Showtime is stepping in to defend star Sacha Baron Cohen amid backlash over his new series “Who Is America?” and a prank Sarah Palin claims he pulled on her by posing as fictional disabled veteran Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Ph.D.
“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?'” Showtime said in a statement to TheWrap Monday. “Baron Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran, and viewers nationwide who watched the premiere on Sunday can now attest to that.”
“In Sunday’s episode, during an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders, Baron Cohen in character as Dr. Ruddick was asked by the Senator if he is disabled, and he stated that he is not and uses a mobility scooter to conserve his energy,” the premium cable channel continued. “In addition, Baron Cohen never presented himself as a veteran of the U.S. military to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin during the booking process or during the filming of her interview, and contrary to her claims he did not appear in a wheelchair. In both the interview with Governor Palin and the interview with Senator Sanders, he did not wear military apparel of any kind.”
Last week, Palin posted a message to Facebook in which she stated, “I join a long list of American public personalities who have fallen victim to the evil, exploitive [sic], sick ‘humor’ of the British ‘comedian’ Sacha Baron Cohen, enabled and sponsored by CBS/Showtime.”
She expressed anger over traveling with her daughter to meet a wounded veteran, who was really Baron Cohen in disguise, under the guise of a “legit Showtime historical documentary.”
Two days later, Baron Cohen tweeted a picture of a typewritten (joke) letter from Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr.’s account, denying that he duped Palin at all. (The Twitter account is indeed legit and tied directly to Baron Cohen, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told TheWrap.)
“I did NOT say I was a War Vet,” Baron Cohen wrote. “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,” he added, further explaining that: “(Coincidentaly [sic], just like our Great President, I was sadly prevented from joining the regular army on account of bone spurs bein [sic] discovered in my testies).”
Monday morning, the saga continued as conservative street artist Sabo vandalized a billboard across the street from CBS Studios in Los Angeles by pasting a fake ad for “Who Is America?” over a billboard for the sitcom “Young Sheldon.”
“It seems there’s no depth the Hollywood Left would not sink [to] after hearing Sacha [Baron] Cohen was running around masquerading as a disabled American veteran,” artist Sabo told TheWrap, exclusively, taking credit for the billboard. “And no, the damage control Showtime tried to pull by saying [Baron] Cohen was equally going after the Left because he took a stab at Chelsea Clinton and Bernie Sanders is not good enough.”
The fake ad shows an image of Baron Cohen seated in a wheelchair, wearing a U.S. Army t-shirt and a “Make America Great Again” hat. He’s also got a prosthetic leg. The billboard reads: “Sacha Baron Cohen Walks Away With a Hit…and a touch of stolen valor. Who Is America? Sat, 9pm. CBS.” (“Who is America?” actually airs Sundays at 10 p.m.)
See a clip of Baron Cohen in character as Ruddick above.
“Who is America?” airs Sundays at 10/9c on Showtime.