Sacha Baron Cohen: ‘I’m 23 per cent gay’

BORAT comic Sacha Baron Cohen has confessed to having gay tendencies, saying they fluctuate and that he believes all men have “homosexual leanings.”

Playing gay … Actor Sacha Baron Cohen played a camp, gay fashionista in the movie Bruno. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

BORAT comic Sacha Baron Cohen reckons he is 23 per cent gay, despite being married with three kids to Aussie actress Isla Fisher.

And the star, who also created camp fashionista Bruno, thinks all men have “homosexual leanings.”

Gay for pay … Workmen in pink shorts and hard hats install an advertising banner for Bruno. Picture: SuppliedSource:AP

The Sun alongside his wife, said: “Straight or gay are silly terms. There’s a scale.

“Everyone is somewhere on the scale. I’m 23 per cent gay. I’ve worked it out, did the calculations.

“There are times I go to 17 — sometimes I’m 31. Depends on the situation. When I was doing Borat and I had the testicles at my chin I was at 31”

Cambridge-educated Sacha, 44, said studies showed most homophobic males were attracted to men.

He said: “It’s guys struggling with their sexuality who go and beat up gay guys.”

Winning actor … Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher smile as he holds his best actor Golden Globe for Borat. Picture: SuppliedSource:AP

Love … Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher at the Academy Awards in 2007. Picture: AFPSource:News Limited

Baron Cohen has been with Isla Fisher since they first met at a party in Sydney in 2002. They got engaged in 2004 and married in March 2010.

The couple have three children, Olive, nine, Elula, five and Montgomery, one.

Sacha Baron Cohen Gay Rumors?Online poll shows 95 percent don’t believe he’s gay

It seems like every celebrity has been called gay at some point or another. Many of the gay rumors surrounding Sacha Baron CohenThe DictatorBrünoBorat) seem to be tied to his obsessive attention to his body, like most comedians.

However the poll suggests that a big majority – 95% – of respondents don’t believe that he’s gay.

Sacha Baron Cohen Gay Rumors?Online poll shows 95 percent don’t believe he’s gay

Bruno star Sacha Baron Cohen: I’m 23 percent gay

‘Bruno’ star Sacha Baron Cohen is apparently exactly 23 percent gay.

The actor, who is famous for his comedy characters including Borat, Bruno and Ali G, was asked about his sexuality while appearing on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast.

He discussed the origin of his gay Austrian character Bruno, speaking about baiting “rednecks” and homophobes as the character, and narrowly escaping a large amount of violent incidents.Cohen, who is married to Australian actor Isla Fisher, said: “Particularly in Bruno, it’s a different form of prejudice. You have anti-Semitism, you have racism, but homophobia means fear of the homosexual.”

He continued: “Where there’s fear that can turn into violence – and people who don’t like gay people are scared of them, and that can transition into violence pretty quickly.

“There was a study where they found out (…) homophobes who are most likely to be violent against gay people are those who had some increase in blood show to their groin while seeing naked men.”

“Straight or gay… they’re silly terms because it’s a scale, and everyone is somewhere on the scale.”

He joked: “I’m 23 percent gay. I’ve worked it out, I did the calculations. I’m 23 percent gay.

“There are times I go down to 17, times I go up to 31.

Bruno star Sacha Baron Cohen: I’m 23 percent gay

Sacha Baron Cohen’s wife admits it’s not a normal life

Actress Isla Fisher married him in 2010 and although she admits „it’s not a normal life to lead,“ she does love it.

Fisher says: „Obviously it’s not pleasant to say to your husband – instead of ‚Did you pick up the dry cleaning?‘ or ‚Did you pick up someone from a play date?‘ – ‚Oh wow are we getting sued? Has anyone put a death threat on us?'“

The couple have two young daughters and in 2009 it was reported that Baron Cohen had received death threats due to controversy over his gay fashionista character Bruno.

With that in mind, and being the person closest to him, does Isla Fisher ever feel she can censor the words that come out of Sacha Baron Cohen’s creations?

„Oh, of course,“ Fisher reveals. „There’s a lot of, ‚Oh my gosh, no you cannot say that! We’re friends with that person, blah, blah, blah, no!'“

She still feels that’s just a natural aspect to their relationship.

„I think all married couples tend to run things by each other in every capacity and we’re not different to them.“

Sacha Baron Cohen's wife admits it's not a normal life

Strange Things About Isla Fisher And Sacha Baron Cohen’s Marriage

Australian actress Isla Fisher and British actor-comedian Sacha Baron Cohen make up one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting couples. Best known for her comedic turns in hit movies like Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Bachelorette, and for showing off her dramatic flair in The Great Gatsby, Fisher is also the celebrated author of the Marge in Charge children’s book series. Meanwhile, audiences might sooner recognize Cohen’s satirical original characters like the Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, rapper Ali G, and gay fashionista Brüno than the man himself. However, Cohen’s multi-hyphenate achievements have earned him a number of accolades, including the BAFTA Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy in 2013.

Unlike other celebrity couples we know, these lovebirds have largely kept their longtime romance quiet after first meeting at a party in Sydney, Australia in 2002. There’s probably a lot you don’t know about this showbiz pairing. So, keep on scrolling to learn some of the strangest facts about Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen’s marriage.

Australian actress Isla Fisher and British actor-comedian Sacha Baron Cohen make up one of Hollywood’s longest-lasting couples. Best known for her comedic turns in hit movies like Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic, and Bachelorette, and for showing off her dramatic flair in The Great Gatsby, Fisher is also the celebrated author of the Marge in Charge children’s book series. Meanwhile, audiences might sooner recognize Cohen’s satirical original characters like the Kazakhstani journalist Borat Sagdiyev, rapper Ali G, and gay fashionista Brüno than the man himself. However, Cohen’s multi-hyphenate achievements have earned him a number of accolades, including the BAFTA Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy in 2013.

Unlike other celebrity couples we know, these lovebirds have largely kept their longtime romance quiet after first meeting at a party in Sydney, Australia in 2002. There’s probably a lot you don’t know about this showbiz pairing. So, keep on scrolling to learn some of the strangest facts about Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen’s marriage.

Strange Things About Isla Fisher And Sacha Baron Cohen's Marriage

Bruno shoots, and scores

Here is a comedy sketch from the mid-1970s, between two characters.

Clarence: Ooh, hello Honky Tonks! You’re in a bit of a hurry.

Policeman: No, no, what I mean is, I’m chasing a fellow who’s just robbed a bank.

The Clarence character, played by Dick Emery, is dressed in a beige tartan tam o’shanter, with a tartan zip-front jumpsuit, and, interestingly, the same 14-holed DMs that half the patrons of the Vauxhall Tavern, the oldest gay bar in the south London gay village, were wearing when I was there last Sunday.

And here is another, from 2009. The scene is a gym.

Brüno: How would you protect yourself from being attacked by a homosexual?

Martial arts instructor: They probably would attack from behind.

Sacha Baron Cohen has made a very good career out of creating visual, filmic equivalents of William Donaldson’s hoax correspondence, The Henry Root Letters. You present something absurd, offensive, or clearly insane to a public figure; their public obligations require them to answer as sensibly as they can, with comic results. The 11 O’Clock Show, an unlamented and otherwise completely unremarkable Channel 4 show, included a brief performance from Baron Cohen’s character, the white „wigga“ Ali G. Ali G interviewed various clueless public figures for, supposedly, a youth programme about politics, making a series of catastrophically embarrassing errors. The character was a great success, and was talked up into an independent programme, and, subsequently, a feature film. The film had its charms, but failed; it treated Ali G merely as a scripted character, rather than an unguided missile into the interview rooms of the famous.

A subsequent film, Borat, enlisted Baron Cohen’s guerrilla tactics with great, though for many people, unwatchable success. A Kazakhstani journalist travels through America, gulling the unwary into making appalling statements – the high point, a group of drinkers in a saloon bar in the Midwest enthusiastically joining in with a chorus of „Throw the Jew down the well.“

Now Brüno, in which a gay Austrian journalist meets with professional disaster and travels to America in search of celebrity. There is a little more plot than in Borat, but it features the same flaunted encounters with the genuine, bemused punter. These rely on the conviction that one person, at least, in each encounter is perfectly genuine, and has no idea what is going on.

After each of Baron Cohen’s three characters had its major outing, the same question was raised. There is undoubtedly a „correct“, politically inoffensive way to laugh at them. Are we, however, all laughing at the same thing? Does it matter if, far from subverting the structures of power, these films actually encourage people to laugh at, to hate even, the culturally vulnerable? For some time, there was considerable disagreement over whether Ali G was intended to be a black man, or a white youth with black affectations. Here, and in Borat, some people thought that audiences were being given licence to enjoy the clear statement of prejudices which, if the ordinary person stated them in the workplace, would probably lead to disciplinary action.

Watching a preview of Brüno with a large audience which had, I guess, vague connections to the media world – they couldn’t possibly all have been critics – some of the same concerns couldn’t be ignored. Why would a young and savvy London audience in 2009 find the sight of men having sex, or miming sex, so hilarious? What, really, did all of this say; not about gay people, like me, but about the people who will laugh and whoop and make gross-out noises at this film?

Brüno describes, with great care, what may be termed the „homosexual body“, and describes what may be called envisaged homosexual sex. Neither of these, it seems to me, are intended to have anything at all to do with the bodies, or the real sexual habits, of homosexual men. They are delirious external fantasies. The homosexual body is a product of labour and expense. Brüno’s extraordinary hair has not been seen on a gay man in western Europe since the heyday of the 1970s porn icon Peter Berlin. His voice is penetratingly high. He is plucked and shaved, with a pubic „landing strip“; his anus undergoes the indignity of being bleached. His sexual practices are evidence of physical prodigy: he has an anal cavity that can encompass a wine bottle, blunt end first. He possesses an entire secondary wardrobe for the bedroom, and engages in the practices set out, largely, by heterosexual urban myth – I was waiting for the hamster-up-the-arse gag, and it gets a loving recapitulation 10 minutes after the joke’s first appearance.

As for Brüno’s extraordinary fashion outfits, I must point out that I watched this film in Leicester Square; a walk of precisely six minutes to Soho’s gay village would have enabled the audience to compare it with what urban, committed and, one must admit, wildly promiscuous homosexuals actually wear. It is not very much like that at all.

Clearly, the satirical target of Baron Cohen’s film is not really homosexuality. It is heterosexuality or, to be more exact, the posturing and ludicrous assertions a heterosexuality which feels itself to be vulnerable makes. The heterosexuality under examination in the film seems so vulnerable that it actually resorts to recruiting from outside its natural constituency. One ugly heterosexual of the proselytising variety assures Brüno that, should he become heterosexual, he will have to put up with some things that everyone finds tiresome; he is talking about women, and his voice is uncommitted and doubtful.

The film finishes with a truly astonishing sequence at a wrestling match, which displays just how fragile contemporary American heterosexuality has become. A wrestler begins by whipping the crowd into cries of „Straight Race“ and „My Asshole Is For Shitting“ before his opponent enters the ring. Of course, the wrestler turns out to be Brüno; his opponent, his estranged and besotted assistant. Before long, the bout turns into a love-match, and the wrestlers begin to strip and embrace. The violence which erupts in the crowd is terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. There seems no good reason to doubt that, if they could, they would have killed these wrestlers, just as similar groups have killed gay men in middle America in recent years. It is a little like being asked to laugh at footage of a lynch mob, and, clearly, Baron Cohen is under no illusions about the mob mentality on display. The haunting, unforgettable, risible shot comes at the end; a man in the crowd in tears. What is he crying for? What has he seen? How is his sexuality threatened by the proximity of another? What has hurt him?

In a film, the effect is ultimately harmless. An audience is constantly being reassured that if the crowd is authentic, the actors are impersonating a sexuality they can walk away from. A key point in comedies of this sort is that we should be confident that the actor is heterosexual, and though Baron Cohen attended the London premiere in character with a supporting platoon of black musclemen, his real-life fiancee followed on behind, and was featured comfortingly in all the newspaper coverage. From Brokeback Mountain to Brüno, this impersonation of sexual preference gives all recent Hollywood treatments of gay characters a distinct Al Jolson air, and the rich tradition of gay actors playing gay characters seems, more or less, to have been abandoned. It would be interesting to know, had Baron Cohen been revealed to have had an affair with a man, what effect that would have on the success of this film.

In the climactic sequence, Universal, moreover, has protected its expensive talent with a cage, and no real danger is ever envisaged. In real life, crowds are offered more licence for their mass behaviour; their targets cannot renounce their sexuality like a role. Groups, and individuals influenced by group psychology, have murdered in Britain and the United States. Matthew Shepard was murdered by two men acting in collusion in 1998 in Wyoming. Jody Dobrowski was killed by two men on a planned spree on Clapham Common in south London in 2005. David Morley was murdered on the South Bank in London in 2004 by a teenage gang, who filmed the attack. Reading through the horrible accounts of these murders, one thing which recurs is the savagery of each attack, as if not murder but obliteration were the aim of the perpetrators. Dobrowski could only be identified by his fingerprints. Something beyond mere rage seems to have been awoken here.

Open and frank hatred of homosexuals through comedy has been remarkably persistent, and may even be on the increase in the media. The Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles casually uses the word „gay“ in a derogatory way and ridicules the gay singer Will Young for his sexuality; he was defended by the BBC for the first incident, but censured for the second. Jimmy Carr has discovered that the use of the words „gay benders“ is enough to raise a laugh from a Channel 4 audience. Al Murray caused immense offence with a character in a sketch show who was both gay and a Nazi – that was the joke. He seemed to have forgotten that many thousands of gay men were murdered by the Third Reich. Those who survived the war were not, unlike all other categories of the persecuted, eligible for compensation. Still funny?

The appalling Horne and Corden show got a laugh out of a sketch about a gay war reporter – I suppose the joke was that gay men shouldn’t be interested in foreign or military affairs. A presenter of a talent show broadcast for a family audience, Patrick Kielty, mocked a male contestant who seemed moved almost to tears by calling him „a big gayer“; the BBC defended this stereotypical comment by saying that it was „not intended to cause offence“.

What relationship there is between publicly funded, broadcast abuse and violence against homosexuals is debatable. Probably the media have done no more than reflect some vulgar usage, and propagate it more widely. Probably there is a feeling among the commissioners of television comedy and its perpetrators that we all know that racial minorities, sexual minorities, old people, the disabled, and women deserve equal respect. Since we all know that, why not exercise a little bit of ridicule? Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen, which joyously set about mocking all of these supposed minorities, opened the way for a lot of the less good-humoured abuse on comedy shows and panel games.

Feeling is running high among gay people, it is fair to say, about the double standards which mean that homophobic comments are not routinely removed from broadcasters‘ online message boards in the way that racist comments are; that Kielty calling someone „a big gayer“ is regarded as obviously much less offensive than a white girl on Big Brother calling a fellow contestant a „nigger“.

My observation is that gay people, usually rather partial to a bit of high camp humour, think that something has changed between the first series of Little Britain and a consistently homophobic show like 8 Out of 10 Cats. The assumption among gay people, too, is that comedy on a gay theme, produced by a straight comedian, will be about as funny as a Chris Moyles routine.

It is worth noting that I asked half a dozen gay friends if they would like to come and see the preview of Brüno; all refused. I think they were wrong, and if they go and see it, they will understand that Baron Cohen is not a bigot but, self-evidently, a remarkably brave man; that his satirical subject is the absurd posturing of a heterosexuality in terrible crisis. This is a very different matter from the hatred and abuse you hear on television every Friday night.

And yet there is the audience. Towards the end of the film, Brüno tries to marry his faithful assistant, Lutz, who turns up in a wedding dress. The audience laughed as if they had never seen anything so funny in their lives. As it happens, I married a man last month. Neither of us wore a wedding dress; we were surrounded by our families and friends and we danced until the small hours. It is sad to think that the sort of people who laugh at two men getting married in a film might also want to laugh at two men getting married in real life, or even at two men in love with each other. There is no obligation on Baron Cohen’s part to show the reality, or to display sympathy. That is not his job. I feel it ought to be someone’s job, somewhere, and perhaps soon.

Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen narrowly escaped being ‘beaten senseless’ by far-right thugs over gay cage fight scene

Borat Sagdiyev, played by actor Saha Baron Cohen. (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

Sacha Baron Cohen has revealed that he narrowly escaped being “beaten senseless” by far-right thugs while filming a controversial scene in Bruno.

The starTime magazine, in which he explained how a riot almost erupted when he staged a gay love scene for his 2009 mockumentary.

Cohen recalled how he posed as an ultimate fighter in a cage match and challenged the audience to take him on.

A “fake ex-boyfriend” volunteered and they engaged in “some heavy petting” – which almost triggered a riot among the far-right audience.

“The crowd – including some recently paroled prisoners with swastika tattoos – erupted in homophobic slurs and started hurling metal chairs at us,” Cohen wrote.

“Had I not ducked into a trapdoor and out an escape tunnel, I think the crowd would have beaten me senseless.”

The actor said he had a similar experience while filming the sequel to Borat, when he pretended to be a right-wing singer at a gun-rights rally in Washington State.

“When organisers finally stormed the stage, I rushed to a nearby get-away vehicle. An angry crowd blocked our way and started pounding on the vehicle with their fists,” he wrote.

Plus, actor recalls some very interesting experiences while filming his famous roles

Leave it to Sacha Baron Cohen to say things that will make you tilt your head and squint your eyes in puzzlement.

The actor has taken on a number of memorable roles (you remember Borat, Bruno, Ali G, right?), and his dedication to each personality almost made it seem as though these characters were real people, which is great, except we then forget that Cohen is his own man, too.

Luckily, during an appearance on WTF! podcast with Marc Maron to promote his upcoming film The Brothers Grimsby, we were able to get to know Sacha Baron Cohen a little better, thanks to the celeb revealing some (very) interesting facts.

For example, when asked if he’s gay, Cohen (who is married to actress Isla Fisher) responded, „I’m 23 percent gay. We worked it out did the calculations. I’m 23 percent gay,“ but added that the number tends to fluctuate. „There are times I go down to 17 sometimes I’m 31 depends on the situation. When I was doing Borat and I had the testicles at my chin I was at 31.“

But that wasn’t the only note-worthy remark from Sacha.

While speaking about Borat, Cohen revealed that the FBI started investigating him because people began getting suspicious. „On Borat the FBI started following us,“ he noted. „They got so many complaints that there was a terrorist traveling in an ice-cream van…that they started compiling a file on us.“

Speaking of the law, it turns out the star has hired someone whose job is to specifically keep him out of jail. Seriously.

„We hire a kind of bodyguard. He’s bit like [Grimsby’s] Nobby actually. He’s this northern bloke, and his job is to prevent me from being arrested,“ he explains.

„There’s a bit in Bruno where I end up drunk with my assistant, and we wake up in this hotel room. We’re chained together in all this extreme S&M gear, there’s feces on the walls…it’s disgusting. We call down, and I get the manager up.“

This caused the hotel manager to call the police, and that’s when Sacha’s special bodyguard takes action.

„We always have an escape van waiting in an alleyway. He unlocked us [from the chains], we start running to the service elevator, get in the service elevator, the doors are closing—suddenly the hotel security open the doors, and they say ‘Get out, we’ve got the police downstairs’… We run away from them, start running down the stairs—we’re only on the 17th floor—and I’m in a G-string. I’m like, ‘Where are we going? There’s cops downstairs.‘ And he says, ‘Out the window!'“

He continues, „So I look out the window and there’s a rickety old fire escape,“ but, of course, there’s no key for the ladder at the end of the fire escape, so they had to jump at least 12 feet.

„There are two little American ladies [on the pavement] who are having a little cigarette break, and there, from the heavens, appears me. I jump in front of them, wearing heels, and this crazy S&M stuff, and there’s my friend with a toilet brush in his mouth.“

Unfortunately, Baron Cohen landed so heavily he broke his foot and filming was shut down for three months, but he managed to get out of Kansas without getting in trouble with police, so…mission accomplished?

You can hear more from his interesting interview here.

What do you think about the gay rumors surrounding Sacha Baron Cohen?

The poll results are based on a representative sample of 669 voters worldwide, conducted online for The Celebrity Post magazine. Results are considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

„Paroled prisoners with swastika tattoos […] hurled metal chairs“ actor recalls of Bruno

Sacha Baron Cohen says he „genuinely feared for my life“ while filming Bruno in Arkansas in the 00s.

Bruno, about a gay fashion journalist from Austria visiting the US, was released in 2009.

In one famous scene filmed in the aforementioned US state, Bruno poses as an ultimate cage fighter at a real-life event, and invites a random member of the audience for a duel.

Unbeknownst to the spectators, the volunteer is Bruno’s lover – and the pair swiftly start getting intimate in the ring.

Reliving the moment in a TIME article about conspiracy theories, Baron Cohen said: „A few times in my career, I have genuinely feared for my life.

„In Arkansas, I posed as an ultimate fighter at a cage match and challenged anyone in the audience to take me on. When my fake ex-boyfriend volunteered, we engaged in some heavy petting, triggering a near riot.

„The crowd – including some recently paroled prisoners with swastika tattoos – erupted in homophobic slurs and started hurling metal chairs at us. Had I not ducked into a trapdoor and out an escape tunnel, I think the crowd would have beaten me senseless.

The star, also known for films like Borat and The Dictator, added: „Moments like that are frightening. Today, though, I’m truly terrified—for the survival of democracy itself.“

In the below clip of the scene, onlookers can be seen breaking down in tears over the display of same-sex attraction.

A brief history of camp comedy

Julian and Sandy The two chorus boys from BBC radio’s Round the Horne, played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams with virtuoso innuendo and an impenetrable way with polari, the postwar gay slang. „We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.“ Bona!

Mr Humphries „Mr Rumbold’s been taken queer.“ „Anything I can do?“ The nation’s favourite sodomite, in Are You Being Served from 1972 to 1985. Inexplicably, John Inman, left, the actor behind Mr Humphries, always denied Mr Humphries was gay at all. So what was the point?

Clarence Dick Emery, the 1960s and 1970s forerunner of Harry Enfield, created a deathless classic in Clarence, the man-crazed but always cheerful gay. „Hello Honky Tonks!“ was his catchphrase, surely well overdue a revival.

Rob and Michael In 1979, an amazing thing happened. In the ITV sitcom Agony, a pair of gay characters had major roles. No innuendo, no jokes involving cucumbers, not a scrap of diamante or sequin. They looked like real people, weren’t defined by their sex lives, and could actually be quite funny. It would never catch on, though.

Ted and Ralph The Fast Show was surely at its finest, funniest and most enchanting in the long-running story of the fixated squire Ralph, and the unlikely object of his passion, the monosyllabically guarded handyman Ted.

Dafydd The Only Gay in the Village was one of the most popular characters from the start of Little Britain. Written and performed by a gay actor, Matt Lucas, Dafydd was a clever addition to the repertoire of gay stereotypes for once, not a repetition of an old-hat one.

Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen comes out as gay and introduces partner

More from PinkNews

He was wearing a bulletproof vest, but he said it felt “inadequate” as some members of the audience had semiautomatic weapons.

“When someone ripped open the door to drag me out, I used my entire body weight to pull the door back shut until our vehicle manoeuvred free,” he wrote.

Cohen made the comments in a wider article in which he condemned Donald Trump and hit out at conspiracy theorists.

The actor made his name in Britain with his Ali G character, and was further catapulted to global fame with the 2006 spin-off Borat. The film faced backlash from some quarters over its sexist, homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic “humour”.

He went on to create and star in Bruno about a gay Austrian character. Rashad Robinson, senior director of media programs for GLAAD, told the New York Times in 2016 that the film was “problematic in many places and outright offensive in others”.

Singer-songwriter Angel Olsen comes out as gay and introduces partner

The actor who, as Borat, drew our attention to racism, misogyny and autocratic propaganda calls out the social media companies who profit off these trends.

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway“. My guest today is actor and comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen. This year, he’s been nominated for three Golden Globes, including for the Netflix film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7“. In that, he plays 1960s civil rights activist, Abbie Hoffman. But the world knows Baron Cohen best as the characters that have come before. Ali G —

Jagshemash. My name Borat. I like you. I like sex. Is nice.

Yet my personal favorite performance is one Baron Cohen actually delivered as himself. It was a keynote address at the 2019 Anti-Defamation League Summit. In it, he called out some of the biggest names in tech.

The Silicon Six — all billionaires, all Americans, who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. [APPLAUSE] This is ideological imperialism — six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law.

The Silicon Six — why didn’t I think of that? Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen and I share a hobby, and it’s calling out immensely powerful people.

And let’s talk about a group you called the Silicon Six. And these are terms you coined for Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also the founders of Google. You and I share a passion for calling out their nonsense. This is, of course, my job. So what motivated you to take them on?

So, listen, I’ve — truth be told, I’ve always been reluctant to be a celebrity. I’ve always been wary of using whatever fame I’ve got to push any political views. But under Trump, the racism, the anti-Semitism, misogyny that I hinted upon occasionally in the first Borat movie burst into the open. It was spewed by Trump but has really been spread by social media, especially Facebook. And I was appalled by Trump’s Muslim ban and the White nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Therefore when the ADL invited me to receive an award in 2019, I considered it for the first time. I had been wary of the dangers of social media for a number of years. I had been trying to get other celebrities to talk about it, because of my inherent reluctance. And no one really cared. And then when I did bump into people from Silicon Valley at Hollywood parties — because, yes, billionaires want to go to Hollywood parties to meet celebrities —

Yeah, I would try and get them in a corner and say, listen, this is going on. And this is going to lead to the end of democracy. And I’d give them my whole spiel, and their answer would be, oh, I thought you were going to be a bit funnier. So, at one point, I had quite a heated discussion with one of them at an art gallery opening in San Francisco about Holocaust denial, just asking why they were allowing Holocaust denial. And they said, no, we’re not. We’ve sorted that out. And I pulled up a website. Like, what about this? And it was a website saying that the six million was a lie. And it was Holocaust denial site. And they said, well, that’s just really just showed both sides of the argument. And I said, what argument? There’s an argument about whether the Holocaust existed? And then you have this fundamental realization that a lot of these people, they’re incredibly smart in a tiny area, but they should not be given the reins of power. I mean, it’s so mad that this handful of people have the power of emperors.

This period will be looked on as absurd that governments did not intervene earlier, that these people were allowed to profit off spreading lies that lead to mass death.

OK, so you don’t break into character often. You’re usually Ali G or Borat or Bruno, but you decided to give this speech as yourself. Why?

Well, it was specifically that it was a year away from the election. And I believed that Trump and Trumpism would win again by spreading lies, conspiracies, and hate through social media, conspiracies about the election, and through racism and hate. And there was a predisposition for that stuff to succeed and be more digestible and watchable on social media. For example, as you know, YouTube’s algorithm changed to make it more engaging. If people watch it more, they can increase the sales of advertising, right? Facebook and Google and YouTube are all about advertising. And the way to do that is, you make the next thing that you see increasingly more extreme. It’s this kind of radicalization algorithm, which is why I felt I had to say something. I didn’t think it would have much of an impact. I felt my ambitions for my career were pretty limited, growing up in Northwest London. I wanted to join a theater company called Theater de Complicité So I never thought I was going to have my own TV show. I never thought I’d be given the money to make a movie. I didn’t know anyone who was a successful actor. So by the time I got to 2019, I’d sort of accomplished everything that was beyond my wildest dreams. So I felt that that speech might end my career, for people to say, what the hell is he lecturing us about something he knows nothing about? Just stay in your lane. Stop being— just be funny. And by the way, a lot of the responses I got on Twitter and Facebook were just shut up and be funny.

And be funny. Stay in your lane. They do it to a lot of people.

Yes, a lot of that stuff is really organized by these troll armies.

They’re something else. These armies of trolls are used to intimidate people on social media. So actually, it’s not really a place where there’s much freedom of speech, because particularly, if you’re a minority or a woman, or you say stuff that’s to the left, you are bullied. So I felt compelled as a human. I was very reluctant to do it, and—

Well, it worked out well. And one of the things I appreciated and you made in the speech was the distinction you made. And I’ll quote you saying, “This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on Earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.” I’ve spent years trying to explain why social media companies can’t hide behind the First Amendment. Why do you think that’s such a difficult message to get across?

Oh, it’s difficult because they’ve been saying it for so many years. So they’ve been lying, right? When Mark Zuckerberg just says, I’m the defender of free speech, he is lying, right? The U.S Constitution says that Congress — Congress, not companies — Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. So that does not apply to private businesses like Twitter and Facebook. If they want to ban violent rhetoric and harassment, they have every right to do so. And the analogy I made in the ADL was that if a neo-Nazi comes goosestepping into a restaurant and starts threatening customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, the restaurant owner has every legal right and actually a moral obligation to kick that Nazi out. And so do the internet companies. So the idea that they are the defenders of free speech is ludicrous. I mean, they make editorial decisions continually. They don’t allow nipples, but they did allow Nazis, so.

I mean, it’s a lie, right? It’s a lie that they’re using to make money.

But as a creator and comedian, the First Amendment is critical to your work. Would you be OK with Twitter, for example, deplatforming the Borat handle because it’s not a real person, or adding a disclaimer to a hateful or heated tweet? Would you worry about that yourself as a comic?

No. I mean, if they gave a handle explaining that it was satire, I think that’s fine. I mean, Borat is satire. I think the role of comedy is important. It’s not as important or as crucial as respecting and buttressing up the fundamental pillars that protect democracy. So for example, there was a lot of talk by Zuckerberg of him coming up the election about freedom of speech, which, obviously, I’m a huge defender of. But what about free and fair elections, which are the fundamental pillar of democracy? No one was talking about that, and the Trump government realized that they could undermine that other pillar. There are a number of pillars that buttress up democracy. One of them is protest. So, free and fair elections is probably the most crucial one, particularly in an election year. And they were completely undermining it by spreading the #stopthesteal hashtag, and beforehand by spreading the idea that mail-in ballots were subject to corruption.

On January 6th, around 5 p.m., you tweeted at Mark, Jack, Susan, and Sundar, saying it’s time to ban Donald Trump from your platform once and for all. I did the same thing and was quite worried about what was about to happen as I saw it unfold. Did you think it was going to get this bad?

Yes, that’s why I made Borat. Borat was an attempt of mine to do what I could prior to the election to infiltrate Trump’s inner circle because I felt he was so dangerous and because I was convinced that conspiracies would end in violence. I made a show called “Who is America?“, where I took a conspiracy theorist who believed in the danger of Antifa and by the end of the episode, which was I had spent two days with him, he believed that he had murdered three members of Antifa. It’s a crucial thing where these people who were marching on the Capitol are not necessarily bad people. It’s the people who are spreading these lies and conspiracies. If you believe in the conspiracy, then everything you do from there is logical. If you really believed —

Yeah, if you’ve been made to believe that Biden was a pedophile and a cannibal and had stolen the election and Trump had won, then yes, it’s logical to march on Washington and maybe to try and overturn that vote. It’s the conspiracy theory and those who spread it and make money that are at fault.

Where do you stop the thing— Trump should be banned outright from all these platforms, including YouTube, which is something you’ve talked about a lot.

Yes, I believe in permanently banning him. The world’s largest platforms have banned the world’s biggest purveyor of lies, conspiracies, and hate. The impact was actually huge. One study, done by Zignal Labs, found that after Twitter removed Trump, there was a 73% drop in disinformation about the election on social media. So we don’t want YouTube and Facebook or Twitter to lift their suspensions and allow Trump back on to spread his lies and incite violence. You know, he still has complete freedom of speech. He has probably more free speech than just about anyone in the world. He puts out statements that make headlines. He can go out and give a speech any time he wants. But the idea that his free speech has been abridged is ludicrous.

You can also make the argument, as several people have to me, is that Hitler didn’t need Twitter, Mussolini didn’t need Instagram. Stalin didn’t need TikTok, although I can’t believe I’m saying that in one sentence. But they didn’t need these things. And they managed to be as malevolent as they were. Do you think it amplifies the malevolence?

I really don’t agree with that. I mean, if you look at Goebbels, the first thing he did was his social media was radio. He realized that was the new medium, and he realized that, for example, in Austria, if the Nazis took over a lot of the programming on radio, that they could make the invasion and the taking over of Austria easier. Fascists and autocrats are experts on new ways of spreading disinformation. They need them, and they specialize and they focus in on these new media, precisely because they’re unregulated. So that’s what makes social media perfect for autocrats.

Do you have high hopes for the Biden administration or this Congress to do anything, whether breaking them up or changing section 230 to remove liability protections? I know in your 2019 speech, you suggested Zuckerberg and other social media CEOs should get jail time, if their platforms continued to be tools of violence or election interference.

Yes, I think there needs to be regulation. In virtually every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause publishers. You can be sued for libel. People can be sued for defamation. I’m still being sued by Roy Moore.

Yes, that’s another story. But these companies can’t be sued, right? Because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Currently, Facebook and companies like it cannot be held liable for the death they cause. I think that’s completely insane, right? So if you look at how it should work, when Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, for those of you who use his wonderful product, went on Newsmax the other day and started spewing lies about the election, the host shut him down. Why? Because Newsmax can be sued. But Facebook and social media companies spread the very same lies to millions of people because they’re protected by 230. So you already have some exceptions to Section 230. Social media companies, as you know, they can be held liable for hosting content related to criminal conduct like copyright infringement, sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography. So my point is if they could be held liable for enabling pedophiles who use their site to endanger kids, then why can’t we hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites for advocating the mass murder of kids because of their race or religion. If your actions online cause harm or death in the real world, you should be liable. I think it’s quite simple to fix this, which is, instead of making money off lies that cost lives, I believe that these social media companies should create jobs that save lives, right? There are three problems that I think you could solve at once. One, which is even during the pandemic, Facebook and social media companies are making massive profits by spreading lies and conspiracies about COVID and vaccines, right? They are profiting off of death. Two, Facebook and other social media companies— and when I speak to them, they go, Sacha, we’re overwhelmed. How are we meant to do it? There’s so much stuff being uploaded every day. They claim that their artificial intelligence catches most of the inappropriate content, but they claim that their real world content moderators can’t keep up with the volume. The third problem is because of the pandemic, millions of people are unemployed. So my thought is—

Why can’t Mark Zuckerberg— yeah, you’re absolutely right. Why can’t they hire hundreds of thousands of people to enforce their policies as content moderators? They can afford it. General Motors, at its peak in the ‘70s, employed more than 800,000 people around the world. Last year, Facebook made $86 billion, and they did it with 50,000 employees. Facebook could hire Americans to help protect American democracy, hire Brits to protect British democracy, and the same all over the world, right? It would put people to work. It would stop the lies, save lives, and buttress our democracy.

Great, I was hoping you would. [LAUGHS] [MUSIC PLAYING]

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit Subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with former Parler CEO John Matze. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Sacha Baron Cohen after the break.

Most recently, Baron Cohen appeared in “The Trial of the Chicago 7“. The film is based on the true story of anti-war protests held during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, a founder of the 1960s Yippie movement and an activist with a sense of humor. Hoffman found space for comedic stunts even in the face of his highly politicized prosecution. I wanted to know what drew Baron Cohen to the project and why he thought the story was still relevant 50 years later.

I’ve been connected to incarcerate for 13 years, and it’s been getting increasingly relevant. And I think it’s about the power of peaceful protest when standing up against injustice and the bravery of those people that do that. It’s also about the persistence of systemic racism. The film shows the horrific treatment of Bobby Seale, who was the only Black defendant. And we were actually filming this prior to the protests over the murder of George Floyd. And so, really, it’s a tribute to anyone who stands up against injustice, from Ukraine to Moscow to Kenosha to Portland. When I read the script the second time, it was actually during the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. And the hearings were supposed to be about justice, but what we saw at the time was profound injustice, to me. Professor Ford was swearing that her allegations were true. And I remember one of the committee asked Brett Kavanaugh to swear before God that what he said was correct, and that was enough for the committee member. And it felt like we were seeing two parallel justice systems here— one a modern one where she’s appealing to fact and proper recollection and evidence, and one depending on belief in God. I mean, it could have been half a thousand years ago. I couldn’t believe it was happening. It seemed like a perversion of justice, a system that didn’t work. And I felt more compelled than ever to play Abbie.

Did you know the story of Abbie Hoffman before you took this part?

I’d first learned about him when I was studying in Cambridge, hosting my undergraduate thesis on Jewish activists in the civil rights movement. And I was particularly inspired by left-wing Jews who went down South to fight systemic racism. Abbie Hoffman was one of them. He was a guy who was ready to sacrifice his life to fight against racism and fight for justice. And also, what inspired me was he was a Yippie. His antics and pranks got all the attention, but he was deadly serious. He was risking his life to fight racism and fight the war in Vietnam. But his conviction was completely pure, and he was ready to sacrifice his life.

The film’s writer and director, Aaron Sorkin, recently wrote that part of the reason it took 14 years for the film to be made is because he didn’t immediately get Hoffman’s character. Sorkin said, quote, “I thought he was a clown, not particularly clever. And I wasn’t seeing the heroism.” That changed when he saw archival footage of Hoffman at a press conference, a moment you recreate in the film.

Would you have taken $100,000 to call the whole thing off? Yeah, sure, I would have taken $100,000. As for calling it off, how much is it worth to you? What’s your price? To call off the revolution? What’s your price?

Talk a little bit about this moment of being a hero.

Well, it’s interesting. You were talking about Aaron, and my first meeting with Aaron was 13 years ago. And this was the debate, actually, which was, is Abbie Hoffman a hero? I felt strongly that he was. Aaron, at that time, thought, no, he was this fool. It’s telling that Aaron chose to replicate that scene from reality. So everything else is Aaron’s painting rather than a photograph. He’s using his brilliant screenplay skills to create this wonderful story. But there, he recreates that scene pretty much word for word because he thinks it’s crucial, and so do I, which is underneath the layers of this clown in this seemingly fool is this deadly serious, brave protester, who’s ready to risk his life. And the antics were — the more I read about him — and I tried to read everything I could and watch everything I could. I went down to archives and heard old stand-up that he’d done. Everything was intentional with Abbie, even his comedy. He was very, very influenced by Lenny Bruce. He tried to emulate the way that Lenny delivered gags. He was actually even influenced by Lenny’s trial. That convinced Abbie that they would go to jail. It didn’t matter what would happen during the trial. The aim of the trial was not to declare their innocence. It was to convince people back home that the war in Vietnam was immoral. And he was using these tactics of the bouffon, which is a type of theater that I studied under this French clown teacher. That itself is an absurd sentence to hear.

Exactly, but I did actually — actually, coincidentally, my wife studied under his rival French clown teacher, but anyway.

There were two. So I studied in L’École Philippe Gaulier. And my wife studied in L’École Jacques Lecoq. And there was a —

— very serious break-off at one point where Philippe Gaulier broke off from his mentor, Jacques Lecoq, probably over a debate over red noses. I’m not sure.

But this guy, Philippe Gaulier teaches — actually, both of them teach — they’re some of the only people in the world who teach this style of theater called bouffon. Bouffon is an early form of satire. It’s a medieval form, where, essentially, the dispossessed in medieval society, who were generally forced to live outside the villages — and they were heretic priests, gay people, Jews. Those with disabilities were allowed in once a year. And they would try to put on these plays called bouffon plays that were intended to be really funny, but were intended to completely undermine and destroy the powerful and the establishment. And I felt, looking at Abbie, that he was a bouffon. Like, saying he would levitate the Pentagon, bringing thousands of people to do that, or —

So they were stunts. They were stunts — that were of — political stunts to be effective.

Yes, to be effective, and they were effective, because as Aaron — the final script brings in this argument with Tom Hayden. He says this is the reason we’re doing that. We didn’t have the resources. This is how I’m getting attention. Abbie was incredibly aware of the media. And that was something that became very clear in Aaron’s later scripts, where they’re going to demonstrate where the cameras are.

Inside the bar, it’s like the ‘60s never happened. Outside the bar, the ‘60s were being performed for anyone who looked out of the window. [GLASS SHATTERING]

He knows that the whole purpose is to get attention and get into the living room. So he knows that they’re not going to win. They’re going to try and win the hearts.

What’s interesting is, you do that, too, and — I hate to say it — this is something Trump does rather well. He plays for the stunt, for the audience. His is malevolent. He’s sort of the evil clown, sort of the clown from “It“, I guess.

I mean, yes, Trump is a cometitian. He was very aware of the power of humor to engage his audience. I don’t find him funny, but his crowd found him really funny. So, yes, that’s part of the reason why he was so effective and so entertaining. Abbie knew that mocking the establishment would be his key. He used to say that sacred cows made the tastiest hamburgers. And he realized that if he could make people laugh, he could gain attention and recruit more people to the cause. I mean, everything he did, the more I read about him, was incredibly intentional, even though he gave this kind of loose —

— feeling. Even the length of his hair was an attempt to influence hippies to go out and risk their lives to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam.

Right, Hoffman is obviously a left of center character. This opens up him to criticism in the film. For example, there’s a scene where his more buttoned-up co-defendant, Tom Hayden, calls him out on doing this.

My problem is that for the next 50 years, when people think of progressive politics, they’re going to think of you. They’re going to think of you and your idiot followers passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon. So they’re not going to think of equality or justice. They’re not going to think of education or poverty or progress. They’re going to think of a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foul-mouthed, lawless losers. And so we’ll lose elections.

Well, it strikes me that 50 years on, this meme of progressive — as idealistic sort of hippies and rebel rousers still exist. Do you think it’s fair to characterize Hoffman or modern day progressives like this?

Well, again, I’m not a historian of that particular period. I specialize more in the early ‘60s. But yes, I mean, Sorkin is a master. And what he’s trying to do is bring these issues into the present. So, yes, this is about the debate between the left and the far left, which he beautifully encapsulates in the hatred of Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden. He actually got that from sitting down with Tom Hayden, where they were, in effect, these brothers that hate each other. And at the end of the movie, they love and respect each other. I mean, I feel that change starts with pressure in the streets. They were both aware of that. Abbie felt that they needed to win elections, but they needed to push society to.

And winning elections, that’s the first thing on your wish list. Equality, justice, education, poverty, and progress, they’re second. If you don’t win elections, it doesn’t matter what’s second. And it is astonishing to me that someone still has to explain that to you. OK.

But you do see this kind of interknit scene struggle within the left. I mean, we are far less effective as a force often because there is less uniformity. There is less of an ability to say, OK, eyes on the prize, which the Republicans were able to do. Let’s concentrate on winning the election and fall into line. Instead, there is often an attempt to destroy each other again.

And what’s interesting is when you go fast forward, his life ended sadly. Did you think about that at all when you were playing him, where he was headed, since you knew the end of the story?

Yes, I mean, the truth is Abbie battled depression and later took his own life. And I felt he was somebody who was struggling quietly. And I wanted to capture that seriousness and that subtlety, the contrast between his public dynamism and his sensitivity and occasional private pain. But yes, I mean, it’s hinted at, and it’s shocking when you see it on screen. You find out what happened to all the characters, and you find out that Abbie died later on. If you compare him to the rest of Chicago Seven, Jerry Rubin, I think he became a stockbroker.

Yeah, Tom Hayden obviously had a political career. But Abbie never sold out, and he remained true to his ideals. So I fell in love with him.

So you recently tweeted, “Borat is an absurdity, and the Chicago Seven really happened. But the message is the same — when leaders lie, people die.” Can you expand what you meant by that?

Yes, I mean, these were — first, here’s a tweet. So I’m trying to sum up stuff very quickly and —

— communication, which is why it’s so effective. But Vietnam was a lie, right? There was no moral basis for that. And then with Borat, I was trying to say, these lies that were being spread by Trump, whether about coronavirus or about the election, would lead to death — and were leading to death. I was trying to create some connection between the two.

You did a lot of things in Borat that — and all your characters, where you got them to do things. Like, you got the cake person to put um, Jews —

Jews will not replace us, which was the Charlottesville thing. You put a series of conspiracies everywhere, and they quickly take over. You think it’s unfair at all to do it that way, or do you think it’s — again, getting back to Abbie Hoffman, it’s a way to get out the truth from people to be doing these different things? I don’t know what to call them. What do you call them? Are they pranks? Are they —

I prefer not to call them pranks. I mean, essentially, what I do is I point the camera, and people act as they do. So, some people end up appearing dreadful. Rudy Giuliani didn’t come out looking great. It’s something that I realized very, very early on the first time I did Borat, which was, I took Borat when I was 25 years old to a pro foxhunting rally. And it was a way to get these members of the upper class to really say what they believed about criminals and ethnic minorities. I said, in my country, we have Jews. We give them a head start, and we let them run. You think we should do it here? And then, well, I suppose if it was fair and you gave them at least 20 or so minutes, then yes, I suppose that — you know. So it was a fascinating insight to me. When I started Borat first, I actually pitched it as a documentary. So I was going around the BBC and Channel 4, just going, this is a new way to have these documentaries, which are trying to shed light on topics, but —

Yeah, what they really think and what they’re saying behind closed doors.

So speaking of closed doors, I want to ask you about Giuliani. So let me give the context. You filmed him. He’s caught with his hands down his pants after a fake journalist, your co-star Maria Bakalova had removed his mic after an interview. Was there any footage we didn’t see? And why did you not wait a little longer before bursting out of the closet to see what he would do? How did you make that call?

So, that was a difficult call. So Rudy, we were told, was coming with a cop, who he employs. As you know, Rudy has a tremendous amount of respect amongst the NYPD. And we were told that the cop would sweep the room. As a result of that, we built a little hideaway for me inside a wardrobe. And I essentially stood there for an hour while the interview was going on. My only means of communication was a cell phone with the director and Jason Woliner and the producer, Ant Hines. And so they were essentially saying, OK, go in now. There’s one time I actually went in there three times. The first time was in a room service trolley, which we did ended up not showing. A room service guy brings in a room service trolley. I’m actually hiding underneath there. I poked my head out from underneath the tablecloth with a sign to my daughter, saying, “Don’t do it.” And she’s like, you know, and essentially, Rudy was slightly suspicious. He turns around, I had to put the tablecloth down. In the end, I removed that. The second time, I came in as a sound guy. And the third time, I came in to stop what was happening. But yeah, I was relying on the Jason Woliner, the director, and Ant Hines to text me. And the worrying thing was — we’d done everything to try and make sure that the interview went well. We had hidden cameras. Amazingly, by the way, Rudy, the president’s lawyer, signed a contract in which he allows the use of hidden cameras. So he’s not the most diligent at reading contracts.

But the one thing we didn’t have was enough battery in the phone. So I had about 3% of battery when I got in there, switched on the phone.

Do you wish you had waited longer to see what — I thought you were correct in your thing. He, of course, denies it. Other people — it was like internet detective work on the internet on Twitter for days and days, what he was doing precisely.

Well, I think what you saw is what he did, is what it is. I trust the audience, and everyone can watch the movie and judge for themselves. But essentially, I had to keep Maria safe. We had an escape plan. I was going to run down the stairs, but actually, Rudy’s bodyguard gets me and pushes me into the room and says, you’re staying here until the cops arrive. And then suddenly, I’m Borat. Borat doesn’t understand what a chair is. He’s like, what is this machine with four legs? Suddenly, Borat has a real understanding of the law. Excuse me, sir. This is my room. I have paid for it. Under the law, you are not permitted in my room. You must leave now. And he’s like, no, you’re going to stay in here. No, that is false imprisonment. You are not allowed to. I am instructing you to leave. And then, essentially, I left with the security guard. We ran down the steps. Rudy calls the cops, lies to them, and says that a federal crime has been committed. And as a result, the cops search the room.

I think tellingly, Rudy has not sued, because he knows that he would lose. But it does make you wonder what did Rudy try to do to other female journalists. And I think the wonderful thing about it was we had no idea how impactful or how pivotal Rudy would be in the final month of the election and post-election in spreading this lie. The fallout is that the whole world has seen Rudy for what he is.

Which one do you prefer, the characters that you have or this sort of Abbie Hoffman, which is a more sort of pure acting experience?

I prefer playing Abbie Hoffman. I mean, I’ve loved playing Borat, but it’s sometimes dangerous, and there’s no fun in going out when it’s dangerous. I want this to be the last Borat movie. And it’s far more enjoyable and relaxing to be an actor in the hands of other masterful screenwriters and directors. It’s nice having a trailer. It’s lovely having craft services and chatting to the fantastic cast of “Chicago 7” in between takes. It’s not a fun experience making Borat or “Who is America?“. It’s difficult. My crew, the directors, my co-writers and producers, they’re taking not insignificant risks by going out and shooting at gun rallies where they risk arrest or being beaten up or —

We were told at that gun rally that if they found out that you were an infiltrator or not a believer, that they would get COVID-positive people to spit at you. So that quite apart from the fact that so many people were carrying semi-automatic weapons. And finally, I got surrounded in the getaway car by an angry crowd who were carrying guns and trying to pull me out of this vehicle.

It’s not pleasant. There is some exhilaration when you manage to survive it. And I think Maria Bakalova certainly experienced that. She was so nervous before every scene, but brilliantly pulled off everything we threw at her. And then she was exhilarated. But for me, it’s a little more heavy. Because I escaped from the gun rally, and my main concern as a producer is, have the rest of the crew got out? Have we got the footage out, and is everybody safe? So, no, I’m not returning to that style of comedy again.

All right, I have one last question. Mark, Jack, and Sundar will speak in Congress again on March 25th. If you were on the dais, very briefly, what would you ask, and what character would it be?

I would probably ask them as myself. Was it worth it? Was the huge amount of money that you’ve amassed worth the destruction that you’ve wreaked on democracy and the deaths that you’ve caused? Was it really worth becoming even richer?

You like the Northwest London voice. OK, it’s yours.

Yes, I like it. It feels genuine. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. Thank you so much, and good luck with the Golden Globes.

Kara, thank you for having me on. I’m a massive fan of yours. I listen to your podcast, and I read your articles.

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen, and Vishakha Darbha; edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman; with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Eric Gomez; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair and Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast, so subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered you faster than Rudy Giuliani can tuck in his shirt, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google Podcasts, then search for “Sway“, and hit Subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday — for make benefit glorious nation of “Sway“.

The actor who, as Borat, drew our attention to racism, misogyny and autocratic propaganda calls out the social media companies who profit off these trends.

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway“. My guest today is actor and comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen. This year, he’s been nominated for three Golden Globes, including for the Netflix film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7“. In that, he plays 1960s civil rights activist, Abbie Hoffman. But the world knows Baron Cohen best as the characters that have come before. Ali G —

Jagshemash. My name Borat. I like you. I like sex. Is nice.

Yet my personal favorite performance is one Baron Cohen actually delivered as himself. It was a keynote address at the 2019 Anti-Defamation League Summit. In it, he called out some of the biggest names in tech.

The Silicon Six — all billionaires, all Americans, who care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy. [APPLAUSE] This is ideological imperialism — six unelected individuals in Silicon Valley imposing their vision on the rest of the world, unaccountable to any government and acting like they’re above the reach of law.

The Silicon Six — why didn’t I think of that? Yes, Sacha Baron Cohen and I share a hobby, and it’s calling out immensely powerful people.

And let’s talk about a group you called the Silicon Six. And these are terms you coined for Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also the founders of Google. You and I share a passion for calling out their nonsense. This is, of course, my job. So what motivated you to take them on?

So, listen, I’ve — truth be told, I’ve always been reluctant to be a celebrity. I’ve always been wary of using whatever fame I’ve got to push any political views. But under Trump, the racism, the anti-Semitism, misogyny that I hinted upon occasionally in the first Borat movie burst into the open. It was spewed by Trump but has really been spread by social media, especially Facebook. And I was appalled by Trump’s Muslim ban and the White nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Therefore when the ADL invited me to receive an award in 2019, I considered it for the first time. I had been wary of the dangers of social media for a number of years. I had been trying to get other celebrities to talk about it, because of my inherent reluctance. And no one really cared. And then when I did bump into people from Silicon Valley at Hollywood parties — because, yes, billionaires want to go to Hollywood parties to meet celebrities —

Yeah, I would try and get them in a corner and say, listen, this is going on. And this is going to lead to the end of democracy. And I’d give them my whole spiel, and their answer would be, oh, I thought you were going to be a bit funnier. So, at one point, I had quite a heated discussion with one of them at an art gallery opening in San Francisco about Holocaust denial, just asking why they were allowing Holocaust denial. And they said, no, we’re not. We’ve sorted that out. And I pulled up a website. Like, what about this? And it was a website saying that the six million was a lie. And it was Holocaust denial site. And they said, well, that’s just really just showed both sides of the argument. And I said, what argument? There’s an argument about whether the Holocaust existed? And then you have this fundamental realization that a lot of these people, they’re incredibly smart in a tiny area, but they should not be given the reins of power. I mean, it’s so mad that this handful of people have the power of emperors.

This period will be looked on as absurd that governments did not intervene earlier, that these people were allowed to profit off spreading lies that lead to mass death.

OK, so you don’t break into character often. You’re usually Ali G or Borat or Bruno, but you decided to give this speech as yourself. Why?

Well, it was specifically that it was a year away from the election. And I believed that Trump and Trumpism would win again by spreading lies, conspiracies, and hate through social media, conspiracies about the election, and through racism and hate. And there was a predisposition for that stuff to succeed and be more digestible and watchable on social media. For example, as you know, YouTube’s algorithm changed to make it more engaging. If people watch it more, they can increase the sales of advertising, right? Facebook and Google and YouTube are all about advertising. And the way to do that is, you make the next thing that you see increasingly more extreme. It’s this kind of radicalization algorithm, which is why I felt I had to say something. I didn’t think it would have much of an impact. I felt my ambitions for my career were pretty limited, growing up in Northwest London. I wanted to join a theater company called Theater de Complicité So I never thought I was going to have my own TV show. I never thought I’d be given the money to make a movie. I didn’t know anyone who was a successful actor. So by the time I got to 2019, I’d sort of accomplished everything that was beyond my wildest dreams. So I felt that that speech might end my career, for people to say, what the hell is he lecturing us about something he knows nothing about? Just stay in your lane. Stop being— just be funny. And by the way, a lot of the responses I got on Twitter and Facebook were just shut up and be funny.

And be funny. Stay in your lane. They do it to a lot of people.

Yes, a lot of that stuff is really organized by these troll armies.

They’re something else. These armies of trolls are used to intimidate people on social media. So actually, it’s not really a place where there’s much freedom of speech, because particularly, if you’re a minority or a woman, or you say stuff that’s to the left, you are bullied. So I felt compelled as a human. I was very reluctant to do it, and—

Well, it worked out well. And one of the things I appreciated and you made in the speech was the distinction you made. And I’ll quote you saying, “This is not about limiting anyone’s free speech. This is about giving people, including some of the most reprehensible people on Earth, the biggest platform in history to reach a third of the planet.” I’ve spent years trying to explain why social media companies can’t hide behind the First Amendment. Why do you think that’s such a difficult message to get across?

Oh, it’s difficult because they’ve been saying it for so many years. So they’ve been lying, right? When Mark Zuckerberg just says, I’m the defender of free speech, he is lying, right? The U.S Constitution says that Congress — Congress, not companies — Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. So that does not apply to private businesses like Twitter and Facebook. If they want to ban violent rhetoric and harassment, they have every right to do so. And the analogy I made in the ADL was that if a neo-Nazi comes goosestepping into a restaurant and starts threatening customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, the restaurant owner has every legal right and actually a moral obligation to kick that Nazi out. And so do the internet companies. So the idea that they are the defenders of free speech is ludicrous. I mean, they make editorial decisions continually. They don’t allow nipples, but they did allow Nazis, so.

I mean, it’s a lie, right? It’s a lie that they’re using to make money.

But as a creator and comedian, the First Amendment is critical to your work. Would you be OK with Twitter, for example, deplatforming the Borat handle because it’s not a real person, or adding a disclaimer to a hateful or heated tweet? Would you worry about that yourself as a comic?

No. I mean, if they gave a handle explaining that it was satire, I think that’s fine. I mean, Borat is satire. I think the role of comedy is important. It’s not as important or as crucial as respecting and buttressing up the fundamental pillars that protect democracy. So for example, there was a lot of talk by Zuckerberg of him coming up the election about freedom of speech, which, obviously, I’m a huge defender of. But what about free and fair elections, which are the fundamental pillar of democracy? No one was talking about that, and the Trump government realized that they could undermine that other pillar. There are a number of pillars that buttress up democracy. One of them is protest. So, free and fair elections is probably the most crucial one, particularly in an election year. And they were completely undermining it by spreading the #stopthesteal hashtag, and beforehand by spreading the idea that mail-in ballots were subject to corruption.

On January 6th, around 5 p.m., you tweeted at Mark, Jack, Susan, and Sundar, saying it’s time to ban Donald Trump from your platform once and for all. I did the same thing and was quite worried about what was about to happen as I saw it unfold. Did you think it was going to get this bad?

Yes, that’s why I made Borat. Borat was an attempt of mine to do what I could prior to the election to infiltrate Trump’s inner circle because I felt he was so dangerous and because I was convinced that conspiracies would end in violence. I made a show called “Who is America?“, where I took a conspiracy theorist who believed in the danger of Antifa and by the end of the episode, which was I had spent two days with him, he believed that he had murdered three members of Antifa. It’s a crucial thing where these people who were marching on the Capitol are not necessarily bad people. It’s the people who are spreading these lies and conspiracies. If you believe in the conspiracy, then everything you do from there is logical. If you really believed —

Yeah, if you’ve been made to believe that Biden was a pedophile and a cannibal and had stolen the election and Trump had won, then yes, it’s logical to march on Washington and maybe to try and overturn that vote. It’s the conspiracy theory and those who spread it and make money that are at fault.

Where do you stop the thing— Trump should be banned outright from all these platforms, including YouTube, which is something you’ve talked about a lot.

Yes, I believe in permanently banning him. The world’s largest platforms have banned the world’s biggest purveyor of lies, conspiracies, and hate. The impact was actually huge. One study, done by Zignal Labs, found that after Twitter removed Trump, there was a 73% drop in disinformation about the election on social media. So we don’t want YouTube and Facebook or Twitter to lift their suspensions and allow Trump back on to spread his lies and incite violence. You know, he still has complete freedom of speech. He has probably more free speech than just about anyone in the world. He puts out statements that make headlines. He can go out and give a speech any time he wants. But the idea that his free speech has been abridged is ludicrous.

You can also make the argument, as several people have to me, is that Hitler didn’t need Twitter, Mussolini didn’t need Instagram. Stalin didn’t need TikTok, although I can’t believe I’m saying that in one sentence. But they didn’t need these things. And they managed to be as malevolent as they were. Do you think it amplifies the malevolence?

I really don’t agree with that. I mean, if you look at Goebbels, the first thing he did was his social media was radio. He realized that was the new medium, and he realized that, for example, in Austria, if the Nazis took over a lot of the programming on radio, that they could make the invasion and the taking over of Austria easier. Fascists and autocrats are experts on new ways of spreading disinformation. They need them, and they specialize and they focus in on these new media, precisely because they’re unregulated. So that’s what makes social media perfect for autocrats.

Do you have high hopes for the Biden administration or this Congress to do anything, whether breaking them up or changing section 230 to remove liability protections? I know in your 2019 speech, you suggested Zuckerberg and other social media CEOs should get jail time, if their platforms continued to be tools of violence or election interference.

Yes, I think there needs to be regulation. In virtually every other industry, you can be sued for the harm you cause publishers. You can be sued for libel. People can be sued for defamation. I’m still being sued by Roy Moore.

Yes, that’s another story. But these companies can’t be sued, right? Because of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Currently, Facebook and companies like it cannot be held liable for the death they cause. I think that’s completely insane, right? So if you look at how it should work, when Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy, for those of you who use his wonderful product, went on Newsmax the other day and started spewing lies about the election, the host shut him down. Why? Because Newsmax can be sued. But Facebook and social media companies spread the very same lies to millions of people because they’re protected by 230. So you already have some exceptions to Section 230. Social media companies, as you know, they can be held liable for hosting content related to criminal conduct like copyright infringement, sex trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography. So my point is if they could be held liable for enabling pedophiles who use their site to endanger kids, then why can’t we hold these companies responsible for those who use their sites for advocating the mass murder of kids because of their race or religion. If your actions online cause harm or death in the real world, you should be liable. I think it’s quite simple to fix this, which is, instead of making money off lies that cost lives, I believe that these social media companies should create jobs that save lives, right? There are three problems that I think you could solve at once. One, which is even during the pandemic, Facebook and social media companies are making massive profits by spreading lies and conspiracies about COVID and vaccines, right? They are profiting off of death. Two, Facebook and other social media companies— and when I speak to them, they go, Sacha, we’re overwhelmed. How are we meant to do it? There’s so much stuff being uploaded every day. They claim that their artificial intelligence catches most of the inappropriate content, but they claim that their real world content moderators can’t keep up with the volume. The third problem is because of the pandemic, millions of people are unemployed. So my thought is—

Why can’t Mark Zuckerberg— yeah, you’re absolutely right. Why can’t they hire hundreds of thousands of people to enforce their policies as content moderators? They can afford it. General Motors, at its peak in the ‘70s, employed more than 800,000 people around the world. Last year, Facebook made $86 billion, and they did it with 50,000 employees. Facebook could hire Americans to help protect American democracy, hire Brits to protect British democracy, and the same all over the world, right? It would put people to work. It would stop the lies, save lives, and buttress our democracy.

Great, I was hoping you would. [LAUGHS] [MUSIC PLAYING]

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, hit Subscribe. You’ll be able to catch up on Sway episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with former Parler CEO John Matze. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Sacha Baron Cohen after the break.

Most recently, Baron Cohen appeared in “The Trial of the Chicago 7“. The film is based on the true story of anti-war protests held during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, a founder of the 1960s Yippie movement and an activist with a sense of humor. Hoffman found space for comedic stunts even in the face of his highly politicized prosecution. I wanted to know what drew Baron Cohen to the project and why he thought the story was still relevant 50 years later.

I’ve been connected to incarcerate for 13 years, and it’s been getting increasingly relevant. And I think it’s about the power of peaceful protest when standing up against injustice and the bravery of those people that do that. It’s also about the persistence of systemic racism. The film shows the horrific treatment of Bobby Seale, who was the only Black defendant. And we were actually filming this prior to the protests over the murder of George Floyd. And so, really, it’s a tribute to anyone who stands up against injustice, from Ukraine to Moscow to Kenosha to Portland. When I read the script the second time, it was actually during the hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. And the hearings were supposed to be about justice, but what we saw at the time was profound injustice, to me. Professor Ford was swearing that her allegations were true. And I remember one of the committee asked Brett Kavanaugh to swear before God that what he said was correct, and that was enough for the committee member. And it felt like we were seeing two parallel justice systems here— one a modern one where she’s appealing to fact and proper recollection and evidence, and one depending on belief in God. I mean, it could have been half a thousand years ago. I couldn’t believe it was happening. It seemed like a perversion of justice, a system that didn’t work. And I felt more compelled than ever to play Abbie.

Did you know the story of Abbie Hoffman before you took this part?

I’d first learned about him when I was studying in Cambridge, hosting my undergraduate thesis on Jewish activists in the civil rights movement. And I was particularly inspired by left-wing Jews who went down South to fight systemic racism. Abbie Hoffman was one of them. He was a guy who was ready to sacrifice his life to fight against racism and fight for justice. And also, what inspired me was he was a Yippie. His antics and pranks got all the attention, but he was deadly serious. He was risking his life to fight racism and fight the war in Vietnam. But his conviction was completely pure, and he was ready to sacrifice his life.

The film’s writer and director, Aaron Sorkin, recently wrote that part of the reason it took 14 years for the film to be made is because he didn’t immediately get Hoffman’s character. Sorkin said, quote, “I thought he was a clown, not particularly clever. And I wasn’t seeing the heroism.” That changed when he saw archival footage of Hoffman at a press conference, a moment you recreate in the film.

Would you have taken $100,000 to call the whole thing off? Yeah, sure, I would have taken $100,000. As for calling it off, how much is it worth to you? What’s your price? To call off the revolution? What’s your price?

Talk a little bit about this moment of being a hero.

Well, it’s interesting. You were talking about Aaron, and my first meeting with Aaron was 13 years ago. And this was the debate, actually, which was, is Abbie Hoffman a hero? I felt strongly that he was. Aaron, at that time, thought, no, he was this fool. It’s telling that Aaron chose to replicate that scene from reality. So everything else is Aaron’s painting rather than a photograph. He’s using his brilliant screenplay skills to create this wonderful story. But there, he recreates that scene pretty much word for word because he thinks it’s crucial, and so do I, which is underneath the layers of this clown in this seemingly fool is this deadly serious, brave protester, who’s ready to risk his life. And the antics were — the more I read about him — and I tried to read everything I could and watch everything I could. I went down to archives and heard old stand-up that he’d done. Everything was intentional with Abbie, even his comedy. He was very, very influenced by Lenny Bruce. He tried to emulate the way that Lenny delivered gags. He was actually even influenced by Lenny’s trial. That convinced Abbie that they would go to jail. It didn’t matter what would happen during the trial. The aim of the trial was not to declare their innocence. It was to convince people back home that the war in Vietnam was immoral. And he was using these tactics of the bouffon, which is a type of theater that I studied under this French clown teacher. That itself is an absurd sentence to hear.

Exactly, but I did actually — actually, coincidentally, my wife studied under his rival French clown teacher, but anyway.

There were two. So I studied in L’École Philippe Gaulier. And my wife studied in L’École Jacques Lecoq. And there was a —

— very serious break-off at one point where Philippe Gaulier broke off from his mentor, Jacques Lecoq, probably over a debate over red noses. I’m not sure.

But this guy, Philippe Gaulier teaches — actually, both of them teach — they’re some of the only people in the world who teach this style of theater called bouffon. Bouffon is an early form of satire. It’s a medieval form, where, essentially, the dispossessed in medieval society, who were generally forced to live outside the villages — and they were heretic priests, gay people, Jews. Those with disabilities were allowed in once a year. And they would try to put on these plays called bouffon plays that were intended to be really funny, but were intended to completely undermine and destroy the powerful and the establishment. And I felt, looking at Abbie, that he was a bouffon. Like, saying he would levitate the Pentagon, bringing thousands of people to do that, or —

So they were stunts. They were stunts — that were of — political stunts to be effective.

Yes, to be effective, and they were effective, because as Aaron — the final script brings in this argument with Tom Hayden. He says this is the reason we’re doing that. We didn’t have the resources. This is how I’m getting attention. Abbie was incredibly aware of the media. And that was something that became very clear in Aaron’s later scripts, where they’re going to demonstrate where the cameras are.

Inside the bar, it’s like the ‘60s never happened. Outside the bar, the ‘60s were being performed for anyone who looked out of the window. [GLASS SHATTERING]

He knows that the whole purpose is to get attention and get into the living room. So he knows that they’re not going to win. They’re going to try and win the hearts.

What’s interesting is, you do that, too, and — I hate to say it — this is something Trump does rather well. He plays for the stunt, for the audience. His is malevolent. He’s sort of the evil clown, sort of the clown from “It“, I guess.

I mean, yes, Trump is a cometitian. He was very aware of the power of humor to engage his audience. I don’t find him funny, but his crowd found him really funny. So, yes, that’s part of the reason why he was so effective and so entertaining. Abbie knew that mocking the establishment would be his key. He used to say that sacred cows made the tastiest hamburgers. And he realized that if he could make people laugh, he could gain attention and recruit more people to the cause. I mean, everything he did, the more I read about him, was incredibly intentional, even though he gave this kind of loose —

— feeling. Even the length of his hair was an attempt to influence hippies to go out and risk their lives to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam.

Right, Hoffman is obviously a left of center character. This opens up him to criticism in the film. For example, there’s a scene where his more buttoned-up co-defendant, Tom Hayden, calls him out on doing this.

My problem is that for the next 50 years, when people think of progressive politics, they’re going to think of you. They’re going to think of you and your idiot followers passing out daisies to soldiers and trying to levitate the Pentagon. So they’re not going to think of equality or justice. They’re not going to think of education or poverty or progress. They’re going to think of a bunch of stoned, lost, disrespectful, foul-mouthed, lawless losers. And so we’ll lose elections.

Well, it strikes me that 50 years on, this meme of progressive — as idealistic sort of hippies and rebel rousers still exist. Do you think it’s fair to characterize Hoffman or modern day progressives like this?

Well, again, I’m not a historian of that particular period. I specialize more in the early ‘60s. But yes, I mean, Sorkin is a master. And what he’s trying to do is bring these issues into the present. So, yes, this is about the debate between the left and the far left, which he beautifully encapsulates in the hatred of Abbie Hoffman and Tom Hayden. He actually got that from sitting down with Tom Hayden, where they were, in effect, these brothers that hate each other. And at the end of the movie, they love and respect each other. I mean, I feel that change starts with pressure in the streets. They were both aware of that. Abbie felt that they needed to win elections, but they needed to push society to.

And winning elections, that’s the first thing on your wish list. Equality, justice, education, poverty, and progress, they’re second. If you don’t win elections, it doesn’t matter what’s second. And it is astonishing to me that someone still has to explain that to you. OK.

But you do see this kind of interknit scene struggle within the left. I mean, we are far less effective as a force often because there is less uniformity. There is less of an ability to say, OK, eyes on the prize, which the Republicans were able to do. Let’s concentrate on winning the election and fall into line. Instead, there is often an attempt to destroy each other again.

And what’s interesting is when you go fast forward, his life ended sadly. Did you think about that at all when you were playing him, where he was headed, since you knew the end of the story?

Yes, I mean, the truth is Abbie battled depression and later took his own life. And I felt he was somebody who was struggling quietly. And I wanted to capture that seriousness and that subtlety, the contrast between his public dynamism and his sensitivity and occasional private pain. But yes, I mean, it’s hinted at, and it’s shocking when you see it on screen. You find out what happened to all the characters, and you find out that Abbie died later on. If you compare him to the rest of Chicago Seven, Jerry Rubin, I think he became a stockbroker.

Yeah, Tom Hayden obviously had a political career. But Abbie never sold out, and he remained true to his ideals. So I fell in love with him.

So you recently tweeted, “Borat is an absurdity, and the Chicago Seven really happened. But the message is the same — when leaders lie, people die.” Can you expand what you meant by that?

Yes, I mean, these were — first, here’s a tweet. So I’m trying to sum up stuff very quickly and —

— communication, which is why it’s so effective. But Vietnam was a lie, right? There was no moral basis for that. And then with Borat, I was trying to say, these lies that were being spread by Trump, whether about coronavirus or about the election, would lead to death — and were leading to death. I was trying to create some connection between the two.

You did a lot of things in Borat that — and all your characters, where you got them to do things. Like, you got the cake person to put um, Jews —

Jews will not replace us, which was the Charlottesville thing. You put a series of conspiracies everywhere, and they quickly take over. You think it’s unfair at all to do it that way, or do you think it’s — again, getting back to Abbie Hoffman, it’s a way to get out the truth from people to be doing these different things? I don’t know what to call them. What do you call them? Are they pranks? Are they —

I prefer not to call them pranks. I mean, essentially, what I do is I point the camera, and people act as they do. So, some people end up appearing dreadful. Rudy Giuliani didn’t come out looking great. It’s something that I realized very, very early on the first time I did Borat, which was, I took Borat when I was 25 years old to a pro foxhunting rally. And it was a way to get these members of the upper class to really say what they believed about criminals and ethnic minorities. I said, in my country, we have Jews. We give them a head start, and we let them run. You think we should do it here? And then, well, I suppose if it was fair and you gave them at least 20 or so minutes, then yes, I suppose that — you know. So it was a fascinating insight to me. When I started Borat first, I actually pitched it as a documentary. So I was going around the BBC and Channel 4, just going, this is a new way to have these documentaries, which are trying to shed light on topics, but —

Yeah, what they really think and what they’re saying behind closed doors.

So speaking of closed doors, I want to ask you about Giuliani. So let me give the context. You filmed him. He’s caught with his hands down his pants after a fake journalist, your co-star Maria Bakalova had removed his mic after an interview. Was there any footage we didn’t see? And why did you not wait a little longer before bursting out of the closet to see what he would do? How did you make that call?

So, that was a difficult call. So Rudy, we were told, was coming with a cop, who he employs. As you know, Rudy has a tremendous amount of respect amongst the NYPD. And we were told that the cop would sweep the room. As a result of that, we built a little hideaway for me inside a wardrobe. And I essentially stood there for an hour while the interview was going on. My only means of communication was a cell phone with the director and Jason Woliner and the producer, Ant Hines. And so they were essentially saying, OK, go in now. There’s one time I actually went in there three times. The first time was in a room service trolley, which we did ended up not showing. A room service guy brings in a room service trolley. I’m actually hiding underneath there. I poked my head out from underneath the tablecloth with a sign to my daughter, saying, “Don’t do it.” And she’s like, you know, and essentially, Rudy was slightly suspicious. He turns around, I had to put the tablecloth down. In the end, I removed that. The second time, I came in as a sound guy. And the third time, I came in to stop what was happening. But yeah, I was relying on the Jason Woliner, the director, and Ant Hines to text me. And the worrying thing was — we’d done everything to try and make sure that the interview went well. We had hidden cameras. Amazingly, by the way, Rudy, the president’s lawyer, signed a contract in which he allows the use of hidden cameras. So he’s not the most diligent at reading contracts.

But the one thing we didn’t have was enough battery in the phone. So I had about 3% of battery when I got in there, switched on the phone.

Do you wish you had waited longer to see what — I thought you were correct in your thing. He, of course, denies it. Other people — it was like internet detective work on the internet on Twitter for days and days, what he was doing precisely.

Well, I think what you saw is what he did, is what it is. I trust the audience, and everyone can watch the movie and judge for themselves. But essentially, I had to keep Maria safe. We had an escape plan. I was going to run down the stairs, but actually, Rudy’s bodyguard gets me and pushes me into the room and says, you’re staying here until the cops arrive. And then suddenly, I’m Borat. Borat doesn’t understand what a chair is. He’s like, what is this machine with four legs? Suddenly, Borat has a real understanding of the law. Excuse me, sir. This is my room. I have paid for it. Under the law, you are not permitted in my room. You must leave now. And he’s like, no, you’re going to stay in here. No, that is false imprisonment. You are not allowed to. I am instructing you to leave. And then, essentially, I left with the security guard. We ran down the steps. Rudy calls the cops, lies to them, and says that a federal crime has been committed. And as a result, the cops search the room.

I think tellingly, Rudy has not sued, because he knows that he would lose. But it does make you wonder what did Rudy try to do to other female journalists. And I think the wonderful thing about it was we had no idea how impactful or how pivotal Rudy would be in the final month of the election and post-election in spreading this lie. The fallout is that the whole world has seen Rudy for what he is.

Which one do you prefer, the characters that you have or this sort of Abbie Hoffman, which is a more sort of pure acting experience?

I prefer playing Abbie Hoffman. I mean, I’ve loved playing Borat, but it’s sometimes dangerous, and there’s no fun in going out when it’s dangerous. I want this to be the last Borat movie. And it’s far more enjoyable and relaxing to be an actor in the hands of other masterful screenwriters and directors. It’s nice having a trailer. It’s lovely having craft services and chatting to the fantastic cast of “Chicago 7” in between takes. It’s not a fun experience making Borat or “Who is America?“. It’s difficult. My crew, the directors, my co-writers and producers, they’re taking not insignificant risks by going out and shooting at gun rallies where they risk arrest or being beaten up or —

We were told at that gun rally that if they found out that you were an infiltrator or not a believer, that they would get COVID-positive people to spit at you. So that quite apart from the fact that so many people were carrying semi-automatic weapons. And finally, I got surrounded in the getaway car by an angry crowd who were carrying guns and trying to pull me out of this vehicle.

It’s not pleasant. There is some exhilaration when you manage to survive it. And I think Maria Bakalova certainly experienced that. She was so nervous before every scene, but brilliantly pulled off everything we threw at her. And then she was exhilarated. But for me, it’s a little more heavy. Because I escaped from the gun rally, and my main concern as a producer is, have the rest of the crew got out? Have we got the footage out, and is everybody safe? So, no, I’m not returning to that style of comedy again.

All right, I have one last question. Mark, Jack, and Sundar will speak in Congress again on March 25th. If you were on the dais, very briefly, what would you ask, and what character would it be?

I would probably ask them as myself. Was it worth it? Was the huge amount of money that you’ve amassed worth the destruction that you’ve wreaked on democracy and the deaths that you’ve caused? Was it really worth becoming even richer?

You like the Northwest London voice. OK, it’s yours.

Yes, I like it. It feels genuine. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not. Thank you so much, and good luck with the Golden Globes.

Kara, thank you for having me on. I’m a massive fan of yours. I listen to your podcast, and I read your articles.

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen, and Vishakha Darbha; edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman; with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Eric Gomez; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair and Michelle Harris. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Liriel Higa, and Kathy Tu. If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to subscribe to a podcast, so subscribe to this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered you faster than Rudy Giuliani can tuck in his shirt, download a podcast app like Stitcher or Google Podcasts, then search for “Sway“, and hit Subscribe. We release every Monday and Thursday — for make benefit glorious nation of “Sway“.

Sacha Baron Cohen was busy last year. In “The Trial of The Chicago 7,” he portrayed 1960s antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman. In “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” he revived his role as a Kazakh journalist touring America. These films may seem historical or comedic, respectively, but Baron Cohen says their themes — abuse of political power, misogyny and disinformation — are reflective of our current reality. He blames two things: Donald Trump and social media.

In this episode of “Sway,” Kara Swisher and Baron Cohen discuss whether Silicon Valley C.E.O.s should be liable for the content on their platforms, what the rift in the Democratic Party means for future elections and — of course — what else happened with Rudy Giuliani.

Thoughts? Email us at . Transcripts of each episode are available midday.

Special thanks to Kathy Tu, Michelle Harris, Shannon Busta and Liriel Higa.

“Sway” is produced by Nayeema Raza, Heba Elorbany, Matt Kwong, Daphne Chen and Vishakha Darbha and edited by Nayeema Raza and Paula Szuchman; fact-checking by Kate Sinclair; music and sound design by Isaac Jones; mixing by Erick Gomez.