Sarah Cooper on the Moment She Realized Her Trump Impression Had ‘Gone Too Far’
The comedian joined The Last Laugh podcast on Trump’s last day in office to look back at her surreal year of lip-syncing the president and ahead to what comes next.
Sarah Cooper has some ideas about what Donald Trump’s future might hold after he leaves office. “You don’t want to be too greedy about what could happen to him,” she says on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I don’t think he’ll ever see the inside of a prison cell. If Don Jr. goes to prison, that would be icing on the cake for me. I mean, at least rehab, right?”
The comedian who came to define Trump’s final, disastrous year in office with her spot-on lip-sync recreations of his most ridiculous moments, is also in the midst of a major transition as she attempts to leave the Trump era behind.
First there was her pre-election Netflix special Everything’s Fine, in which she (mostly) used her own voice to comment on the media’s attempts to normalize our out-of-control world—with cameos from new famous friends like Ben Stiller, Jane Lynch, Jon Hamm, and Maya Rudolph.
Next, she’s moving behind the scenes to write a workplace comedy pilot for CBS about how women of three different generations handle the “sexism, microaggressions and everything that goes along with being in a male-dominated office,” based on her 2018 book How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings.
In both cases, Cooper is trying to break out of the box that 2020 put her in and leave Donald Trump behind. As for political comedy under a Biden-Harris administration, she acknowledges that it’s not going to be easy: “We’re going to have to come up with something funnier than Four Seasons Total Landscaping.”
Below is an excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including hilarious stories about the early stand-up bit that Cooper now worries might get her “canceled” and how she recreated the Access Hollywood tape with Oscar-winner Helen Mirren for her Netflix special—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Were you surprised by the reaction that the videos got? I mean, it kind of is insane looking back that they blew up to the degree that they did.
Yeah, I was very surprised. I mean, it’s one thing to have it go viral. I’ve had things go viral before. It’s another thing to have your career take off because of something like that, which is really what happened to me last year. I got an agent, I got PR, I got a Netflix special, I have a TV show deal based on a book I wrote a few years ago. So it really brought me so much attention. And that I did not see coming. I could see getting a few million views, but I didn’t see it changing my life.
What about the experience of becoming super-famous during this year, during this pandemic, where nothing is happening in the world, and you’re not going out in the streets and meeting people? What has that been like?
I mean, I don’t really feel like I’m super-famous, first of all.
Well, I think you actually are.
But I really don’t think I am, though! I don’t. I get recognized here and there. And maybe it’s because I have a mask on and it’s winter. But also, yeah, I haven’t left my apartment. I did Fallon from my apartment. I did Ellen from my apartment. I did all of these things sitting on my couch.
Yeah, in any other year, it would have been so different. You would have been flying to L.A. and going on these shows. Do you feel conflicted about that or it just sort of is what it is?
Yeah, I think it is what it is. Without Trump, without the pandemic, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I wouldn’t have had the success, so I just have to accept that. Part of it I look at as kind of a blessing, because I do feel like I need to separate myself a little bit from those impressions in order to have the career that I really do want to have. I feel like it was a great launching pad for me, but it’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life. There’s a lot of other things I want to talk about. So I feel like it’s actually a good thing because now I can be a little bit low key and focus on writing and focus on the next thing that I want to do. If I had been everywhere and my face had been everywhere and I’d been kind of oversaturated, I think that would have not been great for the future of what I want to do next.
There’s been this whole conversation around your videos about race and gender in the sense that you’re sort of like the opposite of Trump and you’re showing what it would be like for a woman of color to say the things he says and would never be able to get away with them. Is that a take that you agree with?
Yeah. And I don’t know if it’s just Trump, but we’re just such visual creatures. We see a white guy who looks like he’s rich and he’s speaking behind a podium and people are nodding and clapping and we’re like, OK, I guess this guy knows what he’s doing. And I’m sorry, we just don’t give the same benefit of the doubt to women or women of color. And that’s the fucked up thing about these videos is like, that’s why you’re listening harder, is because of the visual. That’s why you’re listening a little bit closer. I don’t think any white man could get away with what he got away with, but I think the fact that he was a white man helped him in many, many, many ways over the 74 years that he’s been alive.
I’m wondering what that’s going to mean for Vice President Kamala Harris and the way she’s treated by the media over the next four years. It’ll be interesting to see the standard that she’s held to compared to the standard that Trump was held.
Fox News is already hysterical the way that they are very seriously questioning policies and decisions and Cabinet choices. I’m like, what are you talking about? Compared to what Trump was doing and they were like, well this is great. He called in, he spoke to us for two hours, it’s fine. So until Kamala Harris calls into Fox News and speaks for two hours on a rant about nothing, I don’t want to hear it. She’d be fired immediately, come on!
What do you feel like you learned about Trump as a person by paying such close attention to him that maybe other people weren’t getting?
I think that you and I and most people who saw the videos the way that I saw them and the way that you saw them got this, but I feel like his supporters still don’t get it. That when he says something like “it’s good for the country” or “this is what the people want”—anytime he talks about anything external to him, he’s talking about himself. Like I was listening to that Georgia phone call, where he called the secretary of state and there’s a point where he says, “People hate Georgia. People hate the state of Georgia. People hate what’s happening in Georgia.” People? No, you hate it. You hate Georgia. He’s just extremely self-obsessed.
You mentioned his supporters and the way they hear him, but the way they hear and view your videos has also come up a lot in the sense that they aren’t necessarily offended by them or outraged by them. And you don’t necessarily get the kind of hate mail that some people might expect that you would get. And it seems like they actually like them in some cases. Has that concerned you at all along the way, that they like your stuff?
It has been absolutely fascinating. I would say the No. 1 most fascinating thing about this whole thing is that I expected to be called a cunt like every single day after that [first] video came out. I got called a cunt maybe twice, the whole year! Knock on wood, I got very little hate mail. And the hate mail I got was just like, this isn’t funny. And I’m like, OK, you don’t think it's funny, that’s fine. It was good though, because I feel like I would have stopped. I mean, people think that I’m getting death threats. I’m not. It’s not that I want death threats. It’s just that I did expect them because I’ve seen the wrath of the right. And I know what they can do. I know that how they can really make you feel like your life is in danger and these videos, for whatever reason, did not ignite that. And I’m very happy about that. A lot of people did say, “I love Trump, but this is funny.” So, like, what are you going to do?
And even Trump himself, who has been incredibly antagonistic, especially toward female comedians when you think about Kathy Griffin and Samantha Bee and all these people that he’s really gone after directly, he hasn’t done that with you either. Even when asked directly about it, I think in August. During an interview on Fox, he basically said he hadn’t seen them. But he didn’t take the opportunity to attack you as you may have expected. First of all, what was it like to watch the president of the United States get asked about you? And then what did you make of his response?
Oh my god, it was so crazy. That’s the point where you’re like, oh shit. Like, I don’t know if this is where I want to be. To have a reporter ask the president of the United States, have you seen these videos from Sarah Cooper? Just to even say my name and my name was in his head for a second, maybe. It was one of those moments where I was just like, maybe I’ve gone too far. But then it completely blew over, no one ever talked about it again, and it just made me realize like, yeah, he’s seen them and he hates them a lot. He hates them so much that he can’t even rip them apart. That’s how much he hates them.
Because they expose him in a way that none of the other comedy about him really does. Except for maybe Anthony Atamanuik, whose impression is pretty brutal too.
Oh, he hated him too. But yeah, I mean I’m not fooling myself, but I do feel like they cut him a little bit deeper just because it was his own voice. And I took away the thing that gave him all his power, which was the visual. I actually read an interview where he says he watches his interviews with the sound off, because he’s very interested in how things look. And so his hand movements are very precise. Everything is in its place. And so for me to take that away and put me on top of that, I feel like it was probably very disconcerting for him. But I will also say people were saying that I was the reason that he wanted to get rid of TikTok. I don’t think I was the reason. I think it was the kids.
Yeah, the kids who got all of the tickets to the Tulsa rally and then didn’t show up.
I think that hurt him much deeper than my videos. So I feel like he has so much going on. For me to be at the top of his mind and want to destroy me, I just feel like I’m No. 8,562 on the list of things that he needs to take care of in his life. So I feel good about that.
Do you feel like you're done with it for good now? Are you done lip-syncing Trump?
Yeah, I mean, I talked to a friend about when I should stop doing it. And I was like, well, I should stop doing [it] when people don’t want it anymore. And then I was like, no, I should stop doing it before people stop wanting it. You don’t want to keep doing it until people are like, please stop. And I still have people who are like, please do the Georgia phone call. But I didn’t. And I’m glad, because this is what happens with Trump. That was crazy. But what happened three days later at the Capitol was even crazier. We need to put this aside and I’m very happy to move on from it. And as fun as it was and as much as there probably will be a moment in the future where I’m listening to him and I’m mouthing the words and thinking to myself, this would be a good video, I’m not—I’m probably not—going to do it.
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Sam Morril