Outside the window of Simon’s office is a chapel in an ancient courtyard. Every college at Cambridge has a chapel. Simon, who identifies himself as an atheist, is now helping to raise money to build the first Reform synagogue in Cambridge for Beth Shalom, the 20-year-old lay-led community. “Just having a little point somewhere in the landscape that shows not everyone fits into the same traditions or has the same history is quite important.”
Simon is married to Bridget Lindley, a lawyer and deputy chief executive for Family Rights Group, a London-based charity that works on finding alternatives to foster care for children from troubled families. Simon and Lindley, a Christian, have three children. The two oldest go by the last name of Baron and dream of making it in the entertainment business.
I meet Sam, a tall 21-year-old with bushy eyebrows, in the British Library coffee shop near University College London, where he is a third-year undergrad studying psychology. Sporting a newly grown delicate beard, Sam wears his brown wavy hair almost shoulder length and flashes a charming smile. Like his uncle Ash, Sam hopes to parlay his psychology degree into a career as a professional filmmaker and already has a couple of films under his belt. His rap video, Blasphemy, makes fun of religious rituals in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, while his most successful video to date, We Drink Tea, was created in response to Lazy Sunday, a digital short starring Andy Samberg that aired on Saturday Night Live and satirizes white yuppies in New York City. We Drink Tea, which mocks British idiosyncrasies and is laced with profanity, literary references to C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne and J.K. Rowling, has been viewed by an estimated million people online.
Sam’s sister Kate, 18, is a singer-songwriter in the folk tradition who has just released her first compositions on MySpace. She and Sam acknowledge the role of their extended family in fostering their artistic impulses. “To have all that creativity [around you] is incredibly inspirational,” says Sam. His sister is especially fond of family Hanukkah parties. “They are very musical, especially when we get the whole family together with my cousin Erran and everyone singing their own tunes in harmony,” she says. “It gets very big and very fun.”
Not all Baron Cohens are public figures. Simon’s older brother, Daniel, is an educator who uses theater and the arts to help people tell their stories in regions torn apart by war or social strife—in Northern Ireland during “the Troubles,” in South African townships during apartheid, in Gaza during the intifada and currently in Brazil. Simon’s sister Aliza is an acupuncturist and founder of an alternative health clinic in London. Erran’s and Sacha’s brother Amnon is a computer scientist living in London.
The entire Baron Cohen clan is mum about Sacha’s private life, which he works hard to keep separate from his public one. He has said that he doesn’t think “it helps people appreciate the work or the comedy or make me any funnier if they know what’s going on at home.” Sacha is reported to be close to family and old friends, especially those from his days at Habs, several of whom are close artistic collaborators. His wife, Isla Fisher, is an actress known for comedic performances in Wedding Crashers and Confessions of a Shopaholic. The couple married in 2010 after a six-year engagement, during which she converted to Judaism. Their daughter Olive was born in 2007.