Riotous, rude, controversial, even racist (or "racialist," as he might say)—these have been just a few adjectives used to describe the cultural phenomenon Ali G, the creation of British-born actor-comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Invented for the short-lived British sketch comedy series, “The 11 O’Clock Show” (Channel 4, 1998-2000), Ali G made an immediate impact as "Channel 4’s official voice of youth." Ali G’s often hilarious interviews with unsuspecting politicians and celebrities became an immediate hit with UK viewers. So believable was Cohen as Ali G that many thought the former didn’t exist. Some politicians, including Labour party member Tony Benn, left studio interviews believing the ignorant rapper-wannabe was genuine, though Ali G’s comment to Benn that Margaret Thatcher was a communist did come off as suspect. But for Cohen, his alter ego proved to be more than just a comedic vehicle—it was the beginning of a bright and prosperous career.
Cohen was born into a prominent home in December of 1970—the Baron Cohen family owned several business in England, including Baron Suits in London, Knightsbridge and Calders Outfitters in Cardiff, Wales. His comfortable home life afforded Cohen the opportunity to attend the best schools, including Haberdasher-Askes Boys’ School and later Cambridge University. It was at Haberdasher that Cohen met Dan Mazer, who later became a producer during Cohen’s reign as Ali G. Meanwhile, in 1989, Cohen joined the Habonim Jewish Youth Group and appeared in Neil Simon’s “Biloxi Blues”, thus igniting a passion for acting. But his acting plans soon went on hold, as Cohen left London for Israel, where he spent a year at the Rosh Hanikra Kibbutz learning more about his roots and faith.
Upon returning to Britain, Cohen attended Cambridge, where he worked toward a degree in history while continuing his focus on acting. In 1991, he played Doolittle the Dustman in a production of “My Little Fairy”; he played the lead in a West End production of “Fiddler on the Roof”; and in 1993, Cohen had a singing role in “My Fair Lady”. Later in the decade, Cohen made the jump from stage to screen on the Paramount Comedy Channel. Cohen appeared on the station as filler in between programmes, where he developed his skill for embarrassing interviews—a later hallmark of Ali G.
Cohen was hired on to the “11 O’Clock Show” after sending the producers a tape of him posing as an Albanian reporter interviewing fox hunters, and Ali G was soon born. In 1999, Cohen won Best Newcomer in the British Comedy Awards, which led to his own programme, “Da Ali G Show” (Channel 4, 2000). On the new show, Cohen created a new character, Borat, Kazakhstan's top media personality, while further developing Ali G’s comical antics. Cohen continued to receive accolades, including Personality of the Year in 2000 from the TV Quick Awards and Best TV Entertainment Production at the 2000 Ethnic Multicultural Awards, despite complains from critics that Ali G was racist. In 2001, Ali G appeared in Madonna’s music video “Music”, in which the two went head-to-head on turntables in cartoon form.
Ali G and Borat soon crossed the Atlantic Ocean, where “Da Ali G Show” (HBO, 2003- ) appeared on American cable television. Despite the new location, Ali G kept up old tricks, including his famed interviews with unsuspecting political figures. In one memorable interview, Ali G pushed former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan into admitting that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2003) was only slightly better than “Lethal Weapon 3” (1992). Ali G’s popularity led Cohen to make a feature film with the character, “Ali G Indahouse” (2002). In the movie, the clueless rapper gets hand-picked by an unscrupulous member of Parliament intent on upsetting the Prime Minister in the next election. Despite his obvious ignorance, Ali G finds himself climbing the political ladder. The movie was released in the UK in 2002, but never found it’s way to the States. Meanwhile, Cohen began developing a remake of the French feature, “"Le Diner de Cons "Le Diner de Cons” (1998), tentatively titled “Dinner for Schmucks”, which was set-up at Dreamworks. Meanwhile, Cohen provided his voice to “Madagascar” (2005), Disney’s animated adventure about four zoo animals who escape and inadvertently find themselves in Africa where the city slickers struggle to survive in the wild.