Alumna Sarah Cooper, Who Went Viral for Lip-Syncing to Trump, Releases Memoir
Photo credit: Animal Pictures / Irony Point / Album
GrubHub, Zoom and Moderna weren’t the only brands to skyrocket during the pandemic. Comedian and writer Sarah Cooper ’98 became a TikTok sensation with videos featuring her lip-syncing then-President Donald Trump’s most confusing, circuitous and clumsy musings on COVID-19. She mugged and pointed and sniffed while suggesting the virus “hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” or asserting that Trump had “tested positively toward negative.”
The clips, with titles like “How to Medical” and “How to Bathroom,” racked up tens of millions of views, scoring Cooper appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and a guest-hosting gig on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Soon, Cooper had a deal with Netflix, working with Maya Rudolph and Natasha Lyonne on the special “Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine,” that came out that October.
In her new memoir, “Foolish: Tales of Assimilation, Determination and Humiliation,” released Tuesday, Cooper recounts that frenetic year and the personal and professional upheaval it catalyzed. The cracks in her marriage, to a software designer she’d met when she worked as a designer at Google, began to show. “Jeff was worried I was treating him differently,” she writes in the memoir. “And the truth is, I had to. For eight years, he had been my No. 1 priority, but now I had legit other sh-t to do. And it was hard not to sound uppity when saying things like, ‘I can’t talk now, I have a Zoom rehearsal with Dame Helen Mirren.’”
Cooper also delves into her childhood, adolescent crushes, early career, fertility woes and much more in her fourth book. From New York City, she talked with Maryland Today about Brad Pitt, the negative voice in her head and the time she got locked in McKeldin Library.
Where did the title, “Foolish,” come from?
I played a fool in the White House, and I’ve written before about trying to look smart. I really wanted to make a title that was more aspirational. I try to be foolish, but I fail, because I have a fear of making an ass of myself most of the time. Fighting that fear of making an ass of myself is the goal. I named it “Foolish” as a hope for me that I can be as foolish as possible in the future.
What made you want to write a memoir at this point?
I have this sort of authoritarian inside my head, this negative voice—this idea of not being able to take chances and do foolish things because you're so scared of making a mistake. That really held me back in a lot of ways. It all kind of tied together with being in this relationship that wasn't right for me, and trying to have kids when I didn't want to have kids, and trying to follow all these rules and check all these boxes. This is the story that came out of it.
You mention early in the book that you lived on the fifth floor of Easton Hall. What memories stand out from your time there or on campus in general?
I remember when I first took a tour of campus, how huge it seemed. And then by the time I left, it seemed so small to me. I remember mozzarella sticks being a major part of my dinner. Walking to see a movie when it's icy and just sliding across campus. Playing ultimate Frisbee on the mall in the middle of the night and the sprinklers going off. Walking by Testudo and tapping the nose when I had a big test. I got locked in the library one Saturday night. I loved being in McKeldin, and one Saturday I was in there and I just completely lost track of time. The lights went off, and I thought, no big deal. And then I tried to get out and nobody was there, and I had to call the campus police to get me out. I never went to a football game, even though Easton was right next to the stadium. That's still a dream of mine, to go back and go to a football game.
In the book, you write at length about your marriage, fertility, your family. How did you navigate what to share and what to keep to yourself?
That was really hard. I look at my parents as being the last people who actually experienced the American dream, because they really did grow up very poor. I wanted to include something about how, when they grew up, both my mom and my dad only had one pair of shoes, and they weren't even real shoes. But my parents don't like to focus on that.
There are things that I didn't put in there just because I wanted it to be positive and funny. The deeper things when it comes to my family and deeper struggles—I’d rather put that into characters and stories than to put it into this memoir.
Was it painful revisiting the divorce or miscarriages?
What is painful is how close I came to still being in that relationship and still living that life that wasn't right for me. I do feel like if the pandemic hadn't happened, if Trump hadn't been elected, if I hadn't made those videos—a lot of those things that happened were all part of why I was able to get out of that relationship and be on my own and finally now be living the life that I want to be living. The chapter about fertility is called “Thank God for My Broken Uterus,” because I am very thankful that I didn't have kids. But at the time, when I did think that that's what I wanted, it was disappointing. You feel like there's something wrong with you and your body.
Besides your marriage, how else did sudden fame reshape your life?
Brad Pitt just keeps calling me. Brad, leave me alone.
Honestly, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I’m excited to be able to build friendships with people like Michelle Buteau and Amy Schumer, and to be able to email Jerry Seinfeld. You meet all these people who have accomplished all these things that you want to accomplish.
You just made your off-Broadway debut in “The Wanderers.” What was that experience like?
Whenever I go see a Broadway show, I always think to myself, how do they do this eight times a week? And then I did it, and it was really hard. We had amazing audiences who loved the story and loved the play. My character was a writer who gave up her career so that her husband could pursue his writing career. I kind of looked at her as me in that alternate world of having two kids and deciding that those two kids were more important than my career and then regretting it later.
You're working on a new standup routine. Is there anything else that you can share about future projects?
I would love to reinvent the interview. It's stealth right now because it might never happen. But the idea is to create an environment where people are opening up more than they normally would.
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