Like other social media, this makes TikTok a difficult platform on which to break through. But Sarah Cooper did it. This spring, the comedian went viral for lip-syncing to President Trump, her facial expressions and the optics of a younger Black woman emitting the old White man’s bluster propelling her to Internet stardom. She crossed the age barrier, becoming a household name among boomers, too. As she joked while guest-hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in August, she is “the reason your grandpa downloaded TikTok.”
Cooper cleverly leveraged that newfound fame to land a Netflix special, a longer-lasting sort of entertainment that could kick-start a new stage in her career. Released Tuesday, “Everything’s Fine” is a political sketch show that, yes, features Cooper lip-syncing to Trump (with a couple A-listers getting in on the act, too). But those moments are the least compelling in a special designed to contend with our grotesque reality. The shtick has become old hat, and “Everything’s Fine” inadvertently makes the case for Cooper to ditch it.
This weariness existed online before Tuesday but swelled after a sketch wound up on Twitter. Cooper plays a morning-show host also named Sarah Cooper in the special and, in the circulated clip, interviews Trump (er, Cooper-as-Trump) while he golfs at Mar-a-Lago. As he continues to spew vague statements about education and immigrant policy, Sarah’s face contorts in mild disgust and disbelief. And that’s the entire bit.
The lip-syncing worked because of its simplicity. Cooper sidestepped an overwrought impression, recognizing that Trump’s verbalized ineptitude is funny on its own, in a bitterly depressing way. But the point has hit home again and again, bludgeoned to an unrecognizable state. Even the special’s crown jewel — in which Cooper and Helen Mirren lip-sync to Trump and Billy Bush while mocking the lewdness captured by the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape — may make one wonder why they ever found this funny at all.
It’s possible that Cooper’s critics spend way too much time on the Internet watching everyone ruin things by running them into the ground. But the trick to longevity in topical comedy is to mix it up before that fatigue hits the mainstream. The more palatable sketches in “Everything’s Fine” are void of lip-syncing and instead take on a surreal tone to express how horrible everything is, be it workplace politics or regular politics. Playing a distressed meteorologist, scene-stealer Maya Rudolph signs off from “hell on earth."
Guest stars such as Rudolph and Ben Stiller — plus several others we won’t spoil — do some heavy lifting here. But to the credit of Cooper, her fellow writers and director Natasha Lyonne, the special is a welcome reprieve from the saccharine pandemic content that pretends there’s an upside to any of this. If you must churn out content that assesses the state of the nation, at least tell the truth. This is hell. Why pretend otherwise?
In a piece published earlier this month, Cooper told The Washington Post’s Geoff Edgers that she has “this image in my head. I’m getting onstage after this is over and starting to do my act, and then somebody in the back is yelling out, ‘We want to hear Trump!’ Part of this is you get famous for one thing, but then you’re like, oh well, there’s other things I can do.”
The lip-syncing feels shoehorned into the special, as if it were something Cooper owed Netflix and her fans. She seems ready to retire the bit, to use her own voice for once. Please, let her.