ALI G: The media. Lot of you out there probably never even 'eard of the word. Is books part of the media?
ALI G: What is the point of them? I mean I ain't done this, but-- has any of you actually ever read a book?
MAN: Oh! [LAUGHS] Of course! [LAUGHS]
ALI G: No, I-- Yo-- no, no, no - I is talking about the whole thing.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] This weekend marks the last episode in HBO's comedy series Da Ali G Show. Played by British comic Sasha Baron Cohen, Ali G is an East End would be hip hop star of apparently Indian extraction who interviews such famous guests as C. Everett Koop and former UN Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, none of whom realize that he is a fake and that they are being played for chumps. The resulting conversations for two years in the UK and the past 6 weeks here are cruel and hilarious. Witness this exchange with General Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor for presidents Ford and Bush.
ALI G: Did they ever catch the people that sent tampax through the post?
BRENT SCOWCROFT: No, they did not. It wasn't tampax. It was anthrax.
ALI G: Oh, I think there's different brand names, like we say pavement; you say sidewalk, whatever.
BOB GARFIELD: Yo, yo -- my very special guest is my man Dan Masur, producer and co-writer of Da Ali G Show. Dan, welcome to Da OTM Show.
DAN MASUR: I love the Yo, yo and Da OTM Show. That's, that's very special; you've made me feel very welcome. Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: From previous interviews that you've given to the press it's pretty obvious that you don't like to give away the secret of how in the world you actually get these people to come on the show which leads me to the following question - how in the world do you get people to come on to your show?
DAN MASUR: Which leads me to the following answer - I refer you to my previous comments in other publications to the tune of David Blaine doesn't tell you how he levitates; David Copperfield doesn't tell you how he managed to sleep with Claudia Schiffer, so therefore I will not tell you, [LAUGHTER] repeat, not tell you how we managed to get people to-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Fair enough. But tell me this--
DAN MASUR: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: Do you lie?
DAN MASUR: No. No, no, no. We - I mean we're not allowed to -- legally we're not allowed to lie.
BOB GARFIELD: So it--
DAN MASUR: But I may be lying in telling you that I don't lie. Mmmmmm! What do you think of that? [LAUGHTER] It's a riddle and it's an enigma.
BOB GARFIELD: Encased in an obfuscation.
DAN MASUR: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD:I'm just curious. How long did it take before people in the United Kingdom began to be familiar enough with Ali G that they stopped agreeing to be interviewed by him?
DAN MASUR: I think probably if we wanted to go and interview people now, we could find people who still would be interviewed. Having said that, we stopped really after about 2 years, by which time the Queen Mother was saying [inaudible]; the Christmas lunch at the Royal Family and we thought maybe we've penetrated too far into the echelons of the upper classes here to, to get away with it any more.
BOB GARFIELD: How long do you think you can play out the string here before it's just impossible to fool anybody?
DAN MASUR:Don't. I mean who knows? I mean it's going to get more difficult, and you know I think if we tried to get George Bush now we might encounter some problems, but I think there are enough kind of old people without PR machines around them; that's why we tend to go for the kind of ex-politicians as opposed to the current serving politicians who we'd be able to sneak through the net, because of course doing interviews like this doesn't necessarily help.
BOB GARFIELD:At the heart of all of this there may be a principle at stake. Certainly we, we frown when intelligence agencies or police agencies present themselves as journalists in order to do their work. Is there something journalistically destabilizing about Ali G posing as a journalist?
DAN MASUR: Destabilizing to who?
BOB GARFIELD: To actually journalists who really have to go out there and get interviews in order to do their jobs.
DAN MASUR: I don't think so, for a number of reasons, primarily because I think we do a genuine journalistic job, bizarrely, and a lot of the answers that we get out of politicians and public figures are, are more honest, truthful and insightful than quote/unquote "real journalists" who go out there and ask their questions by rote and pose predictable questions all the time. For example we had a, an interview with a politician called Tony Benn --
BOB GARFIELD: The man who went to Baghdad to interview Saddam Hussein.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:-- exactly right, yes. Beat Dan Rather to the punch. And after our interview, you know, we sat in there with him for 2 hours; we asked him questions like is it called a welfare state because it's well fare? We had a long argument over calling women bitches, etc, etc - and at the end of the interview he said that was the most kind of thorough, far-reaching interview that I've had in the last 20 years. And he'd got his viewpoint across to young people as he wanted to get it across. So from that point of view I think when Ali G's at, at its best, it fulfills a, a vague journalistic function.
BOB GARFIELD: Does, does Ali G ultimately stand for anything?
DAN MASUR:I think actually he does, and you know I think that's what distinguishes us from, say, Tom Greene or Jackass or Candid Camera or whatever is that we try and challenge the authority and we try to kind of prick the bubble of pompousness and we try behind a, a very thick veil, I must admit, of stupidity to have a, a kernel of intelligence there somewhere.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, what's the greatest moment in Ali G's history?
DAN MASUR:[LAUGHS] I'm now going to utterly contradict what I've just said. My favorite moment -- we have a science discussion, and we accuse a creationist of not flushing the loo backstage.
ALI G: Was it you?
MAN: I have no idea what you're talking about.
ALI G: You know what I'se talking about.
MAN: No, I have no clue.
ALI G: The floater. Is you the one backstage that didn't flush?
MAN: No, sir.
ALI G: You know what I'se talking about cause the--
MAN: If that's what you're talking about -- why you talk about that on a TV program blows my mind.
DAN MASUR: And a huge argument ensues in the middle of a TV studio during a live recording with 3 other panelists around him.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, one quick followup, what the hell [LAUGHS] is the matter with you people?
DAN MASUR: [LAUGHS] I don't know. That was, that was a wild card, which is probably why I like it most, because after about 5 months of solidly writing Ali G material we were -- it was probably about 1 o'clock in the morning in some godforsaken motel in the middle of Alabama and we thought okay, let's just throw this one into the mix, and, and we did and--and I personally love the pooh joke.
BOB GARFIELD: Yo, yo. Dan Masur-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
DAN MASUR: Yo, yo.
BOB GARFIELD: -- is the producer and co-writer of Da Ali G Show. He joins us from the BBC studios in London.
DAN MASUR: Big-up yourselves. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price, Katya Rogers and Megan Ryan with Tony Field; engineered by Dylan Keefe, Rob Christiansen and George Edwards, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Mark Herz and Emily Ford. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. You can listen to the program and get free transcripts at onthemedia.org and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is On the Media from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.
ALI G: Does all of us really have bones or is it just what the media want us to believe?