Remember Who Is America? Somehow it feels like years since Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest series aired earlier this summer. Also it was on Showtime, which means it kind of feels like it never actually aired at all. It came, it got a lot of press for Cohen tricking various political figures (including Sarah Palin, Joe Arpaio, Corey Lewandowski and more) into embarrassing themselves, and then it went, destined to wind up as little more than a curious artifact from this particular moment in time within just a few years. (Seriously, have you watched Da Ali G Show recently? It’s still hilarious in spots, but like much political comedy it doesn’t entirely hold up that well years after it was made.)
The show wrapped up its season in August, but Showtime and Baron Cohen will have at least one thing to remember it by for months to come: a big ol’ lawsuit by Roy Moore, the former Alabama judge and Senate candidate who’s probably best known on the national stage today for accusations of sexual misconduct with minors. During a segment on Who Is America, Baron Cohen, in the guise of an Israeli anti-terrorist expert, demonstrated a device that detects tunnels to Roy Moore; it could also detect other “abnormalities,” according to Baron Cohen’s character, including an enzyme that’s secreted by “sex offenders and particularly pedophiles.” It’s pretty obvious where this is headed: the machine buzzed whenever it came near Moore, and didn’t buzz for Baron Cohen or a member of the show’s crew. Here’s the clip:
This isn’t a particularly great segment even for Who Is America, which was only sporadically funny or smart, and nowhere near as entertaining as the old Ali G show. Baron Cohen’s specialty is getting politicians and other public figures to actively say or do something that’s surreal and embarrassing and that reveals the inner nature they generally hide from the public (or that at least reaffirms the preconceived notions some viewers have about what that inner nature is like). Moore isn’t really a participant here, though—he simply sits there as Baron Cohen uses a metal detector to do an unnecessarily complicated riff on late night talk show jokes about Moore’s potential sex crimes.
Whether it’s funny or not doesn’t matter to Moore, obviously. (I doubt anybody can really laugh it up when they’re being called a pedophile to their face.) Moore’s lawsuit contends that Baron Cohen perpetrated fraud upon him by scheduling a meeting under false premises, and that the comedian’s portrayal of the former judge as a sex offender “has severely harmed Judge Moore’s reputation and caused him, Mrs. Moore, and his entire family severe emotional distress, as well as caused and will cause Plaintiffs financial damage.” (You can find more details at Deadline’s piece on the lawsuit.) He’s asking for $95 million, which just shows how out of touch Moore is with how the nation at large views his reputation.
I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure Moore has no chance of winning this thing. He’s a public figure, which means he’s wide open for satire, and he was already held in contempt by a large portion of America well before that episode of Who Is America ever aired. Baron Cohen couldn’t damage Moore’s reputation because his reputation had already been nuked by the credible accusations that came out about him during his campaign. Moore suing Baron Cohen for defamation would be like suing only one guy in a firing squad for murder.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Showtime probably aren’t sweating this lawsuit. If there was the slightest chance they could get sued over this show Showtime’s corporate overlords at CBS never would’ve let it air. It’s interesting to know that the system will let you sue a show for defamation if it airs on a network nobody seems to actually watch, though. As pointless as this whole thing is, it should have at least one positive outcome, no matter the actual result: if Moore’s pouring his own money into this lawsuit, that’s a decent amount of bucks that can’t be used in whatever election he hopes to run in next.