Golden Globes: HFPA OKs Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Who Is America?' as Comedy Series (Exclusive)

There had been some question about whether or not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presides over the Globes, would be willing to classify the show as a comedy series, as it blends scripted and documentary-style footage.
Courtesy of Showtime

Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen's rookie Showtime program, will be eligible in the comedy series categories of the Golden Globes, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

There had been some question about whether or not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which presides over the Globes, would be willing to classify the show as a comedy series, as it blends scripted and documentary-style footage. On the show, which rolled out during July and August, Cohen appeared in heavy makeup as six different characters, who had unscripted and often outlandish interactions with real Americans.

A key consideration in the HFPA's decision was undoubtedly the way the organization handled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Larry Charles' 2006 film in which Cohen posed as a single character — Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh TV personality dispatched to America to report from inside the country — who engaged in similar antics. The HFPA nominated that film for the best picture (musical or comedy) Globe and awarded Cohen the Globe for best actor (musical or comedy).

Who Is America? will now be Globes-eligible alongside shows previously in the running, such as Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, FX's Atlanta, NBC's Will & Grace and Showtime's SMILF, as well as fellow first-timers like HBO's Barry, Netflix's The Kominsky Method, ABC's The Conners, FX's Mr. Inbetween and Showtime's Kidding.

Who Is America? features Cohen's first new characters in 15 years: Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello, a far-left activist and lecturer on gender studies; Gio Monaldo, an Italian billionaire fashion photographer with his own TV series; Erran Morad, an Israeli anti-terrorism expert; OMGWhizzBoyOMG!, a Finnish YouTuber; Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., PhD, a far-right conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed citizen journalist; and Rich Sherman, a recently released British ex-convict who makes art with bodily fluids. The actor averaged five hours in makeup for each.

Borat was a character he originated on British TV in the mid-'90s and was later one of three characters at the center of the actor-comedian's breakthrough program Da Ali G Show in the early 2000s, the others being Ali G, a streetwise poseur, and Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion enthusiast.

On Who Is America?, everyday and famous Americans inadvertently made fools of themselves, directly resulting in one elected official's resignation (Georgia state representative Jason Spencer) and contributing to the defeat of another (longtime U.S. congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California). While it generated mixed reviews, it drew considerable praise from fellow comedy-world figures, including Judd Apatow, Jimmy Kimmel, Mindy Kaling, Nick Kroll, B.J. Novak, Jordan Peele and Seth Rogen.

"I'm as happy as Dick Cheney at a waterboarding," Cohen tells THR in a statement. "Who Is America was never intended to be a conventional 30-minute comedy show. It's appreciated that the members of the HFPA have nonetheless decided to let it compete alongside more traditional shows. This can only serve to encourage innovation and risk-taking from programme-makers in the future."

"Sacha is a uniquely committed performer, and it's easy to underestimate his skill as an actor," David Nevins, the chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks, added in his own statement to THR. "The amount of preparation and attention to detail — not to mention sheer nerve — it takes to create and inhabit fictional characters that will pass muster in the real world is almost impossible to imagine, especially given the crazy layers of prosthetics he had to wear."

It is not clear yet whether Cohen and Showtime will try to mount a second season of the show, something that would presumably require Cohen to create and pose as new characters.