When you first see the clip — and it’s a very short clip — it almost looks as if Richard B. Cheney is cradling a baby. Maybe it’s the way he’s smiling at the bundle, balanced on his lap in a comfy-looking armchair. There’s warmth in that smile.
A fraction of a second later you realize, no, that’s not a baby he’s holding. It’s a jug of water and a towel.
And the former vice president is . . . autographing it?
“That’s a first,” Cheney says afterward, looking up at someone off-screen, still smiling. “That’s the first time I’ve ever signed a waterboard.”
Then the video ends, and you loop it again, because what is even happening?
We wish we could tell you, but we basically have no idea either. The clip appeared Sunday evening in Sacha Baron Cohen’s ultra-minimalist Twitter feed — after a week of rumors that the comedian who once tricked Donald Trump into lecturing about business practices in the Mesozoic era has been working on a new series of celebrity prank interviews.
“Imagine if Sacha Baron Cohen had been undercover secretly filming a new show for a year,” reads the introductory chyron on Cohen’s teaser. Cryptic images flash across the screen: someone in a ghillie suit behind a tree; Cohen in profile; a naked bum.
Then there’s Cheney in the armchair with the jug, which is the only sequence in the 22-second video that approaches coherence.
“Is it possible to sign my waterboard kit?” a man asks him off-screen. He speaks with a European accent that sounds vaguely like Cohen’s most famous persona, Borat.
While we don’t know how the footage was edited, Cheney seems to answer the question before Cohen has even finished asking it.
“Sure!” he says. Then he smiles and signs, and makes remarks already quoted above. “Coming soon” flashes on the screen in the video’s final seconds.
Cheney could not be reached for comment about the video’s origins or whether it accurately portrays him, but the idea of him autographing a homemade waterboarding apparatus is not outside the realm of believability.
As vice president during the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror,” Cheney defended some of the CIA’s most brutal interrogation techniques — including simulated drownings in which detainees were forced to breath through water pouring across their face, commonly known as waterboarding.
While waterboarding was abandoned, condemned and compared to torture under Barack Obama’s presidency, Cheney never changed his mind about the method’s efficacy.
“If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs,” he told Fox Business in May. “I’d have them active and ready to go . . . And I’d go back and study them and learn.”
It’s unclear when Cheney spoke to Cohen — assuming that’s what the Twitter video depicts — or what persona the comedian might have adopted to possibly fool the former vice president.
We might get answers soon.
Variety reported that Cohen has been in secret talks with Showtime to distribute a show similar to his breakout series “Da Ali G Show.” It was on that show in the early 2000s that Cohen, posing as a low-rent British gangster, persuaded Trump to sit down with him.
“So how long has there been businesses?” Cohen-as-Ali G asked.
“Hundreds of millions of years ago people were doing business,” Trump replied — visibly uncomfortable but not yet at the point of walking out. “They were trading in rocks and stones and other things.”
On July 4, Cohen released the first teaser for his upcoming show, which consisted mostly of an old video of Trump berating him. It was followed a few days later by the Cheney clip, and Vulture has meanwhile spotted posters in Brooklyn advertising Cohen’s name, the slogan “Who is America?” and a new Showtime series set to premiere on an unspecified Sunday.
“We have no comment at this time,” a representative for Showtime wrote to The Washington Post when asked about the Cheney clip, the new show and all surrounding weirdness.