She Went Viral Mocking Trump. Now Sarah Cooper Is Taking on a New Role.
Way back in 2020, when Donald Trump was still in office and many Americans were stuck at home, Sarah Cooper became Internet-famous in a most idiosyncratic way: by lip-syncing some of the president’s more inartful musings.
Using tools she had at hand — her wit, her phone — she built an enormous audience for her short-form videos mocking Trump’s remarks on everything from the coronavirus to crustaceans.
The exercise was a bit of a lark, and a bit of a coping mechanism. But for Cooper, an actor-writer-comedian who had had little luck breaking into the entertainment world, it was also a game-changer: She finally signed with an agent (at William Morris Endeavor, one of the biggest talent agencies); she starred in her own Netflix special (“Everything’s Fine,” created with Natasha Lyonne and Maya Rudolph); she adapted one of her books, “How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings,” into a pilot (it did not get picked up, but was still “an amazing experience”); and she shot a Jerry Seinfeld film (“Unfrosted: The Pop-Tart Story,” currently in postproduction).
Now, at age 45, she is at last doing the thing she has dreamed of since she was a child: performing in a play. She is making her professional stage debut in “The Wanderers,” a drama by Anna Ziegler that is in previews Off Broadway at the Roundabout Theater Company, with the actress Katie Holmes also in the cast.
Cooper, who last performed in theater as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, has had a circuitous path back. Born in Jamaica, she immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was 3, and at first found little family enthusiasm for her artistic aspirations. “They didn’t think that I’d be able to support myself as an actress,” she said, “which, you know, they had a good point.”
At college she switched her major from theater to economics; after graduating, she worked in tech design. At 30, she quit to try her hand at acting; when that wasn’t going well, she turned to standup comedy, “and then,” she says, “I went broke.”
She wound up managing a design team at Google, but quit that to write. And then came the pandemic, the videos, and all that followed.
“Those videos absolutely changed my life,” she said during a recent interview at her apartment high above Downtown Brooklyn, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What is “The Wanderers” about?
“The Wanderers” is about two couples. One couple is very much an arranged marriage, in the Orthodox Jewish community, and the other couple is not arranged. On the surface, it looks like one couple has all of these freedoms and the other one doesn’t. And yet the struggles are very similar between the two.
Tell me about your role.
I play Sophie, and I am half-Jewish/half-Black. I had a huge failure earlier in my career, but my husband is very successful. When we meet Sophie, it’s about 10 years into their marriage, and she is struggling with her identity as a mother and a wife, and how that is affecting her longing to be a writer. And she’s really feeling distant from her husband.
You had a marriage end during the pandemic. How does taking this role resonate for you?
It’s very personal: I’m a writer as well; I have a lot of impostor syndrome as well; I question my talent on a nightly basis. I just relate to this character so much.
It’s been three years since your first Trump video, which you called “How to Medical.” How do you see that chapter of your life?
Right afterward I was very scared of just being known as the Trump Girl, and felt like I wanted to distance myself from it. But I meet people who just come up to me and they just go, “You made me laugh when it was so hard to laugh.” It’s just made me appreciate it a lot more. Those videos helped so many people, and they also helped me. So I’m thankful for it now, even though I know that if I die right now, my obituary would have the name Donald Trump in it, which is not great, but what are you going to do?
Do you ever feel tempted to do it again?
People ask me to do it all the time, and I have no desire. I like the idea that it exposed the meaninglessness of his words, but I think now that it’s been exposed, there’s nothing left to really do with it.
And you’re not going to turn it into a cycle with other characters?
I’ve noticed I am very good at lip syncing, so I’ll never say never. But right now I’m really enjoying acting, which is really what my childhood dream was.
So what is it like, being in a play?
We did a table read, and table reads are always very scary because you think if you do it wrong, you’re going to get fired immediately. And then we moved very quickly to getting on our feet in the rehearsal space for four weeks, which was such a gift. And then you get on that stage, and the lights hit you, and you’re in a costume, and you’re looking at this man who is just this actor but now he’s your husband — it’s transformative. Oddly I feel it’s where exactly I need to be and where exactly I belong.
What are you learning?
I’m working on my voice, mainly. I’m learning to breathe while I’m speaking, learning how to project, learning about my diaphragm, doing morning and afternoon exercises. I have to say the name of a Philip Roth book, “Sabbath’s Theater,” so all I do every day is say “Sabbath’s Theater,” “Sabbath’s Theater,” “Sabbath’s Theater.” It’s not that easy. I got a lot of opportunities by not using my voice, and so now I really have to figure out what that means to use my voice.
Have you been seeing theater?
I have seen “Take Me Out” four times. I just love that play. Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Jesse Williams are so great. And masculine vulnerability is just wonderful to watch. I also saw “Tina” twice — I see a play and I have to go see it again. I don’t know what I will see next but if I love it I will see it multiple times.
I’m having a hard time figuring out the overlap between “Tina” and “Take Me Out.”
Well they both start with T! Actually, I don’t know what it is. With “Tina,” it was the contrast between that forward-facing, “I’m doing this amazing performance; I’m making you happy; I’m making you dance” and then, a second later, “I’m beaten by my husband.” Showing how those two things could be happening at the same time — this awful, awful struggle and this amazing performance — that was incredible to watch. And also, Adrienne Warren — her voice and her presence was just so amazing.
So what do you hope is next for you?
I am writing a memoir that’s coming out in October. And I want to tell stories. That’s really what I want to do, and whether that’s through writing, through acting, through standup, I want to be able to do whatever it takes to tell stories.
Why a memoir?
My very first book was “100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings,” and I look back now and realize that a lot of that was inspired by my father, because my father always looks very smart. My memoir is about embracing looking foolish. The more foolish I can allow myself to look, the better, because that’s exposing who I am more, and not conforming to what I think people want to see.
Do you miss Trump?
In 2020, he said some brilliantly stupid things. You can’t write that stuff. The stuff that he said, it was gold. So I don’t want him back, but making those videos was a lot of fun.