Sarah Cooper in Brooklyn on Oct. 11
Celeste Sloman
October 27, 2020 1:52 PM EDT

There are a lot of reasons why Sarah Cooper doesn’t want to lip-sync the President anymore.

For one, she’s “very, very hopeful” that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will win the 2020 election. But on a more personal level, the Jamaican-American comedian—who left her job at Google in 2014 to pursue comedy—is ready to show the world that her talents extend beyond that particular shtick. “There are all these things that I’d kind of given up on being able to see presented to a wider audience,” she says. “Those dreams are coming true now.”

Cooper’s new Netflix comedy special, Everything’s Fine, directed by Natasha Lyonne and executive produced by Maya Rudolph, debuts Oct. 27. Featuring a wide array of guest stars—from Megan Thee Stallion to Helen Mirren and Whoopi Goldberg—the variety show consists of short interviews and sketches dealing with issues of politics, race, gender, class and more.

With the news cycle showing no signs of slowing down, Cooper says the special is intended to serve as a time capsule of 2020 that draws on some evergreen themes. “We kind of accepted the fact that we were creating something that was of the moment and would speak to how we’re all feeling in the midst of this absolutely bananas year. Our lives have changed so much, so quickly. We wanted to capture that,” she says. “But we were also able to address some themes, like the theme of con men, that will never go away. There will always be someone with power taking advantage of people who don’t have power.”

Sarah Cooper in Everything's Fine
Lacey Terrell—Netflix

It was the success that lip-syncing on TikTok and other social media platforms brought her this year that Cooper says gave her confidence that she could create something that millions of people would enjoy watching. “The thing about the TikToks was that I made them on my own: I decided what clips to use, what props to use, how to perform them, how to edit them and all those things,” she says. “As a comedian and as a woman, I’m always questioning all my own ideas and my ability to create something that people are going to like. Making these [videos] gave me the confidence that I do have a style and I do have a certain taste and I want to keep going with that.”

Prior to her swift rise to viral fame earlier this year, Cooper, the author of 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings and How to be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings (now a comedy series in development at CBS), was hosting open mics and doing stand-up while working on her next book. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the shutdown of live events around the world.

In need of a new comedy outlet while spending so much time at home, Cooper started experimenting with TikTok. “I’d done a lot of stuff on the internet before. I’d made videos. I have a website. I have blogs,” she says. “But I’d never really played around with TikTok. TikTok was the new kid on the block.”

After coming across a clip of another TikTok user lip-syncing to Trump, Cooper says she was inspired to give the bit a go. “I was watching the daily [White House] Coronavirus Task Force briefings and being bombarded with images of him spouting nonsense and being backed up by people who were supposed to be keeping him accountable—and they weren’t,” she says. “I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like to be this person who has absolutely no substance, but still gets respect and is seen as credible.”

And so, after a first attempt that didn’t take off, the idea for the TikTok that started it all was born. Dubbed “How to medical,” the April 23 video features a lamp and spray bottle-wielding Cooper lip-syncing Trump suggesting that UV light and disinfectants could help treat coronavirus. The 49-second clip has amassed over 24 million views on Twitter and TikTok.

“I listened to [Trump’s] now-infamous speech about injecting disinfect into your veins and putting UV light under your skin and I saw the whole video that I could make, with the props and the other person in the room being like, ‘Wait, what do you want me to try?’ I just had this feeling,” she says. “And that was the one that went crazy viral. At that point, I thought it was going to be a one-time thing. But then Trump kept saying ridiculous things, so I kept making videos.”

In the months since, Cooper has continued to entertain her millions of followers with such Trump lip-syncing hits as “How to bible,” “How to person woman man camera TV” and “How to drugs.” She even made a surprise appearance at the Democratic National Convention in August to satirize Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting.

Cooper attributes her videos’ popularity to people’s need to find a way to process the President’s speeches and sound bites. “I think a lot of people checked out and stopped paying attention to what Trump was saying because it’s been an awful four years and listening to him is awful. It’s constant gaslighting,” she says. “For whatever reason, I get emails from people saying, ‘This is the only way I can listen to him.'”

Having received positive feedback not just from Trump’s detractors but, somewhat surprisingly, from his supporters, she says she’s wary of amplifying the president’s rhetoric any more than it already is. “I definitely don’t want to be spreading his propaganda or be seen as someone who’s able to be used by him to spread his propaganda. So when people are like, ‘I love Trump, but this is great,’ it’s very confusing to me,” she says. “The whole thing with satire is that you think you’re making it clear what you’re making fun of and what your perspective is, but there’s certain people who will always misinterpret it.”

Whether or not Trump is reelected, Cooper says she has no intention of leaving politics out of her comedy going forward. “Part of me is like, ‘I wish politics were boring again.’ I’m glued to the news and Twitter to see the latest thing that’s happening, and it’s just sucking the life energy out of me. It’s sucking the life energy out of so many people,” she says. “But I look back on not voting in the 2010 midterm, and I don’t want to let that happen again because that midterm was so consequential for where we are today. I never want to stop talking about politics because it affects so much of people’s lives.”

In the end, political or not, Cooper says that her comedy always comes back to the same theme. “When I look back on everything that I’ve done, it’s all about looking at the performances that people put on and how people are taken advantage of because they can’t see through the bullsh-t,” she says. “The theme of all of my work is, basically: you laugh at first, but then you cry.”

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.

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