He refused for many years to give interviews as himself. He occasionally spoke as his characters. He tended to let criticism pass without refutation, as when journalists wondered if Ali G was in the tradition of Al Jolson, and when Abe Foxman, the former director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Borat, fearing the character could encourage anti-Semitism because some people may miss the irony.
After the White Nationalist Summit in Charlottesville, Virginia, a terrified Mr. Baron Cohen reached out to Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the ADL, who persuaded the star to give the keynote address at last year̵
“I was just so impressed with his intelligence,” Greenblatt said. “These subjects are at the heart of his motif for his unique art style. More than anyone in public life today, he reveals bias – whether it is anti-Semitism, homophobia or rank racism – for what it is, shameful and offensive and ignorant. (In fact, Mr Baron Cohen used Hebrew and some Polish as a stand-in for the Kazakh language in Borat.)
The actor began his speech by saying that to be clear, “when I say ‘racism, hatred and bigotry’, I do not refer to the names of Stephen Miller’s Labradoodles.” He later noted that while his stunts could be “youthful” and “childish”, at least some are aimed at getting people to reveal what they actually believe in, like “when Borat was able to get a whole bar in Arizona to sing “Throw Jew Down the Well,” it revealed the indifference of the people to anti-Semitism. ”
He burned the lords of the cloud, saying that Facebook would run and micro-target any “political” ad that anyone wants, even if it’s a lie. “If Facebook was in the 1930s,” he said, “it would have allowed Hitler to post 30-second ads on his ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem.'”
The speech catalyzed the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign with a coalition of civil rights groups and Mr. Baron Cohen, who struggled with celebrities. Giving the speech was “completely out of my comfort zone,” he said, because “I have always been reluctant to be celebrity, and I have always been careful to use my fame to really push any political perception.”