Showtime is standing behind Sacha Baron Cohen.
On Monday, the company released a statement defending the comedian and star of its new comedy series “Who Is America?” after former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin claimed that Baron Cohen “duped” her into an interview by pretending to be a disabled war veteran named Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D.
It’s an accusation that Baron Cohen has publicly denied, albeit in character. Last week Ruddick’s Twitter account said, “I did NOT say I was a War Vet. I was in the service ― not military, but United Parcel, and I only fought for my country once ― when I shot a Mexican who came onto my property.”
In its more sober response this week, Showtime said:
There has been widespread misinformation over the past week about the character of Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D., performed by Sacha Baron Cohen on the Showtime comedy series Who Is America? Baron Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran, and viewers nationwide who watched the premiere on Sunday can now attest to that.
The premium cable network then pointed to Baron-Cohen-as-Ruddick’s interview of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the first episode. Sanders asked Ruddick if he was disabled.
“He stated that he is not and uses a mobility scooter to conserve his energy,” Showtime wrote.
The network said that in dealing with Palin, Baron Cohen never presented himself as a U.S. military veteran and never wore any military apparel of any kind “during the booking process or during the filming of her interview.” Showtime also noted that Baron Cohen did not appear in a wheelchair.
Last week the former Alaska governor published a scathing post on her website and her Facebook page describing her experience with Baron Cohen’s “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.’” She called on the former “Borat” star, Showtime and CBS (Showtime’s parent company) to “donate all proceeds to a charitable group that actually respects and supports American Vets.”
Disgraced former Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore also claimed last week that he was conned into an interview with Baron Cohen and accused the comedian of “trickery, deception and dishonesty.”
A #BoycottShowtime campaign has been launched on Twitter.
This week, a billboard appeared across the street from CBS studios in Los Angeles, per the Hollywood Reporter. The billboard, which was reportedly created by a “conservative street artist,” reads: “Sacha Baron Cohen Walks Away With a Hit ... and a touch of stolen valor. Who Is America? Sat, 9pm. CBS.”
Not every public personality who was interviewed by Baron Cohen as Ruddick has lashed out after discovering that they were misled.
Ted Koppel admitted to being fooled by Baron Cohen last week as well. The veteran journalist said he had a feeling that something was off when the man who was interviewing him — whom Koppel described as sitting in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank — kept asking him about the crowd size at President Donald Trump’s inauguration rather than questions pertaining to the subject matter Koppel was told they’d discuss.