“And he saw this one and he said, ‘This is crazy. He was talking about injecting disinfectants into your body’.
“And I said, ‘OK that sounds weird’. So I listened to it and I watched it … it was very visual to me what he was talking about, like putting light in the body, through the skin or some other way, taking disinfectant, injecting it. It was so visual I saw the video in my head. So I decided to just go ahead and make it. And it really only took me a few hours to make it and I put it out within three hours of Trump saying those words.”
And in a flash – with a TikTok video that went viral across all social media – Cooper shot from reasonably successful comedian and author to the world’s favourite Trump Whisperer: the comic whose lip-syncing genius took the words and voice of the President of the United States, channelled them through the physical form of a 35-year-old Jamaican-born woman in Brooklyn – and captured the moment in sublime comic fashion.
Cooper realised her career and life had taken an unimaginable turn when that massive video hit – “How To Medical” – racked up millions of views in a matter of hours.
“The next morning it had two million views … I knew pretty quickly it was going crazy. I had no idea Jerry Seinfeld was going to be commenting on it. I woke up and somebody texted me and said, ‘Jerry Seinfeld is talking about you in The New York Times‘. I was like, ‘This is not real’.”
Real it was, and is.
In the months since, Cooper has increased her Trump lip-sync output to several videos a week, been hailed and interviewed by comedy giants Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, and each of her wildly funny pieces runs to views in the millions. Within minutes.
Fittingly if weirdly, her rise to fame has come while rarely leaving home: she has become one of the most famous comedians on the planet armed with little more than a mobile phone from her home in Brooklyn. As with DeGeneres and Fallon’s The Tonight Show, she spoke to The Age and the Herald via video link. No one could go out – but you could crack it big from your living room.
Cooper is not alone in using minimal technical equipment to attain rapid global recognition of their satirical take on these strangest of times.
She took on the biggest target, the rambling orange occupant of the White House. Further afield, Andrew Cotter looked closer to home.
Cotter is not a comic by trade. He’s a respected and renowned British TV sports commentator. But when lockdown struck he found himself sidelined. He was bored, so one day turned his phone on the competitors closest to his feet – his labradors, Olive and Mabel.
“I was just feeling the loss of sport,” Cotter says from isolation at home in Cheshire.
”I remember when I put the first video out, it was about the same time that the Masters got called off, the end of the Six Nations rugby, the London Marathon, everything went. Then the [British] Open championship and the Olympics, and so my diary completely emptied. The joke was, ‘What’s a sports commentator supposed to do?’.
“And that was it. The idea of it was just doing a serious, solemn-in-tone sports commentary over something as trivial and silly as dogs having their breakfast. That’s where it all started.”
Cotter’s videos went wild, as Cooper’s had done. Celebrities embraced them. The world loved his dogs and his sports commentary on their relationship: from the breakfast wars in the first video; to a hugely popular stare-off over a plastic toy; to Mabel sitting majestically in a fetid pond. And then there was Cotter’s genius take on a Zoom meeting – a remote performance review, but with dogs.
The latter was the perfect satire of the times.
“The messages come in and say, ‘I want one of these every day’,” he says. “Or, ‘Where’s the next one?’. The trouble is you don’t want to put out something that’s not as good … I wasn’t going to do another one after the first one, because it had 10 million views and you think, well, it’s not going to get that reaction.
“Then I was watching them playing on the rug, and suddenly you just see them doing something you think, ‘Oh, hang on. This might be…’. So switched the phone on, start recording it, and do a bit of commentary.”
Cotter’s home-made videos brought him more attention than commentary on a Roger Federer Wimbledon win.
He has knocked back sponsorship offers. “Lots of advertisements, sports-betting companies … pizza, on yoghurts, commentating on kittens playing soccer, on video games. I’ve got to go back to being a semi-serious sports broadcaster after this. So you want to maintain a little bit of your integrity and your credibility.”
We won’t see Olive and Mabel flogging pizza but we will read their story at greater length. Last week, Cotter signed a book deal: Olive, Mabel and Me: Life and Adventures with my Canine Companions is his unexpected professional turn from the COVID-19 era. And Australia was an unexpected beneficiary of his success.
Cotter, a regular visitor to Melbourne due to sporting and family ties, was asked by Visit Victoria to voice a tourism video on the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. This was a commercial deal he couldn’t pass up. “If you can’t commentate on penguins, funny beasts that they are, then you’re really going to struggle. So yeah, that was good fun.”
The isolation era has been a blessing for great comedy that doesn’t need a budget, a name or even a network or a movie. Stuck at home, staring at our phones, we’ve discovered the delights of comic talents who are stuck at home with their own phones – and who have used them to create hugely successful followings.
Michael Spicer’s popular Room-Next-Door videos were popular before the pandemic hit, but the British satirist has hit his mark during the crisis. Spicer’s schtick – as a media adviser talking to a dumb-as-a-rock politician through an earpiece – found its perfect moment in the age of Trump and Boris Johnson. Both leaders have been the target of his videos.
Back in the US, the veteran actor Leslie Jordan – a camp genius who is best known for his guest stints on Will and Grace – has found himself an isolation hero with his Instagram videos. They typically begin with “Well, shit… how y’all doin?” – delivered in pure Tennessee drawl. Or: “Hello, fellow hunker-downers…”
Hunkering down has given Jordan a new career. His quarantine followers include the Hollywood elite and number in the millions, and he is selling merchandise featuring his isolation catchphrases to benefit LGBTQ charities. At the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, he turned over his new-found platform to activists to deliver their message.
In the spirit of Sarah Cooper, there is the online star Maria DeCotis, who took the coronavirus press briefings of New York governor Andrew Cuomo – and his odd diversions into commentary on his daughter and her boyfriend – and made them lip-sync comedy gold.
Not lip-synching but singing in wildly funny fashion is Randy Rainbow, a comic who really does possess that glorious name from birth. Rainbow’s musical takedowns of Donald Trump are part of the social media art of the era.
For non-comics – and accidental comics – like Andrew Cotter, the rise of the quarantine comedian is a sign that in crisis comes opportunity.
He is, like everyone else, a huge fan of Sarah Cooper, the star of the year and one for the ages.
“It is an opportunity for people to showcase their talents … suddenly people are aware of her work and she’s absolutely brilliant,” Cotter says.
“So people are making the most out of this situation, and it’s offering a lot of people a platform to be more creative. Or perhaps even just giving them the time to be more creative, because in normal life they wouldn’t have had it.”