Donald Trump has some ideas about fighting coronavirus. “We hit the body with a huge, whether it is ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” the president said to the confusion of nearby aides. “Assumption, I said, you brought the light into the body, which you can do either through the skin or … in some other way,” the president continues, gesturing to her –
Her? I should explain. The words are 100 percent Donald J. Trump. The measures belong to comedian Sarah Cooper, whose homemade lip-syncing of the president’s talking pandemic-related statements has become the most effective impression of Trump yet.
She captures her Trump completely through pantomime. She crosses her arms and bounces on the heels, like a C.E.O. filibustering through a meeting while the staff suffers. Lots of lumps were seized on Mr. Trump’s bleaching recipe for easy jokes, but her performance goes on somewhat deeper: the peacock rights of the longtime boss who is used to having his every whim appealed, his every thought daughter famous as a Michelangelo.
Long before he was elected, Donald Trump posed the challenge of being easy to imitate and thus almost impossible to satirize. Everyone has a Trump, and when everyone has a Trump, no one does.
A major problem comes when a writer tries to take the president’s belligerent spoken jazz (“I know words. I have the best words”) and forces it into comedic 4/4 time. Even the most lacerating satire must impose on Trump, who – like news reports trying to find a story in his ramblings – ends up polishing reality, losing the chaos necessary for the genuine article.
Which may have ruined Donald Trump to become TikTok president. The service was built around the concept of lip sync movies, and to fake this president, the perfect script is no script.
“The sprout has become so brilliant,” she mouths – rocking a drink, squinting her eyes and spiraling a finger at her temple – “that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.” (A TikTok search for “#drunktrump” provides a growing crop of examples.)
In 2008, Tina Fey hit on a version of this with her “Saturday Night Live” Impressions of Sarah Palin, some of the best lines being president or almost verbatim quotes. But even Miss Fey put some English into Palin’s English, as with the line “I can see Russia from my house”, which some later mistook for a real quote.
With Ms. Cooper, there is the added benefit of having Mr. Trump – who boasted of sexual abuse, ran on xenophobia and cruelly referred to African and Caribbean countries – played by a black woman born in Jamaica. (Compare the “S.N.L.” sketch that used as a punchline idea that Leslie Jones wanted to take over the president’s role.)
It’s more than just irony. It is somewhat liberating that Ms. Cooper takes on a subject she couldn’t expect to reflect, just as Melissa McCarthy was released to Imagine a hyper-aggro version of former press secretary Sean Spicer.
Instead, Ms. Cooper’s Trumpian feature is partly a caricature of performative masculinity. (Mr. Trump’s lifelong public figure has also been a caricature of performative masculinity.) There is something provocative in a woman who tries a male politician without scrutiny, his view of the other people in the room as temporarily useful props.
It is partly an impression of Mr. Trump, an attempt to ask a woman can get away with what Mr. Trump does and what it might look like. (Ms Cooper wrote a 2018 guidebook entitled “How to Succeed Without Harming People’s Feelings.”)
Other Cooper videos are more minimal, like a 12-second clip of the president telling about his financial record: “We’re taking back our country and a big focus is exactly that, with, uh, minorities, especially if you look at, oh , the Asians. “
There is no costume or staging. Miss Cooper does all the work with her eyes, which wave around with fun at each “uh” before landing anywhere off the screen and pointing to “Asians.”
This is another theme for her Trump, the insistent trust betrayed by micro-expressions of terror. From Ms. Cooper’s lips, the president’s sentences become plywood bridges that he tries to nail together, one shaky plank at a time, over a dwindling Looney Tunes canyon.
In addition to capturing the moment, Ms. Cooper Trump says something about what makes a good political impression. Too often people judge it by the Rich Little standard – how much you manage to look and sound like the subject.
Mimicry is a neat trick, but it is not satire if there is no idea of the person, who can hit closer to the core than a pitch-perfect imitation. It Ms. Cooper and the company are developing comedy not as writing, but as a kind of political cartoon life.
And it has applications in addition to Mr. Trump. Comedian Maria DeCotis performs Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s information symbols about family life in quarantine as a sort of messy sitcom, where she plays New York’s governor, each of his adult daughters and a daughter’s boyfriend.
All of these pieces prove that creativity eventually finds ways to work out of visible dead ends: not just how to do comedy under quarantine, but how to ridicule a political moment. Comedians aren’t the only ones who look at our current reality and say, “I have no words.” It turns out you don’t need anything.