How Comedian Sarah Cooper Mocks Trump With His Own Words

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Mindy Tucker

The secret to parodying Donald Trump, as comedian Sarah Cooper's hugely popular homemade online videos prove, is simply to let the President do all the talking.

When Trump said on April 30 that the country's "death totals" were "very, very strong," Cooper reenacted that on TikTok from her Brooklyn apartment, miming to an audio track of Trump's exact words, while pointing to a whiteboard with an ascending line labeled "Death Totals." In late April, Trump commented that disinfectant could knock coronavirus out "in a minute." Cooper acted that out deadpan too, pointing a spray bottle of household cleaner at her arm and face. And on May 21, when Trump told a reporter that he had "tested positively toward negative," Cooper pantomimed the president's attempt to clarify, her expression toggling rapidly from certainty to confusion and back again.

Sarah Cooper enacting Trump's theorizing about the potential medical uses of light and disinfectant.

The disinfectant clip has been viewed more than 18 million times on Twitter and earned praise from Jerry Seinfeld, who told The New York Times, "The reason this is funny is because she doesn't think she's being funny. When you think you're being funny, that's less funny for us as the audience. When you're being dead serious, that's funnier."

Cooper says, "Because we're so used to really great Donald Trump impressions, it's like we needed something different—we needed something a little bit more absurd. And it is absurd to hear Trump's voice coming out of my mouth." She adds, "We know that he is not a fan of women who challenge him, so I think there is something refreshing about a woman challenging him, or a woman making fun of him in this way." Filming these videos allows Cooper to "be the blowhard that I know I could never be, because of society."

The New York-based Cooper was born in Jamaica but raised in Maryland. (She declined to give her age.) She says she recognized Trump's combination of supreme masculine self-confidence and a free-associating verbal style from her pre-show biz job as a "user experience designer" for Google. She says, "The thing that I just noticed is that he sort of says a lot without saying anything at all, which just sort of reminded me of being in the corporate world and people who are able to B.S. their way through meetings and they can look like they knew what they were talking about, when they really didn't have any idea. So, I just liked this idea of basically pretending to be one of those failing-up, cocky VPs. And, to me, Trump is like the ultimate 'fail-er upper.'"

Cooper says she thinks her work has "taken a lot of power away from him. Because it's like, 'No, this is a human being and he is out of his element. He is completely incompetent and has no idea how to do his job.' And I feel like that even more with almost every clip that I do."

In 2014, Cooper had her first brush with viral fame, thanks to a blog post on Medium called "10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings." ("Draw a Venn diagram," "Encourage everyone to 'take a step back.'") That same year, she left her job at Google to pursue writing full time, and within six months landed a book deal. Her books include 2016's 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings and 2018's How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings. She's working on one more, an Audible Original that she described as "a modern, female-focused take" on Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

For now, however, she's got her hands full with Trump. Newsweek asked Cooper to break down her process and explain how she chooses from the seemingly endless stream of material Trump supplies her with and how she turns already bizarre reality into sharp-edged comedy.

Step 1: Think Visual

"It really starts with either reading or watching something that Trump has said—the latest crazy thing that he's said," she says. "The press conference where he talked about the disinfectant, it was just immediately compelling to me because I closed my eyes and I could visualize the whole thing. I could visualize how I would bring that to life."

Once she pinpoints the soundbyte she wants to recreate, Cooper uses an app on her iPhone that lets her record clips. Then she adds the recording of Trump to TikTok as a private video that only she can see. Finally, she plays that audio while filming herself acting it out.

Step 2: Practice, Practice, Practice

Because Tik Tok doesn't allow for much post-production editing, before she begins filming, Cooper does something it is difficult to imagine her target ever doing: she practices. "I'll practice lip-synching, I'll stop lip-synching and then try to just say the words from memory, as myself, a few times. And then practice lip-synching a little bit more."

Cooper estimates her rehearsals run for about an hour and says she does them alone. "I don't run it by my husband or look in the mirror. It's really just looking at takes. I'll record myself over and over again, and then I'll watch it, and then I'll delete that and then I'll do it again."

Step 3: Get Rhythm

Once she's done with practice, successfully scouted a location (meaning found the right room in her apartment), gathered any necessary props and set her iPhone up on a tripod, Cooper starts filming. The difficulty and pace of each take depends largely on Trump.

"That first one with the disinfectant, he was speaking so slowly that I think it was a little bit easier. There's a video that I did with him talking about testing and he goes from talking about testing to talking about South Korea without a breath in between the two things, and that took me, like, 50 or 60 takes to get, just because it just comes out of nowhere."

Step 4: Go Viral

This last step is the simplest: Once the video is done, Cooper posts it online—on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube—and watches as it spreads. She says it's particularly rewarding to see how TikTok users take her work and use it to make their own Trump content. "Hundreds of people take the audio that I put in there and they make their own version of it. So, it's like I'm sort of inspiring hundreds of people to make fun of him as well, which I kind of like."

How Comedian Sarah Cooper Mocks Trump With His Own Words