Back in 2003, before fake news had an official name, an emerging rapper from suburban London named Alistair Leslie Graham, known to his mates (and the rest of the world) as Ali G, sat down to pitch a business idea to New York City’s most infamous real estate mogul, Donald J Trump.
The brief interview from the second season of Sasha Baron Cohen’s ingenious Da Ali G Show is just under two minutes of pure gold that crescendos with the now-president abruptly ending the chat and walking off set.
14 years later, the Donald uses the segment’s brief running time as evidence he was immediately aware of Ali’s comedic persona, yet Cohen maintains the full interview ran for roughly seven minutes and Trump was oblivious for its entirety.
As none of us were present on that fateful day, we’ll never really know who left that room with the upper hand. But we can pull out the magnifying glass and detective our way to an educated guess. Best to give this a watch before proceeding:
Trump’s history of business
Ali: “So, how long has there been businesses?”
Trump: “Well, business started from day one. From early in the world.”
Ali begins the interview by asking overly simplistic questions about the history of business and Trump responds with overly simplistic answers, but let’s look closer.
First, pay close attention to Trump’s facial expressions between hearing the question and delivering the answer. It’s clear the man quickly mentally translates Ali’s question from Staines to New York English, then answers the question directly. I challenge you to pinpoint a single smirk or double take.
So far, nothing suggests Trump is anything but engaged.
His actual answers to Ali’s introductory questions also speak volumes. It’s clear Trump is under the impression this Ali fellow is a no-good slacker and therefore deserves a response fit for a toddler, adopting a pattern of speech even more base than the one he uses while addressing the American public.
Round one to Ali.
Ali G’s initial pitch
Ali: What’s the most popular thing in the world?
Trump: Tell me…
If you ever caught a single season of The Apprentice or its celeb incarnation, or witnessed any of Trump’s interactions on the campaign trail, you’d know he doesn’t suffer (who he perceives to be) fools lightly. Especially those in his house: the business arena.
When Ali asks if he can pitch a business idea, Trump responds with “very quickly” in a way that’s completely in line with his persona as the know-it-all mogul – that billionaire who’s heard more elevator pitches than there are elevators. Sure, he’s aloof. Sure, he has not one jot of respect for this dimwitted scallywag. But there’s still no gesture or mannerism that suggests he’s knowingly playing along with a master satirist.
Ali: And what’s the problem with ice-cream?
Trump: I have no idea.
Ali: It drips.
Ali: So me idea iz…
Trump: To make a drip-proof ice-cream.
Ali: No… that’s a f***ing brilliant idea.
We’re one minute and 11 seconds into the interview and Trump is still engaged, albeit reluctantly – the most potent piece of evidence being Trump’s reaction to being called “brilliant”. We all know Trump’s ego is in need of 24-hour upkeep and you can see that monster being fed in the half-chuffed reaction. Trump’s smile suggests he knows he’s said nothing of brilliance, but will still take the compliment home and add it to the spank bank.
Round two to Ali.
Up to this point, all signs suggest Trump’s claim of immediately clocking onto Cohen’s shtick doesn’t hold a drop of water. The only remaining question is whether or not at some point towards the end of the chat, he did.
Cue ominous pipe organ.
The mystery of the ice cream glove
It’s in the final 20 seconds of the bit that things get a little sticky. There are two ways of interpreting the action:
The first is that for Trump, time is money. He’s given this semi-illiterate street urchin enough time, understands the crux of the idea for protective gloves while handling ice-cream and expends the last of his patience. Trump then ends the interview, forcing out a final bit of diplomacy by wishing Ali well and, in the name of PR, thanking the audience at home via the camera.
The second is that while Ali was taking the glove bit further (“and also keep your hands warm while you iz eating da ice-cream”), Trump realises this situation just cannot be real and he’s been taken for a ride. Perhaps Cohen stretched the bounds of plausibility a little too far and Trump figured out that no-one he’s ever met, either in or out of an elevator, has ever been thick enough to even pitch dedicated gloves for ice-cream consumption.
To tell you the truth, I’m still see-sawing between the two interpretations. If Trump cottoned on, surely a man with such a colossal ego would want to make it known and unmask Ali as an impostor. Then again, if he spoke of his realisation this late into the interview, perhaps he would have looked the fool.
Or maybe the man had grown suspicious but wasn’t entirely sure, so he kept his mouth shut for fear of misjudgement.
Round three’s a tie.
What I am sure of is that Ali G Remixed, the show that compiles the best bits of Cohen’s enduring brilliance, is about to air on SBS VICELAND. Perhaps by the time the show finishes its run, we’ll have a more definitive answer.
Until then, let’s give Trump the last word, as that’s what he would have wanted:
Watch Ali G Remixed on SBS VICELAND on Saturday 29 July at 7:40pm.