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In the last few years, Sarah Cooper’s life has completely changed.
The comedian, actress and author skyrocketed to online fame thanks to her viral TikTok lip-sync impressions of former President Donald Trump — and in the process, has secured film roles, book releases, late-night hosting gigs, her own Netflix special and now her latest project, Let’s Catch Up Soon: How I Won Friends and Influenced People Against My Will.
The Audible Original, which debuted on June 23 and was both written and performed by Cooper, is a self-help comedy memoir and spin on Dale Carnegie’s best-selling 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People. In the spoken memoir, Cooper grapples with how her approach to tackling Carnegie’s lessons — which she initially wasn’t particularly keen on — changed as the world and her life did.
Examining those famous 30 principles — among them smile, remember names, be genuinely interested, make people feel important, give compliments, don’t complain and never argue — across three drastically different years (2019, 2020 and 2021) offered her a chance to rethink how she had connected with people throughout her life, and how she navigated various environments, communities and relationships.
It’s one of the most personal looks at Cooper her fans have ever had and an enlightening, heartfelt and funny exploration of human connection, written at a time when people were grappling with learning how to reconnect themselves. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the multi-hyphenate talks about her rise to fame during the pandemic, pleasing people (but not being a people-pleaser) in comedy and telling a story, but this time with just her voice.
You had a career and were working before the pandemic and your social media impressions which made you a global comedic presence. But your rise happened fast and it happened at a time when many of us were physically disconnected. What was that experience like?
I think it was just weird because we were in lockdown. People say, “Oh, you’re famous.” I’m like, “No, I’m not.” I still don’t really believe that. People recognize me every once in a while. I don’t know. I think, at the time, I felt like I was being punked. I felt like someone was playing a big trick on me, you know? When you see people that you admire for so long like Ben Stiller — I’ve loved him for so long and now he was talking about me or tweeting my video or complimenting anything or wanting to be in my special — it’s very surreal. And I would say the whole time, I was kind of in a daze. If I stopped for a second to be like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m working with Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne right now,” I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I think that I had to have an out-of-body experience where I was just letting my body go through the motions of doing the thing.
Then, two years later, I’m like, “Oh, my God, I actually was in a scene with Jon Hamm and I didn’t know what to say to him at all.” That’s the thing that’s tough. I went from talking to my husband at the time and my dog all day to talking these amazing actors and I didn’t have time to really appreciate it. It didn’t happen slowly. It happened very, very quickly. I had to — and I still have to work on this — say, “OK, this is just a person. This is just another human being. I can talk to them. I can be normal.” But I still am not normal. (Laughs.) I am very weird and I’m very awkward, and I’m working on that.
Let’s Catch Up Soon is based on How to Win Friends and Influence People, but you get into a lot of personal stories. How did you decide what you wanted to tell, and was there a particularly difficult story to relinquish to readers?
When I write, I just write everything all at once. I write freeform, like stream of consciousness, and I come up with a lot of different stories. I’m always very excited to share them when no one is actually going to be reading them. Then once I think about people actually listening and reading, I’m like, “Wait, should I actually be saying that?” But I wanted to tell stories that were from my childhood and also from recently, like shooting my Netflix special and going viral and all that stuff. I just wanted to tell a range of different things.
I remember the story about a friend of mine who passed away a few years ago and that was a hard one to figure out — how to share that in a way that really honors him and his memory, but also come to terms, myself, with the fact that I feel like I wasn’t a great friend to him and we will never get that opportunity again because he’s not with us anymore. That was tough, but it was such an important part of my life that I really couldn’t not share that story. My story about my boyfriend in fourth grade very unceremoniously breaking up with me very publicly was actually a really fun one to share because I’d never shared that one with anyone before. And yet, it was obviously still very deep in my memory because I was able to remember so many details about it. It’s weird. Once you start writing this stuff down, you will remember a lot more than you thought you were going to.
What was it like working on a project where people would hear your voice but not see your face — the opposite relationship of the Donald Trump social media impression comedy that introduced you to so many people?
It was kind of scary for me because my voice and recording this audiobook is — no one likes the sound of their own voice. (Laughs.) No one that I know, and I certainly don’t, so it was a really emotional thing to be talking about these very personal stories and then having to listen to it. I feel like I look at the trajectory of my whole career and it’s been me doing a little bit. My first books were kind of cartoon books, then I did the videos, which were just my face and not my voice and now I’m trying to do acting where I have to put my voice and my face together. It’s like God is letting me learn one thing at a time. (Laughs.) That’s what it feels like.
I think it’s so important, though — it’s one of those things where when you really feel like you’re connected to your voice and being as authentic as you possibly can be, there’s a lot that can happen. In terms of being a performer, a voice is almost everything. So it was a good exercise for me to like figure out how do I make this sound like I’m just talking to a friend; how do I make this sound as intimate as I can and what is my voice. There’s so many people who don’t even know what my voice sounds like, and hopefully, people will like what my voice sounds like. But it was very, very vulnerable.
With your project and the book it’s based on, you consider the concept of people-pleasing. How do you feel comedy might be about pleasing people, but not being a people-pleaser?
A lot of the things I’ve done have succeeded on the Internet, and it’s through likes and shares and all this data. And this is how you know that people liked this thing. If people don’t like it, you can delete it and that’s a very people-pleasing thing to do. “I made something. Oh, you don’t like it? I’m gonna take it down. You’re right. I’m wrong. It’s terrible.” That will get you absolutely nowhere. You want the audience to get it. I want people to laugh. I want people to enjoy it. But at the same time, the only way for them to like it and enjoy it is if it’s not what they asked for. No one asked me to lip-sync Trump. I did that. I came up with that because I was jealous. I was like, “I want to be a doofus, spouting ridiculous stuff and having people think I’m brilliant. I would love that.” So that’s why I did it. But people actually hate getting exactly what they want when it comes to art, when it comes to comedy. So that’s the tough thing about it. Yes, you want to please them but in order to please them, you can’t worry about pleasing them.
You worked on this over the course of three years, and in those three years, the world went through a bit of an upheaval. How did the contents of the last three years impact your work on Let’s Catch Up Soon and beyond?
In 2019, I was working out of a WeWork and there were a lot of things that really helped that were applicable to my being at WeWork — like introducing myself to the person who sat at the desk next to me, introducing myself to the security guard. Going to open mics and meeting fellow comedians and making connections that way. I could do those things in real time. I was very lucky because I worked very quickly in 2019. Actually, I’ll be honest, like, if you start doing anything, you’ll start to meet people pretty quickly. But then everything shut down and I met all of these celebrities and famous people, and I went from applying principles to people I was meeting at open mics around my neighborhood to applying these things to people on-set and in writers’ rooms for my special, meeting Jimmy Fallon and meeting Ellen [DeGeneres].
I think everything got higher-stakes very quickly. Yet, the same sort of principles applied. The idea that to be genuinely interested, you actually need to know what you’re interested in, instead of faking interests, which is what I feel like I’ve been doing almost my whole life — just pretending to be interested in things. Hollywood is all about saying, “This is who I am. This is what I love. This is what excites me.” And you have to be sure of that. You have to be able to share that because sharing it and sharing what you’re excited about is the only way you’re going to meet collaborators, meet people who love that, too, and grow your audience.
So I think it was like small-scale 2019, big-scale 2020 and then 2021 was really more of an adjustment for me in terms of asking my husband for divorce and moving on from that relationship and having projects like my CBS pilot not go and then another pilot also didn’t go. Then adjusting and being like, “OK, so what does it mean now that I’ve had this very different trajectory? Who am I and what do I want?” The world just keeps throwing stuff at me and I think it’s kind of cool that no matter what, like the more the world throws at me, the more I learn about myself and the better I get at taking those things that get thrown at me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s Catch Up Soon: How I Won Friends and Influenced People Against My Will is now available on Audible.
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