The secret to Sacha Baron Cohen's particular brand of comedy has always been its unpredictability. When you watch one of his signature creations -- be it Ali G or Borat or Bruno -- interact with an unsuspecting dignitary, celebrity or just a plain old Average Joe, you have absolutely no idea what he'll do or say... or what they'll do or say in response. His ability to improvise in the moment without breaking character is what makes him such a formidable talent. Even if a particular encounter doesn't yield many laughs, you have to admire the guy for his fearlessness.
So it was a bit of a surprise to see Cohen largely sticking to the script during a recent press conference hyping his new movie, The Dictator, in which he plays General Aladeen, the fictitious ruler of a fictitious North African country named Wadiya. The event itself, which took place in the Empire Ballroom at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, was carefully stage-managed; reporters were asked to submit questions beforehand and only a select few were singled out to ask pre-determined questions during the conference itself. And prior to the actor's in-character arrival, a group of recruited supporters entered the ballroom brandishing signs praising the dictator's leadership and milled about awkwardly until they were instructed to start chanting "Aladeen, Aladeen." (They seemed equally uncertain what to do with themselves during the conference; mostly, they stood by gaping, only raising their voices when their "leader" pointed at them.) Cohen -- uh, I mean, Admiral General Aladeen -- started off with a few prepared remarks:
"Welcome devils of the Zionist media and death to the West! Today I wish to highlight the plight of a terribly endangered group, the innocent victims of a global human tragedy: dictators. In recent years, tyrants all over the world have fallen one by one -- Saddam, Kim Jong-il, Gaddafi and Oprah. The fact is we dictators are not bad. While Western countries continue to ravage our planet's resources, we conserve our land and preserve it... by burying thousands of opponents in mass eco-graves.... I want to thank the United Nations for their brave inaction over Syria. Thirteen months and still no Security Council resolution! You guys are amazing. You have done next to nothing for the Syrian people. But remember, you can always do less!"
After that, he opened the floor to the handpicked journalists to ask their designated questions, thus setting him up to deliver his prepared comic bits. While many of his answers did have the feel of a stand-up routine, Cohen did use the reactions of the crowd and the individual journalists to generate some spontaneous moments. For example, when certain reporters didn't leave the microphone fast enough, he asked whether they were planning on standing up there all day. Later on, he lasciviously propositioned a reporter from E!, inquired about the size of an Israeli journalist's penis and berated the crowd when they groaned at some of his more risqué jokes, most of which were aimed at women and/or Jews. (For what it's worth, Cohen comes from a devoutly Jewish family and even wrote his university thesis paper on the Jewish involvement in the '60s civil rights movement. He's also married to actress Isla Fisher, with whom he has two children. So it's safe to say that his character's views don't reflect his own.) Those off-book moments proved to be the highlights of the conference as they were vintage Cohen, as opposed to choreographed Aladeen. But in the interests of giving this visiting foreign ruler his say, here are some of Aladeen's most memorable comments.
On his favorite Hollywood movies
I love American films, particularly their fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings or Schindler's List. Me and [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad studied at the same Holocaust denial institute, the head of which is Mel Gibson. Also, I'm a fan of Sherlock Holmes; there's always a great twist at the end where they solve the case. I never see that coming. But my favorite film ever was from 1963 and features JFK in Dallas.... There are differences between the Wadiyan film industry and Hollywood. People say I am extravagant for using 20 million bottles of Fiji water every day to make snow for my ski resort in the middle of the desert, but am I the person who greenlit John Carter? When it comes to making films, I am a purist. I don't rely on dodgy CGI. If I need 10,000 villagers to be driven off a cliff, I make it happen.
On channel surfing in Wadiya
When I am not watching my people, I am glued to my couch watching television. My favorite shows are Wadiyan. We have our version of Two and a Half Men. It used to be called Three Men, but one of them tried to steal a grapefruit. Also, I love the program 24. We play it backwards so it has a happy ending. And Laverne & Shirley! I like it, it's good fun. I can show it to any one of my 1,600 children and not worry about it. All of them are boys. That's not a coincidence. We also have Wadiyan Idol where the people build a massive statue of me.
On which politician he would support in the American presidential race
I would say Santorum, despite his liberal views; but since he is out of the running, I don't know. In terms of policies, I would say [I agree with] the Republicans if they would only become a little less extreme. I mean there are some real double standards. What people call genocide in my country is called the judicial system in Texas. But in terms of getting into politics in America, I would have to support the Democrats. If they can enable a Kenyan to become president, why not a Wadiyan? But I give my full support to Romney. He has the makings of a great dictator; he is incredibly wealthy, pays no taxes and it's not much of a leap to go from firing people to firing squads and to go from putting pets on the top of cars to putting political dissidents on top of them. He taught me how to do that.
On his personal security detail
I have 25 female virgin guards, who protect me at all times. I know they are virgins, because I have their virginity checked every night by the head... of my penis. [Groans from the audience] Oh, you are so worried about everyone's feelings, you Americans! You can never do anything or say anything. Everything's forbidden in this country. Relax, relax -- you've got to relax.
On the many female celebrities he's bedded over the years, including Megan Fox
Congratulations to Megan Fox [on her possible pregnancy]. There are rumors that I am the father. But this is literally impossible. It would be the first ever anal conception. And if she is pregnant, than so is Heidi Klum and also Donald Trump. He does anything for money. I have also made beautiful love and sex activity with Britney Spears, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian. She is a very nice girl, but unbelievably hairy. When I pulled her panties down, I thought I was looking in a mirror. [Groans from the audience again] What? I'm a dictator! You think I'm worried about a Persian girl with sisters? I would have Ahmadinejad recall her family and her back to Iran!
On whether he plans to organize a real-life Hunger Games in Wadiya
What is the point? North Korea has done it literally. Now Kim Jong-un is doing his own version of The Biggest Loser. Seven million people are competing to see who can lose the most weight.
On being compared to Adolf Hitler
Wow. I mean wow. Sorry, I'm getting choked up. It's one thing to be called Hitleresque, but to be in the same discussion as him, I feel like I've finally made it. My father actually knew Adolf and he barely had a single good word to say about him.
On his infamous red carpet encounter with Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars, when he dumped an urn with Kim Jong-il's "ashes" all over his suit.
It's not the first time [Seacrest has] had an Asian man poured all over his chest. I wanted to show him the urn was made in South Korea. I lifted it up and it fell on him. But it wasn't his ashes. His son, Kim Jong-un is so fat, he looks like he swallowed his father. And that's because he actually did! That was the remains of the barbecue. But that jacket is now the property of North Korea so Seacrest better give it back. You know that missile they set off? It was aimed at the E! studios.
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