Sarah Cooper knows how to make comedy during the pandemic.
The comedian has gone viral (although maybe we really shouldn't use that word to describe something popular on the internet anymore) since the White House coronavirus briefings began in April. Her shtick seemed basic: She films herself lip-syncing to some of President Trump's more infamous quotations.
Simple, yes, but highly effective and hilarious. Cooper does so much with her body language, with editing and facial expressions, that the bits feel like so much more. Her videos have received millions of views this year on TikTok and other social media platforms, she gained praise from celebrities, a slot at the Democratic National Convention and guest-hosting slot on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" She also nabbed her own Netflix comedy special, "Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine" (now streaming).
Fastest transition from social media star to Netflix star ever? Probably, but Cooper, 42, is not a 5-year-old with a funny pet video. She's a comedian and writer who has been working in the industry for years and finally found her niche, one that so many more established and famous comedians have failed at spectacularly: pandemic humor.
It is not easy to make TV or movies about the current environment. You risk either making light of a virus that has killed more than 225,000 Americans or being so dour and bleak that it's not really entertaining. Cooper chooses neither losing tone for her special. Instead, she leans into the absurdity of 2020 to the point that where the only way to respond is to laugh. It's clear that she understands the fear and anxiety we've all been living with for seven months. She's not so much fiddling as Rome burns but running around the streets cracking as many jokes as she can before the flames engulf her, too.
"Everything is Fine" isn't a stand-up special, but a variety sketch show loosely tied around the idea that Cooper is the anchor of a morning news show called "Everything's Fine with Sarah Cooper." Her character is still smiling her way through banal segments as the pandemic spreads, natural disasters rage, protests for Black lives sweep the nation and politics becomes more ludicrous by the second. With a litany of celebrity guests – including Fred Armisen, Ben Stiller, Jon Hamm, Helen Mirren, Jane Lynch, Megan Thee Stallion, Marisa Tomei, Whoopi Goldberg and Winona Ryder – the special mixes Cooper's segments with fake commercials, phone calls from Trump, "breaking news" and increasingly fantastical plot developments.
In spite of the famous faces surrounding her, Cooper is the undeniable star of the special (although Jon Hamm is pretty hilarious in a parody of the My Pillow commercials). Given her own voice and her own words as a co-writer, Cooper builds upon her Trump lip-syncing persona. Of course, she and director Natasha Lyonne find clever ways to include lip syncs into the special, but this isn't an hourlong TikTok video.
That Cooper is a native to making internet comedy is a huge strength in a special that includes no studio audience. "Everything's Fine" features heavy editing and music cues to lift its humor, tools anyone who cut their teeth on YouTube and social media understands are vital. It's hard not to compare Cooper to late night comedians and recent "Saturday Night Live" episodes made under pandemic conditions, but "Everything's Fine" feels so much more natural than those shows (although made under considerably less time pressure).
Crossing over from 10 minutes of internet fame into Hollywood isn't something many performers have been able to do successfully, despite the rise of YouTube and social media over the last two decades. Talk shows starring YouTube personalities have floundered, and young fans on social media haven't always tuned in to TV programming. But Cooper clearly has the potential to make the jump. She's funny, smart, appealing and attuned to the world we live in.
No matter what happens for the rest of 2020, it's clear Cooper is going to be just fine.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sarah Cooper Netflix special: TikTok star's debut is triumphant