First Kazakhstan, Now Heddi Cundle


A woman who knew British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen when they were both teenagers is suing him and HBO for slander because he used her name in referring to a fictional former girlfriend of his fictional alter ego, the dim, boorish hip-hopster Ali G, during a 2004 interview with the actual Gore Vidal on Da Ali G Show. The relevant riff went like this:

Ain't it better sometimes, to get rid of the whole thing rather than amend [the Constitution] cos like me used to go out with this bitch called Heddi Cundle, and she used to always trying amend herself. Y'know, get her hair done in highlights, get like tattoo done on her batty crease, y'know have the whole thing shaved—very nice but it didn't make any more difference. She was still a minger, and so, y'know, me had enough, and once me got her pregnant me said, "Alright, laters, that is it." Ain't it the same with the Constitution?

The real Cundle (who was born in the U.K. but now lives in California, which is where she filed her suit) was pissed off when she heard about the segment from friends, and it's clear Ali G is not the only dick here. Using the name of a real person for this bit, whether just for fun or to settle a grudge, is juvenile and mean, especially since the target is not a celebrity but an ordinary person without the ready media access that Cohen enjoys. Still (you knew that was coming, didn't you?), a lawsuit is not an appropriate response. I have the usual libertarian objections to the idea that you "own" your reputation (i.e., what other people think of you) and can therefore sue people for damaging it by lying about you. And as a practical matter, I think it would be better to live in a world where it was widely understood that any idiot can make up nasty things about you with legal impunity, instead of one where people tend to assume an allegation is true unless a lawsuit is forthcoming.

Those considerations aside, the main effect of this lawsuit is to inform millions of people who thought "Heddi Cundle" was a fictional character that she is a real person who insists she "never engaged in any sexual activity" with Cohen. (HBO agreed to edit out Cundle's name from the show after it aired 20 or so times.) The people who already knew Cundle was a real person might be reassured by her public protest, assuming they took what Ali G said seriously. On balance, I'm not sure how Cundle comes out ahead, unless she wins big damages, which seems unlikely. Given the fictional/satirical context, it's implausible to argue that Cohen was asserting facts about Cundle, just as it would be implausible to argue that he was asserting facts about Kazakhstan in Borat.