Movie legend Sir Ben Kingsley handed the Outstanding Achievement in Comedy trophy to his Hugo co-star, who is known for his outrageous characters including Ali G, Borat and Bruno.
Introducing the funnyman, the Gandhi star told the crowd, "In truth, I have personally admired this comedian from his humble days. He's a man at the top of his game with an excellent work ethic and an almost scientific understanding of what is funny.
"It gives me such great pleasure to present this award to a man whose clowning, whose satire and sheer balls of steel put him above everyone else."
Appearing onstage in a shiny gold tracksuit, the comedian adopted Ali G's trademark street slang and said, "Unfortunately Sacha Baron Cohen ain't here. She probably thinks she's too big for these awards. Well, I definitely ain't!"
The cameras cut to Cohen's actress wife Isla Fisher who was clapping and roaring with laughter in the audience as the star continued, "Me hope by winning this tonight will change things. And one day maybe, just maybe, there might even be a black man in the White House. Me is now going home to put this award up, pride of place, on eBay!"
The annual event, which was attended by Hollywood stars Joan Collins, John Lithgow and Cuba Gooding, Jr. celebrates Britain's biggest comedy talents on stage and TV.
The evening's other big winners were comedy duo Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, who went home with the Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award.