Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the most unique figures in comedy. He is a master of character work, similar to Peter Sellers, an inspirational figure in Baron Cohen’s life. Unlike Sellers, Baron Cohen has spent much of his career outside of fiction film. Though he has taken on roles in films like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, as well as Les Miserables, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and the Madagascar franchise, these roles are rarely what he is recognized for.
Baron Cohen is more likely to lampoon real-life people—both random civilians and famous public figures. With his boundary-pushing characters Ali G, Bruno Gehard and Borat Sagdiyev; Baron Cohen was the subject of controversy throughout the 2000s. His broadly comedic characters have been successful because through them, he showed them the world as they believe it to be rather than as it is. After a period of time away from the mockumentary genre, he returned to the spotlight in 2018 with a Showtime series Who Is America? featuring a whole new cast of characters. New or old, nearly all of the roles Baron Cohen has taken on are memorable for one reason or another. Here are ten of his best to date.
Borat Sagdiyev; Da Ali G Show (1999 to 2004), Borat (2006)
Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev is the gold standard of Baron Cohen’s characters. His titular feature Borat has been touted throughout the film community as one of the best comedies of the 2000s. He leaves his home to make a documentary for his nation’s government about the United States. Borat’s interviews with a variety of real Americans and his lack of understanding of the delicate societal norms of the nation come together to produce a hilarious, irreverent and even insightful look at the people who make up the culture of the USA.
King Julien; Madagascar franchise (2005 to 2012)
Not many of Baron Cohen’s characters can claim “kid-friendly” as one of their traits. However, his lemur monarch King Julien from Dreamworks Madagascar films fits that bill. The goofy, narcissistic character immediately became a fan favorite upon the release of the first film. He continued to be throughout the sequels—no doubt in large part due to Baron Cohen’s abilities as a vocal performer.
Erran Morad; Who Is America? (2018)
Ex-Mossad, anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad was the breakout star of Baron Cohen’s latest project Who Is America? This particular character made headlines following the release of the show because he made Roy Moore and Dick Cheney a subject of his high jinks, as well as Jason Spencer, then-state representative from Georgia was forced to step down from his position because of his behavior on Baron Cohen’s show.
Ali G; The 11 O’Clock Show (1999 to 2000), Da Ali G Show (1999 to 2004), Ali G Indahouse (2002)
For a time, poorly-informed rudeboy Ali G was Baron Cohen’s most popular character. His first solo series bore his name and he was the first of Baron Cohen’s numerous characters to get a film. Da Ali G Show featured the titular character (as well as Borat and Bruno) interviewing—and making uncomfortable—a variety of public figures including the then–LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates and future U.S. President Donald Trump.
OMGWhizzBoyOMG!; Who Is America? (2018)
Baron Cohen’s Finnish Youtuber character OMGWhizzBoyOMG! is based loosely on Pewdiepie, the real-life Swedish Youtuber. As OMGWhizzBoyOMG!, Baron Cohen was able to wrangle surprisingly high profile figures, namely the United States’ most controversial former sheriffs, Joe Arpaio and David A. Clarke.
Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr.; Who Is America? (2018)
Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. was another character Baron Cohen created for his latest show. Ruddick is a far-right conspiracy theorist who runs the website TRUTHBRARY.org (a purposefully clunky portmanteau of the words “truth” and “library”). In the show, he interviews—and frustrates—a number of public figures including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, Who Is America? (2018)
In a similar way to how Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. lampoons a certain type of right-wing figure, gender studies professor Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello does so for a particular sort of liberal. As this character, Baron Cohen traveled to red counties under the guise of trying to bridge the gap between liberals and conservatives, only to infuriate the locals more with his antics.
Bruno Gehard; Da Ali G Show (1999 to 2004), Bruno (2009)
Like Ali G and Borat before him, Bruno was the last of Baron Cohen’s three characters from Da Ali G Show to get their own feature-length film. Like Borat, Bruno featured a lot of people who were not in on the joke. Baron Cohen’s flamboyantly gay Austrian was known to dress provocatively and as equally-provocative questions and stir up controversy.
Gio Monaldo; Who Is America? (2018)
In his latest series Who Is America?, Baron Cohen’s new character Gio Monaldo, the Italian billionaire playboy, shed light on the sorts of shocking behavior that only the massively wealthy have access to. This particular role made headlines following the season—and presumably series—finale of the show because he spoke to O.J. Simpson.
Admiral General Aladeen, The Dictator (2012)
Following Borat and Bruno, Baron Cohen’s profile was higher than ever before. As a result, his next feature-length project was an entirely fiction film, The Dictator. Baron Cohen plays the titular dictator, Admiral General Aladeen, who was based heavily on Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, is a tyrannical narcissist forced to flee his country and live as a fugitive in the United States. Though not as viscerally hilarious as some of Baron Cohen’s other characters, he certainly has his moments.