It’s not very often you go viral twice, but comedian and author Sarah Cooper proved that with persistence and a knack for capturing the zeitgeist, you could strike gold more than once. Cooper’s first go-around happened when an article she wrote for The Cooper Review went viral and resulted in her first published book, 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.
Most caught on to Sarah Cooper’s brand of comedy when the world was imploding. We were in the middle of wave after wave of coronavirus, and President Trump’s constant denial and extreme dissonance of the severity of the pandemic was unnerving. It all came to a head when Trump told Americans they can inject themselves with bleach for a cure-all, and that’s when Cooper’s “How To Medical,” a video of her lip syncing Trump’s words from the press conference — went viral.
She then became the go-to for everyone’s Trump hot takes. When other comedians and Late Night talk show hosts were struggling to reinvent at home, Cooper, with her phone in hand, comically used Trump’s own words to highlight the nightmare we were collectively witnessing.
From there, she developed her Netflix special Everything’s Fine with SNL veteran Maya Rudolph, who acts as producer with Cooper, and director Natasha Lyonne. The smart satire takes the formula of her Trump TikTok videos and pushes it a step further, featuring Sarah Cooper as a morning show anchor, trying to keep up with the hellscape of 2020, while spiraling into madness. Each sketch highlights a moment in time, from Whoopi Goldberg narrating The History of The Karens to Cooper and Helen Mirren lip syncing to the Access Hollywood tapes as Trump and Billy Bush, respectively.
Of the special, Cooper said, “It’s a bit of a time capsule. We’re all having the same experience in feeling like this president is completely incompetent. With the special, I wanted to do something similar of bringing those feelings of everything is going to hell. We can all kind of unite around that feeling and laugh at it.”
AwardsWatch spoke to Sarah Cooper about capturing the nation’s attention with her Trump Toks and her special, “Everything’s Fine.”
Niki Cruz: You’ve been doing stand-up for years, so how did it feel to really have a moment on TikTok of all things?
Sarah Cooper: It felt really random. I guess I’ve always been experimenting with different ways to do comedy, and the pandemic forced me to do that a lot more than I would’ve normally. It was low stakes because no one could leave their house. Everyone was making videos in their homes, so it was kind of a dumb moment. My first book came out of a moment that went viral, so it would make sense that I would get another big break by going viral. It was meant to be! [Laughs]
NC: I was thinking back to the day when comedy existed in talk shows, movies, and stand up. We didn’t have digital in the sense of people picking up their phones and shooting. It widened the playing field.
SC: Yeah, there are so many people that are so talented making videos. The most wild editing I’ve ever seen has been on TikTok, with some amazing writing and performers, and if you do it enough, you can really stand out.
NC: What you did on TikTok was completely unique in that it was taking the insanity and horror of Trump, and turning it into something humorous. It wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish.
SC: Yeah, it’s definitely not. I, along with other people, have been overthinking how do you make fun of him? How do you impersonate him? Or how do you take someone down a peg who has no shame, and how do you do it in a way that seems like a joke? Because what he’s doing already seems satirical. I think the thing that ended up working very well is that I let him do the writing and let people focus on what he’s already saying because it’s scary that he’s the president saying those things, but if you just listen to it, it’s some good comedic writing [Laughs]
NC: [Laughs] I can’t imagine what it was like sifting through the amount of content because it seemed like every day there was a new press conference.
SC: Yeah, it got to the point where I was like, “Please shut up. Please don’t say anything else today because I want to sleep!”
NC: So did it get to a point where you felt like there was an expectation for you to make a video whenever he gave a soundbite?
SC: Yeah, pretty much. I got to the point where a lot of people were asking me. If it was a popular soundbite I couldn’t get away with not doing it. There were just hundreds of people asking me, which is really flattering, but I’m such a people pleaser that I felt like I had to make a video. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so that got really time consuming.
NC: Did you know politics would be your thing?
SC: I’ve always been a big fan of The Colbert Report. That was one of the first shows I’ve loved in terms of the writing. I’ve always been an activist, so I think it makes sense that politics would be something I would want to talk about and make fun of. I think the most powerful satire does deal with— I hate the phrase speaking truth to power — but that’s kind of what it is. It’s taking down the powerful one, so I’ve always admired that.
NC: It brings a new perspective that someone wouldn’t even have considered when digesting the news.
SC: Exactly. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with people when you’re not shoving an agenda down their throat, and you’re just trying to entertain them, so that’s always been my goal with my books and everything I’ve done. Yeah, I have a perspective, but I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just showing you what.
NC: Turning to the special, did Netflix approach you? How did that evolve?
SC: I was doing a lot of general meetings, and I met Maya and Natasha, because we’re on first name basis now [Laughs] and I just fell in love with them and wanted to do something together. Natasha is just one of these people that if she’s not working, she’s not happy. So, she had been in lockdown and was like, “I gotta make something, I gotta make something!” So, we came up with the concept of Everything’s Fine and brought it to Netflix, and they loved it.
NC: I loved how you played with the format of a morning show in this context. How did you cook that up with Natasha?
SC: We developed it together. In my Trump videos, there’s Trump, but there’s always the other person watching Trump and going, “What are you talking about?” The news anchor is that other person saying, “What are you talking about here?” And then, realizing there’s so much news and it’s so depressing, and it’s kind of uncontrollable in the way she descends into hell or madness. Natasha is so cinematic and I thought she did a really amazing job. She made the things we really wanted to do feel cinematic and it had this whole network vibe so it was fun.
NC: I noticed it looked a bit like Apple’s The Morning Show.
SC: Yeah! I think we even tried to shoot on their set, but they were just like “No.”
NC: I think anchors have the hardest job and have been tested over the last five years.
SC: I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how Wolf Blitzer is still doing it, but I can totally see them saying, “I’m not doing this anymore.”
NC: You captured the insanity of having to be everything to everyone, informing the public, and just trying not to have a nervous breakdown on air.
NC: Exactly, though I sometimes wish an anchor would have a nervous breakdown on air. I saw when Wolf Blitzer had announced when Trump had won, and he was so calm when he did it; it was like, wait, why aren’t you flipping out right now? It was so weird to have something so tragic be recorded in such a calm way. They’re anchors, and we want to see them be human, too.
NC: How did you decide what you wanted to focus on for the special? There was a barrage of news at that point every single day.
SC: It was what seemed to be top of mind. The Karens sketch was so much fun to do because I had been asked multiple times, “Do you belong here? Are you supposed to be here?” So, just the idea that she’s an anchor and she’s being asked if she belongs there is just really funny, and having The History of The Karens being narrated by Whoopi Goldberg was really cool. I think it was topical things, and then you had the Mathametiian sketch of how do we have these intimate artistic experiences, but we’re all in our cars beeping? Anything that resonated with what was happening in 2020 made sense to us.
NC: Did you have a wish list of who you wanted to be involved?
SC: Natasha and Maya definitely helped a lot with that. Everybody that I wanted was so game and just wanted to be a part of something, and it was coming out right before the election, and people wanted to raise awareness for what was going on and things like that. Everybody from Winona Ryder, who was incredible, to Jane Lynch, I mean, Marisa Tomei, and Maya! Maya Rudolph — I can’t believe I get to work with this legend.
NC: I can’t not mention The Access Hollywood sketch, with you playing Donald Trump and Helen Mirren as Billy Bush — it’s amazing what you two did with just audio.
SC: We knew we were going to do that from day one. From all of his soundbites it was his most famous one. That was kind of cool too because, with audio, you usually know what the video looks like, but with that audio, no one really knew exactly what happened, so we kind of got to invent it. Then Helen Mirren got in there, and she started snapping a towel, and it was so funny.
NC: I don’t think of Billy Bush that often but when I do I’m going to associate him with Helen Mirren from here on out.
SC: She actually improved his cache for you.
NC: Just a bit! The thing about comedy and politics, it seems as though when we’re going forward positively, it’s hard to capture the comedy in that. Are you looking at this administration and thinking, how do I tackle this?
SC: Oh! I don’t know. I think I was just focused on politics for so long. In terms of comedy, I’m still focused on politics in terms of making sure we’re not losing ALL of our voting rights, but in terms of the comedy, I wanted to go a little bit deeper and explore things that are timeless, not specific what’s happening today, but universal experiences. That’s kind of where my writing is going now.
NC: Are fans still expecting you to push out TikToks, or are they on board with the next chapter?
SC: I made a joke yesterday because I noticed Trump sadly had to take down his blog because it wasn’t getting a lot of traffic. And so I made a joke that he called me begging me to do the lip syncs again so I can make him relevant again, and I had a bunch of people saying “Oh yeah, I wish you would. Keep doing it!” I think it’s a 2020 thing. I’m ready to move on and go out on a high note.
Everything’s Fine is currently streaming on Netflix. Sarah Cooper is Emmy eligible for Variety Special (Pre-recorded) and Writing for a Variety Special.
Photo: Lacey Terrell/Netflix