Showtime defends Sacha Baron Cohen, says comedian didn’t ‘present himself as a disabled veteran’ during ‘Who Is America?’ interviews

In this March 4, 2018 photo, Sacha Baron Cohen arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Evan Agostini / Associated Press)

Sacha Baron Cohen lied about his identity, but he never pretended to be a veteran, Showtime insisted Monday amid controversy.

The “Borat” funnyman debuted his new show, “Who Is America?,” on Showtime Sunday night, but much of the mockumentary’s advertising was done the week prior by a string of right-wing politicians and celebrities who had been duped by Cohen.

Among the loudest complainers were Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Joe Wilson, radio host Joe Walsh, former Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott and gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave, who all happily endorsed a program to arm kindergarteners in an attempt to stop school shootings.

But it was former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s allegations that Cohen had disguised himself as “a disabled US Veteran, fake wheelchair and all” to trick her into an interview, that led to a Los Angeles billboard Monday morning that accused Cohen of “stolen valor.”

“I sat through a long ‘interview’ full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm – but finally had enough and literally, physically removed my mic and walked out, much to Cohen’s chagrin,” Palin wrote on Facebook last week.

“The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse.”

Showtime had declined to comment at the time when reached by the Daily News, but finally put out a statement Monday after the pilot episode.

“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. 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 network said in a statement to the Daily News Monday.

“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.”

Ruddick was Cohen’s first new character presented Sunday night, the conspiracy-loving, scooter-riding founder of Truthbrary.org (like library, except not). In a conversation with Sanders, Ruddick attempted to convince the senator that the 99 percent should simply be added to the 1 percent in order to solve income inequality.