Don't blame Sacha Baron Cohen because you don't like the truth

Comedians, at their best, expose the truth while making you laugh. But sometimes that truth can make people...

Posted: Aug 20, 2018 12:38 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2018 12:38 PM

Comedians, at their best, expose the truth while making you laugh. But sometimes that truth can make people uncomfortable. In fact, some have been so outraged by the truth exposed it has led to angry backlashes and even the criminal prosecution of comedians.

We are currently seeing another example of that with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and his new Showtime series, "Who is America?" The first three episodes of the show have sparked outrage by some who Cohen "duped" into sharing their bigoted views or in which he reminded us of their past misconduct. True, Cohen was disguised as different characters when he spoke to these people. But by hiding his identity, he simply made them feel comfortable to express their true feelings.

Arts and entertainment

Bassem Youssef

Celebrities

Comedians and comedy

Continents and regions

Donald Trump

Late night television

Lenny Bruce

Misc people

North America

Political Figures - US

Sacha Baron Cohen

Television programming

The Americas

United States

Discrimination

Societal issues

Society

For example, in the show's second episode, a disguised Cohen presented a faux plan to build a mega-mosque to a group of people in Kingman, a small town in Arizona. The attendees responded with comments such as: "I'm racist toward Muslims" and "He's saying there's black people in Kingman that aren't welcome there, either, but we tolerate them."

Did Cohen take advantage of them? Nope, Cohen, through his comedy, simply allowed them to show us who they are.

Kingman Mayor Monica Gates told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Friday those comments don't represent the residents of her town. "We are a diverse, welcoming and embracing community," Gates said. "And to the extent that prejudice and racism does exist in every community, we will take strides to ensure that we educate and bring our community together."

On Sunday's episode, Alabama's Roy Moore, who lost his bid for the US Senate last December in part because of allegations of improper sexual misconduct with teenage girls, was outraged that an undercover Cohen highlighted those claims in a comedic segment. Moore, who stormed out mid-interview, slammed the comedian in a statement afterward, "As for Mr. Cohen, whose art is trickery, deception and dishonesty, Alabama does not respect cowards who exhibit such traits!" If Moore was so concerned about having those allegations being raised again, maybe he shouldn't be doing on-camera interviews — especially with people he doesn't know!

Comedians under fire

The reality is that the truth can hurt, even when wrapped in a punchline. There's no better example of that today than Donald J. Trump. Just a few weeks ago, the 45th President of the United States was so triggered by late-night comedians mocking him that he lashed out at three of them by name, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, at a campaign rally.

But Trump has done more than whine about comedians treating him "unfairly." He even took to Twitter just a month before the 2016 election demanding that "Saturday Night Live" be canceled because, as he put it, the show did a "hit job on me." In reality, the iconic late-night show had comedically (and accurately) depicted Trump's hypocrisy concerning the rash of sexual assault claims that had been leveled against him at the time. Alec Baldwin, as Trump, demanded the victims of Bill Clinton's alleged sexual misconduct "need to be respected and their voices need to be heard." But when asked about the women accusing him of sexual misconduct, "Trump" shot back: "They need to shut the hell up."

But Trump lashing out at comedians is nothing compared to what happened to comedy legend Lenny Bruce. Incredibly, Bruce was arrested not once but eight times for "obscene" jokes he told at nightclubs. Bruce's lawyer at the time argued rightly that the comedian was actually being prosecuted for his jokes mocking those in power, as well as ridiculing religion. But that didn't stop Bruce from being convicted in 1964 for violating New York's obscenity laws and being sentenced to hard labor.

Think about that for a moment: A comedian was sentenced to hard labor for telling jokes that upset those in power. As one of the New York district attorneys who prosecuted Bruce's case later candidly revealed, "We drove him into poverty and bankruptcy and then murdered him. We all knew what we were doing. We used the law to kill him." Bruce tragically died of a morphine overdose while the appeal to this conviction was pending.

The 'Jon Stewart of Egypt'

And the fear that some in power have about comedians revealing the truth is not limited to the United States. Bassem Youssef, who is referred to as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt," found that out the hard way. In 2013, Youssef's jokes mocking then-President Mohamed Morsi led to his arrest. (I bet Trump wishes he could do that to American comedians!) Fortunately, Youssef was freed the same day and was able to continue to host his wildly popular "Daily Show"-esque comedy show on Egyptian television.

But after Morsi was replaced by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2014, it became clear that Youssef's brand of comedic truth-telling would no longer be permitted in Egypt. Consequently, Youssef was forced to flee his homeland for the safety of himself and his family and he now lives in exile in the United States. (Youssef recently joked to me that living in the United States under Trump is easy for him because he was raised in a dictatorship.)

Comedy is inherently subversive. It can reveal bigotry and challenge people in power. And comedy can reveal truths that some don't like. For those upset by the jokes, change the channel, or don't click on the videos.

Or better yet, stop whining and start laughing.

The reality is that they'll never be able to silence these rebels with a comedic cause who are armed to the teeth with punchlines — so they might as well enjoy a few laughs.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 296745

Reported Deaths: 6783
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19774231
Hinds18916394
Harrison16850282
Rankin12823265
Jackson12700230
Lee9711162
Madison9499204
Jones8017148
Forrest7272138
Lauderdale6856227
Lowndes6051140
Lamar592081
Lafayette5761114
Washington5229130
Bolivar4626124
Oktibbeha442694
Panola433198
Pearl River4205132
Warren4143115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405192
Monroe3994128
Union396674
Neshoba3836170
Lincoln3590104
Hancock351978
Leflore3394120
Sunflower319786
Tate303574
Pike301996
Scott295771
Alcorn292563
Yazoo291466
Itawamba290575
Coahoma282769
Tippah280065
Copiah279759
Simpson277180
Prentiss271258
Wayne254841
Leake253572
Marion252878
Covington249980
Grenada248778
Adams235378
George232445
Newton232252
Winston222179
Jasper213945
Tishomingo213065
Attala206871
Chickasaw201753
Holmes182770
Clay179351
Stone173129
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170273
Calhoun158628
Smith153633
Yalobusha145636
Greene128133
Walthall124840
Noxubee123331
Montgomery123140
Perry122735
Lawrence120821
Carroll119325
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99624
Claiborne99029
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper90823
Quitman77414
Franklin76420
Choctaw69917
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62527
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 498887

Reported Deaths: 10122
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719121402
Mobile36328740
Madison32639469
Tuscaloosa24372421
Montgomery22765520
Shelby22231218
Baldwin19890289
Lee15057158
Calhoun13901294
Morgan13770255
Etowah13407325
Marshall11452213
Houston10130264
Elmore9499190
Limestone9429138
St. Clair9041227
Cullman8991183
Lauderdale8618214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7628165
Walker6593259
Jackson6551104
Autauga633392
Blount6246128
Colbert6004121
Coffee5268104
Dale4676107
Russell407333
Franklin400078
Covington3998106
Chilton3902103
Escambia379273
Tallapoosa3631143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3422142
Pike293273
Marion288595
Lawrence285386
Winston258568
Bibb245758
Marengo243057
Geneva240570
Pickens225557
Barbour213951
Hale212269
Fayette202257
Butler201766
Henry183641
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165140
Washington156836
Macon147745
Crenshaw146555
Clay146054
Cleburne139941
Lamar133933
Lowndes132851
Wilcox122825
Bullock117436
Conecuh107024
Perry106227
Sumter100432
Coosa90224
Greene88732
Choctaw55423
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
35° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 30°
Columbus
Clear
38° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 34°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 32°
Starkville
Clear
36° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 36°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather