I should have picked up on all the clues my host dropped during the taping of a television show I was recently a guest on. Just looking at him is clue number one. One would have thought that having watched the MTV Europe Music Awards and having seen Madonna's "Music" video, I would have remembered the bright yellow jumpsuit, stretch Tommy cap and over-the-top goggles of Ali G. (I think I just figured European club fashion was going through a real bad phase.)
Listening to him talk is clue number two. Like a white British version of Snoop Dogg, his slang and accent are known very well by his fans. (An Internet translator is available for those that need help understanding him.)
His questions should have been the final indication that something was afoot. (It hit me when he asked the public sex educator to my left, "Does impregnation by anal sex lead to gay babies?" that he couldn't be serious.) Instead of trying to regain composure, I should have kept on laughing when he asked all of us those insane questions. As it turns out, my instinct to laugh was correct.
The man sitting in front of me, unbeknownst to me, was not the host of a teenage documentary series in the U.K., as I had been lead to believe. He was indeed Ali G, a.k.a. chameleon comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and on a cloudy day back in November, my three other panelists and I were taken for a ride not quite like any other.
I received an email from the Mission Year office. They had received an email from a producer who said she was working on a six-part documentary series geared towards teenagers for Channel 4 Television in the U.K. Her reason for contacting Mission Year was that she was currently working on an episode about sex and was looking for "a passionate and articulate, abstinent man in his early 20s." Apparently, some people in the office thought I fit the bill.
Two days later I found myself in a private dressing room in a television studio in Washington D.C. It was in this room that, completely unaware of his true identity, I first met Ali G. His clothing immediately struck me as funny. He looked like he had been recently kicked out of the Newsboys. I kept thinking that if he were in my city of Philly dressed like that, he would probably get beaten up and robbed.
He introduced himself as Rahiem. His teeth were gold-plated. This guy was trying so hard I felt bad for him. He didnt say much, only enough to introduce himself and then gracefully exit the room. People continuously came in and out of my dressing roomattendants, producers, hair and makeup (that was a weird one). Every last one of them was extremely friendly and kind. They really knew how to make someone feel comfortable and relaxed. In other words, they knew how to cover Ali G's butt.
As I entered the studio, I found two loveseats and an armchair waiting. The studio set background was a generic cardboard brick wall with a chain-link fence in front. On the wall were spray-painted imagesthe main one being the word "SEX" across the middle two panels. Behind where I was to be seated was the spray-painted image of a topless woman. ("Great," I thought. "That means almost every camera shot of me will include two big breasts in the background. Lucky me.")
After our microphones were checked and the tape was rolling, "Rahiem" introduced me and the other panelists. The man to my left was a public sex educator. The woman on my right was a conservative lobbyist from Concerned Women for America. The third woman turned out to be an adult film actress. I knew being part of this show was going to be surreal, but this was a bit more than I anticipated.
Jan, from CWA, was just about the most stereotypical conservative lobbyist I had ever encountered. I constantly found myself agreeing with her wholeheartedly on issues of sexual purity one moment, and the next I would find my face contorted in utter confusion as she would pull out isolated, obtuse incidents to illustrate her point.