Sacha Baron Cohen not only left the Beverly Hilton with the highest honour awarded for comedy by the BAFTA-LA ‘s annual Britannia Awards, but also left with the audience either still in shock or holding on to their sides with laughter following an inspired practical joke. Los Angeles' British alliance was out in force for the Saturday (9 Nov.) night ceremony, and there were even a few non-Brit Hollywood heavyweights doing their best to pretent to be from the other side of the Atlantic for the awards show.
Sacha Baron Cohen flanked by his wife Isla Fisher [R] and Salma Hayek [L]
Airing on BBC America on Sunday (10 Nov.) night, host Rob Brydon had the job of handling the more raucous than usual crowd, which had plenty to do with Cohen's stunt. It began when Salma Hayek came on stage with an elderly woman to present the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award For Excellence In Comedy award. Confined to a wheelchair, she was identified as Grace Collington, an actress she said appeared with Charlie Chaplin in 1931′s City Lights when she was just 5-years-old. She very believably told the audience, “At 87, she’s the oldest surviving actor to have worked with Chaplin in a silent movie,” at which point Cohen climbed to the stage to accept the honour. The elderly woman presented Cohen with one of Chaplin's trademark canes, at which point Cohen pushed her from the stage and began his acceptance speech as 'Collington' lied motionless on the ground.
See the full photo gallery for Saturday's BAFTA-LA show
"Grace Collington is the oldest, sorry, was the oldest… I dedicate my award to her. It’s obviously a tragedy, but on the bright side what a great way to go. She’ll probably make the Oscars In Memoriam section… Anyway tonight is not about her, it’s about me,” he said to a room full of laughter, one usually unheard at these types of events usually reserved for back slapping and self congratulations.
Judd Apatow honoured Cohen in a speech
Judd Apatow later took to the stage to give an appraisal of Cohen's achievements in a speech in which he joked about how little Cohen has done this year. He said, “In fact, Sacha is so talented and funny that he is winning this award for his comedy work in 2013 even though he did not create any comedy work in 2013. He made exactly zero films which means he had the same amount of output as Don Knotts, who has been dead since 2006. In 2013 Will Ferrell made what is probably his greatest work, Anchorman 2, which I produced. Apparently Sacha doing nothing is better than Will’s finest achievement. Apparently all he did this year was a performance art piece called ‘sitting on my ass living off my Borat money. And another one where he held his wife’s [Isla Fisher] purse at Great Gatsby premieres.”
It was a hard act to follow, but the show had to go on nonetheless, as the rest of the honourees got to enjoy their own moment of glory. Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zinzi and Sean Penn presented an award to Idris Elba honouring his humanitarian work. Kathryn Bigelow was honoured for her directing achievements and Benedict Cumberbatch won the British Artist of the Year award, whilst Sir Ben Kingsley was honoured for his “worldwide contribution to entertainment.”
Idris Elba and Sir Ben Kingsley were also honoured for their work
It was George Clooney who took home the biggest award of the night hoever, his work in the entertainment industry earning him the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence In Entertainment gong. Presented the award by Julia Roberts, she made a few quips regarding the irony of a non-Brit winning the biggest award of the night and then read out a letter penned by Meryl Streep in honour of the hunky actor, before showing a highlight reel of some of his most famous roles inter-mixed with interviews and appraisals from friends and co-stars.
George took to the stage to give thanks and recount some of his pre-fame years, reflecting on how far he's come from selling women's shoes to winning Oscars and BAFTA-LA awards. He ended it saying, “It’s a long way from co-starring in Return Of The Killer Tomatoes to standing up here on this stage. But it’s not that long. It all goes by in the wink of an eye. So before we get much older let me say thank all of you for this award. It is an honor to be here, and if anyone needs their shoes stretched see me.” (Deadline).
Non-Brit George Clooney took home the night's top honour