10:00am PT by Chris Gardner
TikTok Trump Impersonator Becomes Hollywood Commodity: "It's Been Insane"
Sarah Cooper has been called many things — writer, actress, stand-up comedian, former Google staffer, TikTok superstar, etc. But on a recent outing from her Brooklyn apartment, someone on the street saw her and shouted out a name that perfectly summed up Cooper’s surprise pandemic fame: Donald Trump.
Cooper is the most famous presidential impersonator of the moment thanks to homemade videos during which she expertly lip-syncs Trump’s own words, sampled from press conferences, interviews and other media appearances. The more head-scratchers the better. Her first video, “How to Medical,” went viral after being posted April 23 to TikTok, Twitter and YouTube. The 50-second clip features Cooper regurgitating Trump’s proposed COVID-19 cures of UV light and disinfectant. It has since been viewed more than 21.7 million times.
How to medical pic.twitter.com/0EDqJcy38p— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) April 24, 2020
Hollywood took notice. Though she already had a manager (Chris Burns at AGI Entertainment) and a literary agent (Susan Raihofer at David Black Agency), Cooper signed with WME in mid-June and has since been on a meeting binge to line up her next move. And she’s been pressing the flesh — virtually, at least — in between an in-demand press and promotional schedule that has already included appearances on The Ellen Show, The Tonight Show opposite Jimmy Fallon, and ink in a string of high-profile papers from The New York Times and Los Angeles Times to The Washington Post and The Atlantic.
The Hollywood Reporter has learned that there’s interest in Cooper from studios, streamers, production companies and publishers across a variety of genres and disciplines from scripted and unscripted to TV, features, podcasts and books. After signing with WME, Cooper participated in an On Location Live Q&A (owned in part by parent company Endeavor) moderated by friend and fellow comedian Julie Mitchell, whom she met in a book club.
Cooper credited The Office star Jenna Fischer with recommending Julia Cameron’s self-help creativity and spiritual course The Artist’s Way years ago. She tried it but never finished, so she joined that book club to give it another go, and upon finishing, received the clarity that “I wanted to put myself out there a lot more.” She’s definitely done that, and in “an amazing turn of events,” Fischer recently commented on one of her Trump clips.
Cooper’s sudden success is actually not all that sudden nor is it the first time she’s gone viral. She published an essay on Medium in 2014 titled “10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings” that blew up and inspired the book 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying, both of which were inspired by a desk job at Google. The Jamaica-born talent studied economics in undergrad before entering graduate school at Georgia Tech in digital design, even though her dream was always to be an actress and performer. She tried to make it work, but after not landing any parts, she tested herself by doing stand-up comedy at an open mic night in New York.
"I couldn't afford to pay to perform and also pay rent in New York," she recalled. "I very sadly had to accept a job at Google. For a lot of people, that [would've] been a huge accomplishment. It was bittersweet." It was inevitably successful as she used the experiences in meetings as fodder for the essay and book that she followed up with How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings. The increased notoriety has also increased book sales as she preps another one: an autobiographical take on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, which will be released as an Audible Original due in 2021.
Asked to explain why she turned to Trump for comedic inspiration, Cooper said she just couldn't believe her ears. “I was blown over by how much BS was spewing out of this man’s mouth,” she explained. “I wasn’t trying to be Trump, but what would Sarah Cooper be like if she could get away with talking like that?”
That last part requires further examination. “Selfishly, I think I wanted to be somebody who could BS my way through life. Like, I’m jealous. I could never get away with that,” she explained, saying that because she comes from “a lower status and lower power perspective,” her impersonations hit on something that might not be felt when one sees Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live. “He hates Trump so much that you can’t empathize so much.”
After she posted a recent clip — "How to Empty Seat," now viewed more than 12 million times on Twitter — THR's chief television critic Daniel Fienberg praised Cooper's skill as something more than sheer mimicry. "There's a tendency to reduce what Sarah does to 'lip-synching President Trump,' but all of the best parts in this video come from the editing and acting around the central Trumpian performance. And the punctuation at the end."
How to empty seat pic.twitter.com/SxDJ5M1sdN— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) June 22, 2020
As for her own punctuation, Cooper says she's not quite ready to put an exclamation point on the series and move on completely to the next big thing. She wants to do more, even if that can be overwhelming. “I can’t keep up with the content he creates,” she explained, adding that she'd still like to do some of his other speeches, or perhaps even change characters and do something like Brett Kavanaugh's Senate Judiciary hearing.
Now, even with Hollywood on the horizon, Cooper, who already had a stint as a writer and correspondent for the Stephen Colbert-executive produced pilot Old News, will have to prove there's more in her tank that presidential impressions and show the world the real Sarah Cooper. If another recent outing from her apartment is any indication, she's well on her way. "A little girl recognized me," Cooper said. "She was like, 'Are you Sarah?'"
A version of this story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.