From notorious comedians Sacha Baron Cohen and Nathan Fielder, “Who Is America?” is a show that leaves no one unscathed. The Showtime series, whose finale aired Aug. 26, has succeeded in revealing the faults of the United States and Americans, albeit in an absolutely hilarious way. Despite Cohen’s comedic success, however, the show’s backlash prevented it from receiving a second season.
From public figures to the general populace, the thoughts and statements that Cohen has managed to pull out of his guests during interviews are borderline appalling. Cohen has managed to do it with only one lawsuit slapped for defamation against him.
While Cohen is known for controversial films such as “Borat” and “Bruno,” Fielder has found success through his cringe-comedy show “Nathan for You”; both of which set the premise of duping people as a means of entertainment. The schemes have varied from harmless
interviews to borderline ridiculous requests, but people generally comply. The format for “Who Is America?” is no different.
A twisted version of journalist Lisa Ling’s “Our America,” “Who Is America?” finds a costumed Cohen interviewing and tricking guests who are willing to say and do morally questionable things for the sake of appearing on television. While there were a few notable guests who stood up and walked away from the incredulity of it all, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, there were also a number of guests who went along with the unfathomable ideas that Cohen’s characters would propose.
It is almost painfully cringe-worthy to watch “Who Is America?” to see not only the extent to which some people will misbehave in order to be on television, but also to see the ridiculous reactions that others have to Cohen’s characters when he tests his experiments on unsuspecting citizens as opposed to public figures.
After the series aired, many interviewees’ careers were either ended or severely tarnished. One notable moment in the sixth episode involves Cohen pretending to be an ex-convict-turned-chef who invited food critic Bill Jilla to dine at his fake restaurant. The episode featured outlandish dishes like ground meat wrapped in a condom to a pièce de résistance where Cohen managed to convince Jilla to eat “human” meat.
While the meat wasn’t actually human, Jilla seemed to have fully believed it was and even went so far as to thank the Chinese family who supplied the flesh for the dish. After the episode aired, Jilla removed himself from Facebook and deleted his website.
Another notable episode included a politician from Georgia. Former state lawmaker Jason Spencer submitted his intent to resign immediately after the episode’s release, one in which Spencer repeatedly shouted the N-word in a fake exercise. The exercise was meant to teach Spencer how to “thwart” an ISIS kidnapping attempt by provoking the assailant. Through Cohen’s coaching, Spencer pulled his pants down at Cohen’s suggestion that ISIS members fear contact with buttocks, believing it will turn them homosexual.
The “Who Is America?” guests were wide and varied: from private citizens like those of Kingman, Ariz. who reacted with incredibly racist remarks to Cohen’s proposal to idea of build a mosque (despite its potential to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars), to reality stars like Corinne Olympios from “The Bachelor,” who was convinced to propagate the funding of child soldiers.
The best and worst of America is revealed in Cohen’s show, and it is unlikely that Cohen will get a second season given the backlash, as well as how difficult it would be to find other guests to fall for his stunt once again.
In the season finale, the biggest shock to the audience and to the guests may not have been the segments that aired, but those that didn’t. Cohen had interviewed Sen. Sarah Palin and, in anticipation of the fallout, Palin outed herself on social media about the interview and how Cohen duped her in order to try and deflect the impending damages from the interview.
However, the segment with Palin did not air with the last episode and therefore the Alaskan senator essentially shot herself in the foot — which was surely Cohen’s intention as the show ends with a special credit naming Palin.
However uncomfortable “Who Is America?” makes its viewers, it is truly a brilliant piece of work that reveals not only the moral lines people will cross to be on television, but also the inner psyches of America’s most commonplace communities.