Sacha Baron Cohen’s style of prank-based comedy isn’t usually very subtle—at least to the audience watching at home—but the whole Sarah Palin saga surrounding his Showtime series Who Is America? may be one of his most delightfully low-key burns ever. In order to make Sarah Palin look like a dummy, he didn’t need very obvious facial prosthetics, a wacky accent, or even a classic “my wife”-style catchphrase, he just needed her to be herself.
The whole thing started earlier this summer, before Showtime had really said much of anything about Who Is America?, with Sarah Palin admitting in an interview that she had given a “long ‘interview’” to a man she later learned was Sacha Baron Cohen in disguise. We don’t know what they talked about, other than the fact that Showtime denied Palin’s claim that Baron Cohen was pretending to be a disabled military veteran, we just know that Palin said she had no intention of trying to stop Showtime from airing the interview because “shallow Sacha boy” would only release a “heavily edited” version anyway. That, as it turns out, was her undoing (at least to the extent that getting very gently dunked on can be called an “undoing”).
Because of Palin, a lot more people heard about Who Is America? than otherwise would have, since Showtime wasn’t really promoting it until the week or so before it premiered. Then, earlier this month, Showtime’s president of programming Gary Levine noted that “there are several people who have thrown themselves in front of buses that may not be heading their way” and that Baron Cohen has a “very high bar” for which of his segments actually make it to air.
Last night, Showtime aired the finale of Who Is America?, and while Palin’s interview never did make it to air, Baron Cohen managed to sneak in an excellent burn anyway:
It’s an easy joke, and it’s not particularly hilarious, but the way Who Is America? held any acknowledgement of Sarah Palin until the end of the finale’s credits—the last possible moment—is pretty brilliant. It seems unlikely that Palin actually sat through all of Who Is America? to see a “heavily edited” clip of herself she could complain about on Fox News, but hopefully she appreciates that her complaints acted as a very good setup for this credits punchline.