Sacha Baron Cohen explains his racist Oscars bit: Chris Rock "gave me the thumbs up, so I went for it"

Himself under fire for a child labor joke, Rock OKd Cohen's Asian-penis-size -- oops, we mean Minions -- joke

Published March 3, 2016 7:33PM (EST)

Sacha Baron Cohen, Chris Rock at the Oscars, Feb. 28, 2016.   (AP/Chris Pizzello)
Sacha Baron Cohen, Chris Rock at the Oscars, Feb. 28, 2016. (AP/Chris Pizzello)

This year’s Academy Awards were uniquely important in light of the #OscarsSoWhite criticism—which Chris Rock wasted no time addressing in the ceremony’s opening monologue.

Most of the night’s bits—with the possible exception of Stacey Dash’s multi-dimensionally awkward cameo—were better received than Sacha Baron Cohen’s appearance in character as Ali G, during which he made kind of a racist Asian-penis-size joke.

During his appearance on “Conan” last night, Cohen told the story of how—unbeknownst to Oscar producers—the bit came to fruition.

Cohen agreed to introduce a clip of Best Picture nominee “Room” in buttoned-down fashion, all the while knowing full well he would present as Ali G.

“I knew that they would be trying to see if I would smuggle anything in,” Cohen explained. So, in order to get Ali G’s signature goatee into the Dolby Theater, “My wife (Isla Fisher) very kindly smuggled the beard in her underwear.”

“Thirty minutes before I had to go on, we went into this bathroom right on the side of the stage and she put the beard on me,” Cohen explained.

Regarding his questionable joke, Cohen told “Good Morning Britain” the next day, "I was a bit worried how they'd react … but I bumped into Chris Rock on the way on and pitched him the gag and he gave me the thumbs up, so I went for it.”

In retrospect, maybe Rock wasn’t the best test-audience for an Asian joke. The controversial host has faced criticism in the days since the ceremony for a bit involving three Asian kids who were brought onstage to represent PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants in charge of tallying the Academy’s votes.

“If anybody is upset about this joke,” Rock told the tepid and uncomfortable audience, “just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids.”

The off-color joke brought forth a discussion about the role of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, with many criticizing Rock for perpetuating the idea that it’s acceptable to make Asian jokes.

Laura Kung, mother of one of the Asian child actors involved in the bit, afterwards told Public Radio International that she became aware that her daughter was to be the butt of a racist joke only after rehearsal.

“This was not okay and should never have happened," Kung said. “But the angrier people are and more people talk about it, the better it will be moving forward.”

By Brendan Gauthier

Brendan Gauthier is a freelance writer.

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2016 Oscars Chris Rock Sacha Baron Cohen