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Washington (AFP) - She is quickly becoming the internet's favorite Donald Trump impersonator but Sarah Cooper does it without saying a word -- preferring to let the president she calls her "head writer" do the talking for her.
The former Google employee has shot to fame during the coronavirus pandemic with her trademark lip-synching of some of the US leader's greatest hits.
Each of the Jamaican-born comedian's homemade sketches riffs on a recent Trump soliloquy that has gained notoriety for being unintentionally amusing or perplexing.
She parodies these unwieldy rhetorical symphonies in clips with titles that reflect Trump's topic of choice, such as "How to Obamagate" and "How to strong death totals."
As the United States negotiates a fraught civil rights reckoning, an election between two aging white men and a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the videos have gone the right kind of "viral."
And they have thrust the 40-something into the spotlight as one of the country's most relevant and indispensable comics.
Cooper says the clips appeal in part because they demonstrate that Trump's more eccentric utterances are only seen as part of normal discourse because it is the president speaking.
Exhibit Number One, for Cooper: the White House coronavirus task force briefings, which resumed Tuesday after being halted amid stinging criticism over Trump's exaggerated claims on the public health response and his promotion of bogus treatments.
"Being a black woman, I could never get away with talking like that in a meeting, let alone as president of the United States," she told Vanity Fair.
- 'How to medical' -
Cooper shot to fame on TikTok and Twitter, where her upstart impersonations garnered millions of likes just as the nation's top comics retreated homeward to film their shows from basements and living rooms, putting her production values on par with theirs.
In "How to cognitive" Cooper lip-synchs the president in a recent Fox News interview professing to have "aced" an unspecified cognitive test, baiting Democratic rival Joe Biden whom, Trump alleges, "couldn't pass one."
With smug self-satisfaction, Cooper holds up proof of the completed assessment: the page of a coloring book which looks like it has been scrawled over by an ungainly toddler.
However it was a 49-second clip of Trump's now-infamous suggestion that injecting disinfectant could help fight the coronavirus that cemented Cooper's status.
That video instantly made her the high priestess of what has come to be known as front-facing camera comedy, a new-ish genre of lo-fi sketches using the front-facing camera of a cell phone.
The clip, "How to medical," features Trump speaking during an April task force press briefing in which he also pondered whether bringing "light inside the body" might help combat the disease.
Cooper delivers the monologue with wild, darting eyes and the kind of power-posturing body language that simultaneously betrays an easy confidence and yet the sort of pompous swagger born of deep, unacknowledged insecurity.
"I'm envious of his abilities to sort of BS his way through life," Cooper told MSNBC Tuesday, adding that when imitating Trump "I feel like I'm getting just a little bit of that confidence that I wish more women had and I wish I had."
The topics aren't new terrain for Cooper, who had already written two books -- "100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings" and "How to be Successful Without Hurting Men's Feelings."
- 'Close my eyes' -
The videos have earned Cooper more than 1.9 million Twitter followers — a veritable who's who of Hollywood types, politicians and influencers, from former president Barack Obama to comedians Steve Martin and Ellen DeGeneres, as well as "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker in the "Star Wars" movies, recently confessed on Twitter that "I close my eyes when the real #POTUS is on TV speaking & just picture @sarahcpr. It's really helped control my gag-reflex."
Jerry Seinfeld has retweeted Cooper, as has actor and refugee rights activist Ben Stiller, who called her recent "How to immigration policy" clip his "favorite of all the ones that I really like that are also my favorite."
And with November's presidential election still more than 100 days away, there's not likely to be a shortage of useable sound bites.
"I'll keep on doing them as long as my head writer gives me material," Cooper told The Los Angeles Times.
Until now, Trump impersonations have been famously dominated by actor Alec Baldwin, who portrays the president on "Saturday Night Live."
The Hollywood celebrity "has always said he hates playing Trump... it's hard to play someone you can't empathize with," Cooper told an online audience at a June Q&A.
"But I think coming at it from a lower-status, lower-power perspective it's like 'yeah (Trump's) disgusting and I hate him, but I'm also like, I wish I had a little bit of the benefit of doubt that he got.'"