Best known for his character Ali G, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was born in London in 1971 to a British father and an Israeli mother. He first assumed the role on Channel 4's The Eleven O'Clock Show in 1999, embarrassing himself as well as clueless interviewees as a British hip-hop wannabe, acting as the "voice of da youth." The character was wildly popular, gaining Baron Cohen his own program, Da Ali G Show, in 2000, which was brought to the U.S. in 2003. Baron Cohen employed a comedic technique that consisted mainly of acting stupid as many well-known guests such as Pat Buchanan, Buzz Aldrin, and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, afraid of looking uncool, would play along and try to answer his inane or bizarre questions. He eventually took his alter ego to the big screen with the feature film, Ali G Indahouse; the 2002 movie found Ali G trying to prevent his neighborhood from being demolished after he is elected to Parliament.
Da Ali G Show also included segments from two of Baron Cohen's other characters. Bruno, an Austrian fashion reporter from a fictional program called Gay TV, frequently put homophobic guests on the spot, while misogynistic Kazakhstani immigrant Borat showcased his flagrant anti-Semitism to clueless interviewees who, failing to catch onto the satirical nature of the show, would either join him in his bigoted beliefs or try to explain American values to him. Controversy surrounded all three of Baron Cohen's characters, as critics blasted him for endorsing racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. HBO, which aired Da Ali G Show, insisted that all of the show's characters were meant to make fun of the prejudiced and ignorant, not the persecuted. It has also been noted that Baron Cohen himself is Jewish and is very proud of his cultural background.
In 2005, he lent his vocal talents to the animated film Madagascar, marking a departure from his Ali G Show characters that he would cement in 2006 with a role in the Will Ferrell comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, as a flamboyant French Formula 1 driver who challenges Ferrell's NASCAR supremacy. A comedy match made in stock-car heaven, the summer release was the perfect chance for the comedian to try his hand at ensemble work, but he was soon growing his mustache out to reprise his Kazakhstani alter ego for the feature film Borat. Though followed by the usual controversy from those who misunderstood Baron Cohen's style, the film began generating buzz when it earned massive praise at Cannes, and despite beginning with a relatively small core audience, became the talk of Hollywood as perhaps the most innovative form of comedy to grace the screen in years. Baron Cohen took home a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy for his performance, and quickly became a household name in the States.
Following the success of Borat, Baron Cohen surprised his followers by playing (and singing) the role Signor Pirelli in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Looking ahead, Baron Cohen signed on to star in a big screen version of another character of his creation, the ever-fabulous Bruno, which garnered him headlines when he was arrested for crashing a fashion show in Milan. He earned strong reviews for his work in Martin Scorsese's Hugo.
By the time the Oscars rolled around for that film, Cohen was ready to promote his next project, The Dictator. He wanted to appear at the telecast, and on the red carpet, in character, but he was banned from doing this. The public kerfuffle kicked up so much buzz that the Academy relented, allowing his to walk the red carpet and conduct interviews as the fictional North African anti-Semetic character - a decision that ended up with Ryan Seacrest supposedly wearing the ashes of King Jong Il. The Dictator opened in 2012, and that same year he reprised his role as the lemur king in the third Madagascar movie. Baron Cohen finished his year up by playing Thénardier in Les Misérables, opposite his Sweeney Todd co-star Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier. The film was nominated for a slew of Academy & BAFTA Awards. The following year, he reunited with Ferrell with a cameo in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.