52 Trivia Tidbits About Sacha Baron Cohen on His 52nd Birthday
While he’s best known for roles like Ali G, Borat and Brüno, Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the most versatile talents today. In addition to his comedies, he’s starred in dramas and musicals and even won an award for wrestling a naked man in a hotel room. There’s really no one like Cohen, and to celebrate his 52nd birthday, here are 52 trivia tidbits about a true artist…
Baron Cohen was born on October 13, 1971, in London, the youngest of three brothers. One brother is musician Erran Baron Cohen, who has scored much of Sacha’s work, including Borat, Brüno and The Dictator.
Peter Sellers Was His Greatest Comedic Influence
Baron Cohen cites Monty Python and Peter Sellers as his biggest comedic influences. He said of Sellers, “He was this incredibly realistic actor who was also hilarious and who managed to bridge the gap between comedy and satire.”
His Writing Partner Is a Childhood Friend
As a child, he attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Borehamwood, England, where he met Dan Mazer, his longtime writing partner and producer.
He worked as a model for British magazines after dropping out of college.
Ali G’s Origin Story
The character of Ali G became famous on The 11 O’Clock Show, a satirical comedy on Britain’s Channel 4. Originally, the character was referred to as “the youth wanker” by producers, then Baron Cohen developed Ali G, who debuted in 1998.
MC Jocelyn Cheadle-Hume
Before his debut on The 11 O’Clock Show, Baron Cohen played a prototype of Ali G named MC Jocelyn Cheadle-Hume on a youth talk show called F2F.
Ali G’s Pre-Interview
Before taping an Ali G interview, Baron Cohen would pretend to be a complete idiot to get the interview subject to lower their defenses. For example, he asked Pat Buchanan if Washington, D.C. is anywhere near America and how to spell the name “Pat.”
How He Discovered His Comedic Trademark
Ali G was originally a solo character who didn’t interact with the unsuspecting public. That changed when Baron Cohen was ridiculed by some nearby skateboarders while filming a segment. He began interacting with them while still in character, unlocking his personal brand of comedy in the process. He told Rolling Stone, “We were just so excited because here was this new form of comedy that we discovered. Probably, it existed, and other people had done it, but we’d never discovered it before — this idea of taking a comic character into a real situation.”
Ali G’s Secret Weapon: Flattery
Viewers marveled at the guest list Baron Cohen convinced to be interviewed for Da Ali G Show. While the show was very secretive about its methods, a few guests told Slate that they were often sent flattering personal letters that convinced them to do the interview.
Ali G’s Hometown Changed Its Name
Ali G has always been from the middle-class British town known as Staines. But in 2012, residents of Staines changed the town’s name to Staines-upon-Thames with “the aim of promoting its riverside location” and to distance itself from the character.
Alexi Krickler from Moldova
Borat began as Alexi Krickler from Moldova on F2F. Then, while Baron Cohen was vacationing in Russia, an eccentric doctor inspired Alexi’s evolution into Borat, who debuted on Da Ali G Show in 2000. Of the doctor, Baron Cohen said, “He had some elements of Borat, but he had none of the racism or the misogyny or the anti-Semitism. He was Jewish, actually.”
Kazakhstan Hates Borat
When Borat appeared on the MTV Movie Awards, he infuriated Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s real-life president, by having Borat kiss the crotch of an actor playing the president. Nazarbayev launched a campaign to prove this wasn’t really him, even flying to Washington to complain to President George W. Bush. Baron Cohen was then banned from Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan Loves Borat
After receiving a tourism boost thanks to Borat, the country lifted Baron Cohen’s ban, and in 2020 — after Nazarbayev left office — even embraced the character by changing its tourism slogan to “Kazakhstan. Very nice!”
Prior to Borat interviews, Baron Cohen would come up to interviewees and ask, “Hello, nice meet you. Can I please make a shit?” Baron Cohen explained, “The assumption was, if someone’s coming into your house and they’re asking to take a shit, you feel sorry for them.”
Despite making the Mankini famous, Borat only wore it for six seconds in the first film.
While playing Borat, he once had a warrant issued for his arrest for stealing furniture from a hotel. Because the bill was so expensive, the character believed it included the room’s furniture. Baron Cohen fled New York, fearful of being thrown out of the United States.
Borat’s Daring Escape
During the filming of 2020’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Baron Cohen, as Borat, adopted the persona of “Country Steve” and performed a song at a gun rally in Washington state. When the audience caught on that it was Baron Cohen, they stormed the stage, with Baron Cohen escaping in an ambulance.
The Borat sequel was the first movie where Baron Cohen had to wear a bulletproof vest.
On Borat’s Anti-Semitism
“Borat essentially works as a tool,” Baron Cohen, who is Jewish, has explained. “By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it’s anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism.”
Borat Earned Him a Golden Globe
In 2007, Baron Cohen won a Golden Globe for Best Actor for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. During his acceptance speech, he spoke about the naked fight scene where Ken Davitian sits on his face, saying, “Ken, when I was in that scene, and I stared down and saw your two wrinkled Golden Globes on my chin, I thought to myself, ‘I better win a bloody award for this.’”
Borat the Revolutionary
After a screening of Borat, Simpsons writer George Meyer said, “I feel like someone’s just played me ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ for the first time.”
Brüno is Born
The queer fashion reporter character, Brüno Gehard, originated in sketches on Paramount Comedy 1 — Britain’s equivalent of Comedy Central — in 1998. He returned in 2003 on Da Ali G Show.
Brüno Got a Cameraman Punched in the Face
In a spring-break interview, Brüno convinced a wrestler to strip naked for the camera, then told them to “Say hi to everyone at GayTV!” The wrestler became enraged and punched the cameraman.
Brüno in Milan
As Cinema Blend reported about the production of Brüno, “The team made it to Milan Fashion Week in late September 2008. They had imagined a gag in which Baron Cohen as Brüno would, dressed in a suit made entirely out of Velcro, exit a car outside a fashion week arena and sneak his way onto the runway. Early attempts to get into other shows failed when security recognized and banned all the key players of the production. Brüno had been blackballed from Milan Fashion Week. The Italian Chamber of Fashion issued a press release to designers and warned them of the possibility Baron Cohen would try to crash their events; the chamber further advised access be denied to Brüno’s production company.”
Still, this didn’t deter Baron Cohen, who had crew members change their appearances while he “walked in, not as the host of Funkyzeit Mit Brüno, but in the guise of an Italian photographer. Baron Cohen found a hidden nook backstage and transformed into Brüno. Shortly after the show began, he seized his chance. Bursting out of his hiding place and onto the backstage, Baron Cohen sprinted past stunned models and lunged by waiting security guards. The crowd went wild in outrage while the cameras rolled. Just as the team caught the footage they needed, security shut the lights off and dragged Baron Cohen off the stage. Police cuffed the actor and hauled him to jail while his fellow crew members chased him down.”
More ‘Brüno’ War Stories
During the production of Brüno, Baron Cohen staged a wrestling match in rural Arkansas where Brüno would discover his opponent was his lover. The two then began making out, enraging the redneck audience. One audience member threw a chair at Baron Cohen’s head, and both wrestlers fled the angry mob. It took 40 police officers to restore order.
Brüno Loves Eminem
During the 2009 MTV Music Awards, a mostly nude Brüno was suspended from wires over the crowd before falling on Eminem in a 69 position. Many speculated that the furious Eminem was in on the gag, which he later confirmed. “Sacha called me when we were in Europe, and he had an idea to do something outrageous at the Movie Awards. I’m a big fan of his work, so I agreed to get involved with the gag,” Eminem explained.
Borat’s ‘Seinfeld’ Connection
The director of Borat, Brüno and The Dictator is Larry Charles, an acclaimed Seinfeld writer responsible for episodes like “The Subway” and “The Bubble Boy.”
Some Inspirational Bad Guys
Baron Cohen’s character in The Dictator, Admiral General Aladeen, was inspired by several real-life dictators, including Kim Jong-il, Idi Amin and Muammar Gaddafi. The film was dedicated to Kim Jong-il.
Baron’s First Scripted Starring Role
The Dictator’s Native Tongue
While Aladeen was an anti-Semitic ruler of the fictional North African Republic of Wadiya, much of his “native language” included Yiddish words.
Another Kind of Ruler
The voice for Baron Cohen’s character, King Julien, in Madagascar was based on his Sri Lankan lawyer.
Grim Box Office Returns for ‘Grimsby’
In 2016, he starred in the scripted film Grimsby — or The Brothers Grimsby here in the U.S. — where he played the idiot brother of a James Bond-like super spy played by Mark Strong. Unlike his other outings, it was a box office failure.
The Inspiration for ‘Grimsby’s Main Character
His look in Grimsby was inspired by Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who later threatened to stab Baron Cohen in both eyes over the portrayal.
Borat Hates Grimsby
While promoting Grimsby, Baron Cohen appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live as Borat to warn people against seeing Grimsby.
Kimmel in Kazakhstan
Borat also informed the host that “in Kazakhstan, a Kimmel means a lady’s vagin and Jimmy means ‘much hair.’”
Trump Inspired his Showtime Series
Baron Cohen said his “revulsion” over Donald Trump being elected president inspired him to create the Showtime interview series Who Is America? so that he could, in part, interview prominent people who supported Trump.
His Interview with O.J. Simpson
While playing an Italian billionaire character on Who Is America?, Baron Cohen tried to get O.J. Simpson to admit to committing the Brown and Goldman murders. To prepare for the interview, Baron Cohen trained with an FBI interrogator. O.J., however, didn’t confess.
Baron Cohen on Scorsese
Baron Cohen worked with Scorsese on Hugo, playing The Train Inspector. Of Scorsese, he said, “I expected him to be an auteur, and he is. But I think that part of his power and the reason why his films are so successful is that he is ready to collaborate fully with his actors.”
He Can Sing
Baron Cohen played the comedic role of corrupt innkeeper Monsieur Thenardier in 2012’s film adaptation of Les Misérables. He auditioned for the stage version when he was 20, successfully making it through the singing portion but failing the dance part because he didn’t know the moves and started freestyling.
But He Struggled to Sing in ‘Les Mis’
After working on Les Misérables for four weeks, Baron Cohen lost his voice. He needed to be on steroids to finish his scenes.
Sweeney Baron Cohen
Before Les Misérables, Baron Cohen played Adolfo Pirelli, a conman barber in Sweeney Todd. Director Tim Burton shared that he “came in to audition, and he brought in the score of Fiddler on the Roof and basically did all of Fiddler on the Roof. He was great. I admired him because he could have gone off and done lots of different stuff, but he chose to do this, and it was great that he did it. I wish we had a camera because he literally went through the whole score of Fiddler on the Roof.”
He’s No Slouch About Shaving Either
To prepare for Sweeney Todd, Baron Cohen hired a barber to teach him different shaving techniques.
He’s Also Done Drama
He played an Israeli spy in the French series The Spy, which was also distributed by Netflix. He told the Hollywood Reporter, “For me to make the transition from comedy to drama was something that I’ve been reluctant to do. I’ve dabbled in it in Hugo and Les Misérables and a little bit in Sweeney Todd, but to actually take a lead role where the character was essentially relatable was something that I was not used to doing. I was used to playing the larger-than-life, peculiar, outlandish, fascinating characters.”
How He Prepared for ‘The Spy’
Baron Cohen spent a month in Morocco observing wealthy tourists for The Spy. He also learned how to do an Egyptian accent.
On Working with Aaron Sorkin
Baron Cohen took another dramatic turn playing social activist Abbie Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. He shared with Variety that he wondered why Sorkin, who has a reputation for sticking to scripts, would cast one of Hollywood’s most notorious improvisers in the lead, saying, “I spent probably about two months pitching him alternative lines because I read everything that Abbie Hoffman had written. Aaron was nice enough to humor me. Each time he’d say, ‘Thank you, but no.’”
On Sticking to the Script
Baron Cohen said he found the experience of adhering to the script to be “liberating.” Also, he said, “Because it was a low-budget movie, they were in a rush to make it. I thought, ‘I’d better learn; I’d better make sure that the first take is perfect for (Sorkin).’”
Overdoing It at Disney
Baron Cohen improvised so much for his role in the Pixar film Luca that the movie ended up with an unplanned post-credits scene.
He May Be a Dictator, But Not a Queen
He tried making a Freddie Mercury movie with him starring as the late Queen singer, but the project stalled due to the band’s surviving members wanting no part of him. Queen drummer Roger Taylor said, “I think he would have been utter shit. Sacha is pushy, if nothing else. He’s also six inches too tall. But I watched his last five films and came to the conclusion he’s not a very good actor.”
My Wife! — And Family
Baron Cohen is married to actress Isla Fisher and has three kids.
The Perfect Disguise
He’s a Private Person
“I’m a private person,” Baron Cohen has said, “and to reconcile that with being famous is a hard thing.”
Ali G Back Indahouse
Baron Cohen is currently working on putting together a stand-up tour of Ali G to celebrate the character’s 25th anniversary.