guide to Heaven. He also provided the voice of the lemur king, King Julien, in DreamWorks' family movie Madagascar (2005) as well as its 2008 sequel, and appeared as Will Ferrell's arch rival the French Formula One speed demon Jean Girard in the 2006 hit Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. He also appeared alongside Johnny Depp in the 2007 film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as Signor Adolfo Pirelli.
Baron Cohen tends to avoid doing interviews out of character. However, in 2004, he did the talk show circuit appearing as himself on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Opie and Anthony Show, The Howard Stern Show,[44] and others in order to promote the upcoming season of his show on HBO. He was also interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered.[32] He also did an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, published in November 2006, that the magazine labelled as "his only interview as himself".[9] He also appeared in an interview out of character with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air on 4 January 2007.[45]
Baron Cohen has twice presented the MTV Europe Music Awards, first as Ali G on 8 November 2001, in Frankfurt, Germany, and then as Borat on 3 November 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal. Baron Cohen appeared out of character to accept an award at the British Comedy Awards in December 2006. He said at the time that Borat could not make it to the awards as "he's guest of honour at the Holocaust denial conference in Tehran",[46] referring to the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust.
Borat Director Larry Charles explains that Baron Cohen generally appears in character partly to "protect his weakness", by focusing public interest on his characters rather than himself.[47] His other reason, Newsweek claims, is that Baron Cohen is fiercely private: "...according to the UK press, his publicists denied not only that he attended a party for the London premiere of Borat, but also that a party even occurred."[47]
It was reported online that Baron Cohen might play Freddie Mercury in a biographical film,[48] but his publicist later declared that Baron Cohen would not do so.[49] However, on 16 September 2010, representatives for Cohen confirmed that he would indeed be playing the role in an as-of-yet untitled biopic about Mercury.[50][51]
Baron Cohen shot a spread with supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio for Marie Claire Magazine to promote the film Brüno.[52]
Sports Illustrated's 6 November 2006 issue contains a column called "Skater vs. Instigator", which illustrates various amusing "parallels" between Baron Cohen and figure skater Sasha Cohen, ranging from their mutually held personal significance of the number 4,[53] to their mutual romantic interests in redheads.
Baron Cohen featured on Australian talk show Rove as Brüno on 28 June 2009.
Baron Cohen featured in the Time 100 list for 2007.[54]
In 2010, Cohen guest-starred on The Simpsons in the episode "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed" as Jakob, an angry Israeli tour guide.

Personal life

Baron Cohen married Australian actress Isla Fisher on 15 March 2010.[55] After three years of study, Fisher converted to Judaism in early 2007, saying "I will definitely have a Jewish wedding just to be with Sacha. I would do anything - move into any religion - to be united in marriage with him. We have a future together, and religion comes second to love as far as we are concerned."[56] She has received the approval of Baron Cohen's observant Jewish parents.[57] Baron Cohen and Fisher have two children: daughter Olive, born on 19 October 2007 in Los Angeles,[58] and a second daughter, Elula, born in the summer of 2010.[59]

Performer versus characters

Baron Cohen has often been confused with the identity of one of his characters. When he posed as Borat to host the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon, the central Hungarian news wire agency MTI reported that the host was 'Borat Sagdiyev'.[60] As most Hungarian newspapers and television networks take MTI as their official source, the misinterpretation of the character spread rapidly in Hungary, with some sources (such as TV2) emphasising that a Kazakh news reporter hosted the awards, while others (such as Index.hu) noticed and pointed out the error.[61]

Israel and Judaism

Baron Cohen first acted in theatrical productions featuring the Socialist-Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror.[62]
He spent a year in Israel at Kibbutz Rosh HaNikra and Kibbutz Beit HaEmek as part of the Shnat Habonim Dror, as well as taking part in the programme Machon L'Madrichei Chutz La'Aretz for Jewish youth movement leaders.
According to Baron Cohen, "I wouldn't say that I am a religious Jew, but I'm still proud to be Jewish". However, he keeps kosher and attends synagogue about twice a year.[63]
Baron Cohen frequently speaks in Hebrew while playing the anti-Semitic character Borat. He also sang the lyrics from an old kibbutzim song (pretending that it was the Kazakh national anthem) in an episode of Da Ali G Show. In one of the deleted scenes of his movie, after being asked by the host-pastor to lead the table in a pre-meal prayer service, Baron Cohen, in his character role of Borat, sings a lengthy hymn (not Hebrew) that has clear similarities to the Mussaf prayer service of the Jewish High Holidays. He actually repeatedly sings two Polish phrases (slightly mispronounced) "Excuse me ma'am do you speak English?" and "Could you speak slowly please?"[64]

Awards and nominations

  • 1999 - Won British Comedy Award, Best Male Comedy Newcomer for The 11 O'Clock Show (1998)
  • 2000 - Nominated BAFTA TV Award, Best Entertainment Performance for The 11 O'Clock Show (1998)
  • 2000 - Nominated National Television Awards, UK, Most Popular Comedy Performer for Da Ali G Show (2000)
  • 2000 - Won TV Quick Award, TV Personality of the Year for Da Ali G Show (2000)
  • 2001 - Won BAFTA TV Award, Best Comedy (Programme or Series) for Da Ali G Show (2000) (shared)
  • 2001 - Won BAFTA TV Award, Best Comedy Performance for Da Ali G Show (2000)
  • 2003 - Nominated Emmy Award, Outstanding Non-Fiction Program (Alternative) for Da Ali G Show (2003) (shared)
  • 2003 - Nominated Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing for Non-Fiction Programming for Da Ali G Show (2003) (shared)
  • 2004 - Nominated Golden Satellite Award, Best Performance by an Actor in a Series, Comedy or Musical for Da Ali G Show (2003)
  • 2005 - Nominated Emmy Award, Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series for Da Ali G Show (2003) (shared)
  • 2005 - Nominated Emmy Award, Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program for Da Ali G Show (2003) (shared)
  • 2006 - Won Ronnie Barker Award[65]
  • 2007 - Won MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss alongside Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights

Borat awards and nominations

  • 2006 - Won: Los Angeles Films Critics Association Award for Best Actor.
  • 2006 - Won: San Francisco Films Critics Circle Award for Best Actor.
  • 2006 - Winner: Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor.
  • 2006 - Won: Deutscher Comedypreis (German comedy award) for Best International Comedy.
  • 2007 - Won: Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical
  • 2007 - Nominated: Golden Globe for Best Picture Comedy/Musical.
  • 2007 - Nominated: London Film Critics Circle Award for British Actor of the Year.
  • 2007 - Nominated: Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (shared).
  • 2007 - Nominated: Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (shared).
  • 2007 - Won: MTV Movie Award for Best Comedic Performance and Nominated for Best Movie as well and Best Fight with Ken Davitian.
  • 2007 - Won: The Evening Standard British Film Awards: Peter Sellers award for Best Comedy.


Year Film Role Notes
1995 Jack and Jeremy's Police 4 Execution victim TV Special
Pump TV TV Presenter, UK regional cable channel TV Special
1996 Punch Unnamed Short Film
1998 Live from the Lighthouse Ali G TV Special
1998–1999 The 11 O'Clock Show Ali G TV Series

Also Writer
2000 The Jolly Boys' Last Stand Vinnie
Da Ali G Show (UK) Ali G/Borat Sagdiyev/Brüno TV Series: 6 Episodes

Also Writer
2002 Ali G Indahouse Ali G/Borat Sagdiyev Also Executive Producer/Writer
2003 Spyz James Bond (Ali G) Short Film

Also Executive Producer/Writer
2003–2004 Da Ali G Show (US) Ali G/Borat Sagdiyev/Brüno TV Series: 12 Episodes

Also Executive Producer/Writer
2005 Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry's Guide #2 Season 5 Episode 10 "The End"
Madagascar King Julien Voice Only
2006 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby Jean Girard
Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Event for

Autism Education
Borat Sagdiyev TV Special
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Borat Sagdiyev Also Producer/Writer
2007 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Signor Adolfo Pirelli
2008 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa King Julien Voice Only
2009 Brüno Brüno Also Producer/Writer
2010 The Simpsons Jakob Season 21 Episode 16 "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed"[66]

Voice Only

Hugo Cabret The Station Inspector Post-Production

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