You can call Sacha Baron Cohen many things, including vulgar, hilarious and annoying. But what you can’t call him is lazy.
Mr. Cohen has been relentlessly pushing his new film, “The Dictator,” in which he plays a Colonel Qaddafi-style leader called Admiral General Aladeen, on morning television, talk shows, press conferences and interviews, non stop and all over the world. He began his campaign at the Oscars, when in full “Dictator” regalia he dumped the ashes of “Kim Jong Il” over a startled Ryan Seacrest. “He’s not the first Asian guy to end up all over his chest,” Mr. Cohen, as the Dictator, later said of Seacrest.
And Aladeen’s officers of propaganda, otherwise known as Paramount publicists, have been just as relentless at getting out press releases. Last week they announced Admiral General would be making a bus tour of 11 universities in 17 days to “educate people about his rise to power and his stance on key issues such as the woman’s place in this man’s world.” On the bus visitors can test out the new “The Dictator” iPad app as well as sample “delicious Wadiyan cuisine served by the General’s Virgin Guards. The slogan on the side of the bus reads, “Dictatorship: It’s Easier Than Voting.” The pit stops include the University of Arkansas, Kansas State University and University of Texas, Austin. The tour ends on May 17, the day after “The Dictator” opens, at the University of California, Irvine. It’s a party-hardy lineup of colleges. (Here’s the complete schedule: http://www.republicofwadiya.com/tour.php.)
A few days ago the Paramount publicists also sent out an interview with the Dictator conducted by former CNN anchor Larry King. Mr. King played it straight while Aladeen lamented that the best dictators, like Qaddafi and Hussein “are all gone,” although there was still Dick Cheney. The Dictator teared up at mention of Kim Jong Il, or as he calls him, K.J, who “died like he lived, in 3 inch heels.”
Then Saturday, the Dictator turned up on Saturday Night Live on Weekend Update. “Hello Zionist Seth Myers,” he told the host. He even “kidnapped” his “Hugo” director Martin Scorsese, who was wearing a hood and was tethered to some sort of torture device. “You think this is torture? I had to sit through ‘The Aviator,” the Admiral General said.
Then yesterday the Dictator pulled out all stops at a press conference in the lobby ballroom of the elegant Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where he was flanked by four beautiful female bodyguards holding AK-47s.
“Welcome Devils of the Zionist media. Death to the West!” Aladeen told a roomful of journalists from Playboy-German edition, Extra, E!, the Daily News, along with international journalists from Sweden, Holland, Israel and numerous other countries. In true dictator-style, Aladeen only answered questions that were pre-approved.
A source, a friend of mine who was sent by his casting agent to portray one of two dozen “supporters” of Aladeen, who held placards that said “Give Persecution a Chance” and cheered wildly on cue for the Dictator, told me his agency hired him because he looked like an Arab. My friend is actually of Hispanic-Spanish descent.
The press conference was well scripted and the jokes and jabs were nonstop. To a female reporter Aladeen said, “It’s so charming these female journalists. It’s like putting a dog on roller skates. It means nothing to them but to us it is adorable. She didn’t sound that amused. The full press conference is on YouTube.
What may also not be as much of a laughing matter is how “The Dictator” will go over in Middle Eastern and North African countries. Then there’s the fact that Mr. Cohen is an Orthodox Jew. This is also his first scripted movie since “Ali G Indahouse” (2002), a movie you can sometimes catch on late-night tv, and was only shown here following the success of “Borat: Cultural Learning of American for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006) and “Bruno” (2009).
Why Mr. Cohen is really working so hard is all about the box office. “Borat” made a colossal $128,505.958 according to Box Office Mojo, while “Bruno” made 60,054,530 million, or less than half that amount. No actor has worked harder to get audiences into movie theaters to see his film. That’s why we think he was only half joking when as the Dictator he made the threat, “My film will be released May 16. As for your families, that is up to you.”