If Joe Biden wins the US presidential election in November there is one possible outcome that even conservatives will be forced to welcome: the world might see less of Sarah Cooper.
If you have been on Twitter in the last six months you will have no doubt encountered Cooper. Her fantastically popular videos offer a kind of impersonation of Donald Trump — Cooper does not mimic the President, however. She has no original script and never speaks. Instead, she plays the President’s speeches aloud and opens and closes her mouth, as if she is speaking his words. That is not quite all she does. She also screws up her face.
There is some minor craftsmanship to what she does. She is not just pulling Kenneth Williams-esque grimaces. Her comedy, if we can call it that, is in emphasizing the erratic and incoherent nature of the President’s verbiage. So she screws up her face as Trump’s monologues veer from one peculiar pronouncement to another.
Humor is of course subjective; I cannot control what makes you laugh. But if you see the poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin next to a big paper heart in one of Cooper’s recent videos and do not sigh with boredom, it’s fair to say you are easily amused. We’ve all heard thousands of ‘Trump is gay for Putin’ jokes over the last five years.
My problem with this type of comedy — indeed, with all impersonations of Trump, including Alec Baldwin’s Emmy-winning skits on Saturday Night Live — is that they cannot improve on the pure comic ecstasy of the real thing. It is the combination of Trump’s nonsensical speeches, his matchless confidence, plus the fact he is President of United States, that makes him so hilarious.
There are few people as inherently, morbidly funny as Donald J. Trump. Take his recent interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios. Swan asks him to comment on the legacy of the late John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and original freedom rider. It becomes swiftly obvious that Trump knows Lewis mainly because he did not attend his inauguration. The more Swan prods him to comment on Lewis’s life work, the more he returns to picking the scab on his ego that was left by Lewis’s snub. As he thrusts himself into a characteristic assertion that ‘nobody has done more for black Americans than I have’, you cannot help but laugh. Swan’s straight-man replies, ‘I understand’, only adds to the joyous farce.
This is not to say that Trump cannot be eloquent — just listen to his Warsaw speech or this year’s address at Mount Rushmore. But only the most dogged of partisans would maintain that his fantastic egotism and incuriosity don’t make his average interviews and announcements masterpieces of deranged bluster. If you need Ms Cooper’s exaggerated emphasis to spell out the absurdity, then the fault lies closer to home.
When Trump triumphed in the 2016 election, liberals and leftists consoled themselves with the idea that at least his success would be good for comedy. ‘Whatever your thoughts about President Donald Trump’s impact on America,’ insisted one piece for CNN, ‘no one can deny that he’s truly made one sector of America great again: Political comedy.’
Really? I can think of great comedy that came out of the Bush era. Little as I have in common with Stephen Colbert, I can appreciate the genius of his White House Correspondents Dinner speech in which he hailed a president who did not just stand for things but on things: ‘…rubble.’
Where is the equivalent for the time of Trump? Most progressive comedians do not have the sense of the absurd that could make Trump’s administration any funnier than it is. They have a John Oliverian enthusiasm for smart-alecky one-liners that might have pinned more earnest presidents to the display case but are ill-suited for Trump’s grand bombast and shamelessness.
‘There’s a lot of clapter going on,’ said the actor and rapper Donald Glover in a 2016 interview with Vulture:
‘A lot of n****** be like…’ — Glover started clapping exaggeratedly — ‘“So true, yes, so, so true.” But what you did isn’t funny; they’re just clapping and laughing to be on the right side of history.’
Cooper’s videos elicit a lot of clapter. Ah, yes! He’s so stupid! I know it! What an idiot! Even her defenders struggle to maintain that they are actually funny, though.
‘At this point, their value to me is informational, not comedic,’ says one writer for Mel magazine, ‘It is easier to stomach and process Trump’s appalling remarks without looking at his sweaty ham of a face.’ This effect, of course, could be achieved by someone who is not even attempting to be funny.
But the Mel writer makes a valuable observation. Cooper’s appeal also lies in the idea that her lip-syncing, like Baldwin’s impersonations, must really annoy the President. There was even a half-hearted conspiracy theory that Trump wanted to ban TikTok to suppress her videos. It is not impossible for this to be true, though it seems unlikely that Trump even knows who she is. He watched Baldwin’s skits because he is addicted to the television. I doubt he is as compelled to follow others on Twitter.
The liberal obsession with ‘getting under Trump’s skin’ is a cousin of the conservative mania for ‘triggering the libs’, which has inspired a million heroically uncreative ‘jokes’ about, for instance, ‘identifying as an attack helicopter’. There is no humor in the joke itself. The humor lies in imagining the outraged reactions of one’s opponents, who, quite probably, are not even paying attention.
I fear that the twin forces social media has enabled, of intense polarization and fierce status signaling, will inflict a great deal more ‘clapter’ on us. Will a conservative ‘comedian’ start lip-synching to Joe Biden’s bumbling anecdotes? Someone probably already has. And the Western world will continue to sink, as Peter Cook put it in the 1960s, ‘giggling into the sea.’