Sarah Cooper, the comedian and author whom most people now know as the internet’s favorite Trump impressionist, has had a pretty crazy month.
Comedians like Ben Stiller, Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Birbiglia, and Jane Lynch have been shouting out Cooper’s impeccable lip syncs to the president’s COVID-19 briefings for weeks. Her videos have appeared on Good Morning America and Ellen. Her follower count is through the roof. All because she decided—“like an old lady,” as she told The Daily Beast during a recent interview—to finally figure out how, exactly, TikTok works.
“My nephew introduced me to it last summer, and then I just put it away,” Cooper said. But soon enough after quarantine started, she found herself fiddling with the app again. “I said, you know what? I'm going to figure it out,” Cooper said before putting on her best old lady voice to add, “I’m going to figure this out—this TikTok you kids are doing.”
For late adopters, the world of TikTok still might seem a bit nebulous. But noted TikToker Jason Derulo—who recently knocked out his front teeth (or did he?) during a viral challenge involving a drill and an ear of corn—has explained that one key to success on the platform is to find your niche. Cooper was never much of a dancer—so that ruled out mastering the platform’s frequent dance challenges. But she does love to lip sync, so she started experimenting. Then she found a Trump clip.
“The thing about Trump that I noticed in these daily press briefings was that he has no idea what he's talking about, and he can talk for so long about anything,” Cooper said. It reminded her of the corporate world—“the people that would be in meetings and just, like, B.S. their way through an answer. I've always been jealous of those people.”
Actually she wrote a whole book about those people, titled 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying. It was Cooper’s “homage to the bullshit artist.” Suffice it to say that her take on Trump’s coronavirus briefings came together with ease.
“I think it was just fun for me, being so opposite from who Trump is but being able to say what he’s saying—and really pointing out the fact that I could never get away with talking like this,” Cooper said. “That was kind of what was really intriguing to me.”
Cooper’s relationship with Trump As Comedic Inspiration is, like most, a little fraught. She felt depressed for months after his election in 2016, and didn’t like even talking about it. After a year or two had passed—and she found out Trump had blocked her on Twitter—it got a bit easier to laugh. “I was able to be like, whatever, he’s a loser, we can make fun of him,” Cooper said. “You know, as a comedian, that’s what you do. You speak truth to power by making people laugh.”
“Maybe what I was doing came at a good moment,” Cooper added. “Because we've seen so many impressions. We’ve seen so many people try to lampoon him. Everybody, mostly men have been doing it, and it just has gotten old in a lot of ways. It’s just gotten really old.”
When compared to many of the best known Trump impersonations, Cooper’s performances are relatively minimalist. She appears in a dark blue blazer, and deadpans her way through Trump’s deranged ramblings with complete sincerity. She fiddles with props and grimaces into the distance, perfectly mimicking the ego behind the words.
Cooper says that those who suggest that she don a tie and a wig are missing the point. “The point is that it’s me. Me, Sarah Cooper, a regular person. What if I talk like this?”
There’s something genuinely cathartic about watching Cooper’s work. Part of it is the novelty of watching Cooper inhabit Trump’s mind. And then there are her supporting characters, who nervously shake their heads and collect the germy props Trump hurls their way. And there is just something interesting about watching a woman act through this wretchedly sexist persona. To Cooper, having that toxic masculinity coming from a female comedian “just highlights even more how ugly it is.”
But how does she know how to contort her face just right—in just that specific way to convey Trump’s droopy narcissism? Sometimes, Cooper will repeat a line to herself until something comes to her. Sometimes, an idea for a prop will come to mind—like sniffing a marker or passing a tainted tongue depressor back and forth. But mostly, it’s just a matter of listening to the audio over and over again. Loudly. “Much to the chagrin of my husband, who does not want to hear it,” Cooper said.
Once, for instance, she was trying to figure out what to do with an awkward pause during what she titled Trump’s “How to hydroxychloroquine briefing.”
Cooper listened to the audio somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 times: “I want the people of this nation... to feel good. I want the people of this nation... to feel good.” And then it dawned on her: “It’s like he's looking around and he's about to make a drug deal.”
And as for why she likes to listen to Trump on max volume? “I hope that doesn’t make me go crazy,” Cooper said, “but I just like to really hear all the breaths and the, like, everything. You know?”
But even as she entertains the internet writ large, Cooper, like the rest of us, is also worried. Her sister is a nurse, and her mother lives with asthma in Florida. “It's just really scary... that I could lose them because of this,” Cooper said. “I said to my mom a week ago... ‘When am I ever going to see you again?’ and ‘I’m scared I’m never going to see you again. And it’s just really, it's really scary.”
“I knew he was going to be a bad president,” Cooper said. “I had no idea.”