Sacha Baron Cohen, the famously confrontational prankster behind Da Ali G Show, Borat, and more, has been out of the spotlight for the last couple of years, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. As evidenced by the digital breadcrumb trail he’s left for his new Showtime series, he’s about to be back in a big way, rekindling a rivalry with the premiere agitator of the Trump era: Donald Trump himself.
On July 4, Baron Cohen prompted speculation that he was up to something new when he posted a 2012 video of Donald Trump to his long-dormant Twitter account. The footage, in which Trump tells Baron Cohen to “go to school [and] learn about being funny,” is taken from Trump’s old (and mostly deleted) “From The Desk of Donald Trump” vlog, and ends with the promise that Baron Cohen will graduate soon, with a card bearing the logo of Trump University — which has been defunct for almost a decade and was notoriously something of a scam.
The next day, Variety reported that Baron Cohen was in talks with Showtime to distribute a new series akin to Da Ali G Show, the 2000-2004 series in which Baron Cohen interviewed subjects (including Trump) in character. This would seem to explain the mysterious promos that Showtime released over the last two weeks touting “perhaps the most dangerous show in the history of television.”
Though the teasers don’t reveal the title of the new series, Vulture reported sighting posters for the series in Brooklyn featuring Baron Cohen’s visage and the title Who Is America?
In case this build-up hasn’t been enough, Baron Cohen tweeted out another video on July 8 (marking just the second tweet on his account, which was recently scrubbed of all former tweets), this time of a teaser saying that he’d been filming undercover for a year, featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney signing a “waterboarding kit” presented to him by someone, presumably an in-character Baron Cohen.
Though the connection to Trump University is still unclear, the series would seem to mark the next chapter in Baron Cohen and Trump’s strained history. In 2003, Trump was the subject of an Ali G interview, and walked out after Baron Cohen, while in character, attempted to pitch him “ice cream gloves.”
Nothing really came of it until 2012, when Baron Cohen dumped “Kim Jong Il’s ashes” on Ryan Seacrest on The Dictator red carpet. Trump released a video to respond to the incident (from which the first Showtime teaser is cut), and then tweeted the untrue claim that he was the only person to walk out of an Ali G interview.
I never fall for scams. I am the only person who immediately walked out of my ‘Ali G’ interview— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2012
Baron Cohen rebutted that claim in 2016, saying that it took Trump seven minutes before leaving (and noting that seven minutes was a long time for an Ali G interview).
He also co-wrote and starred in The Brothers Grimsby in 2016, which featured a gag in which Trump contracted AIDS. He attended the red carpet as his character in the film, a football hooligan, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, and accompanied by a group of people carrying pro-Trump signs. In-character, he told reporters, “I wasn’t into [Trump] until I went to one of his rallies. It’s a bit like English soccer matches. There’s violence. There’s shouting. There’s abuse. The only difference is we don’t throw out our black people.”
If the campaign for Who Is America? is any indication, Baron Cohen is about to take another shot against Trump. And while Trump has yet to respond publicly to his tweets, given the president’s track record on Twitter, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t eventually have something to say about Baron Cohen’s show.
Who Is America? is set to premiere on July 15.