Sarah Cooper, Natasha Lyonne, and Maya Rudolph sound the alarm in Cooper’s new special, Everything’s Fine.
Even if you don’t know Sarah Cooper by name, you certainly know her by reputation. The Jamaican American author and entertainer went viral this past April with the 50-second clip “How to Medical,” in which she lip-syncs along to a recording of President Trump pontificating about the possibilities of light and disinfectant to combat COVID-19. It has been viewed more than 25 million times across Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.Cooper says at that point, “A lot of people who had checked out checked back in. They were like, ‘He said what?’”“I’m hoping that I did a small service to people who might not have wanted to vote, who are actually getting in line right now and trying to make a difference,” she continues. “We have to change this.”Things look bleak through the lens of Cooper’s new Netflix special, Everything’s Fine, which casts the comedian as a morning news anchor smiling through gritted teeth as chaos erupts all around her. The sketch show is the creative brainchild of Cooper and collaborators Maya Rudolph and director Natasha Lyonne. It features a roster of guest stars that reads like a who’s who: Fred Armisen, Megan Thee Stallion, Marisa Tomei, Jane Lynch, Jordan Black, Jon Hamm, Ben Stiller, Winona Ryder — even Dame Helen Mirren. Rudolph herself makes a memorable cameo as a meteorologist who suffers a profanity-laced breakdown on air.“It was a whirlwind,” Cooper says of making the special, which was shot in just five days and came together in a matter of weeks. “I’ve never felt so much pressure. I was like, If I get COVID, this whole thing shuts down. It was just me putting one foot in front of the other. I’m working with my heroes, I’m freaking out inside, but I’m still doing it.”Adds Lyonne: “I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
Cooper, Lyonne, and Rudolph joined Queue’s Krista Smith for a conversation about how Everything’s Fine came to be.Krista Smith: Sarah, tell me about that moment when you decided you had to take on Donald Trump.
“It will feel like a time capsule, but the themes are things that humanity is probably going to be dealing with for a long time.”
Maya and Natasha, you have been friends for years, and you formed this production company, Animal Pictures. How did you know that Everything’s Fine was the right project to be your first out in the world?
Natasha Lyonne: We were set on this as soon as we heard that we were going to be meeting Sarah. The way she has connected with people, it’s the only thing that can articulate and externalize the underlying paranoia, terror, surrealism, absurdity — the chaotic vibes and the sadness of this moment. It felt like this was the thing to make, and that the time was now and only now. Everybody rallied because it’s nationwide, this feeling around Sarah and what she means to this moment.
The special tackles not only Trump, but also QAnon, race, extreme weather, Karens . . . How hard was it to determine what was going to make it in?
Rudolph: There is a ton that is on the cutting-room floor. Sarah came to us brimming with ideas. The idea of sitting there while the fire is burning around you, like, “Everything’s fine!” was perfect. It epitomized what we’re all going through. It’s hard to figure out how to cover all of this true insanity when it’s coming at you in real time. It’s a never-ending clusterfuck of madness. I think that what we distilled it down to really gives you a whole sense of what we’ve been going through.
I think that ability to bring all of us together is the sweet spot for Natasha.”
Natasha, what is your favorite part of the day when you’re directing?
Lyonne: I just really love it. Maya’s always like, “This is what you’re meant to be doing.” I wouldn’t have even written my first short film if not for Maya saying she’d do it. I just wanted to work with her so badly. I think that’s how the company came together: We were seeing who we were as makers of things.
We have to talk about the sketch with the QAnon dolls of Ivanka, Melania, and Kellyanne Conway, where Aubrey Plaza plays the online shopping host. Sarah doing the lip-syncing for the dolls was genius.
Cooper: Executive producer Paula Pell came up with this idea to have me lip-syncing the women as Barbie dolls, but we weren’t really sure what the container was for that. Natasha and I were up late writing, and I think I said, “QAnon QVC?” It turned into this whole thing. And then Aubrey totally killed it. It’s like watching a train wreck, but you want to be on that train, you know what I mean?
How’s this happening? Helen Mirren is a major Sarah Cooper fan. It’s everything that brings me joy, all happening at once.”
Cooper: There have been so many jokes about “grab her by the pussy.” Over the past four years, it’s just become a stupid, easy punch line. I think we forgot how awful that audio is. This brings it back to the forefront: This was an awful thing, and he became president. So, I’m really happy that it’s in there, and I’m so happy that Helen Mirren, who had never lip-synced anything before in her life (this is a Shakespearean-trained actress, she’s been knighted by the Queen), played the fuck out of Billy Bush. She was absolutely astounding.Lyonne: You’re like, How’s this happening? Helen Mirren is a major Sarah Cooper fan. It’s everything that brings me joy, all happening at once.Part of what we were hoping to achieve was using Helen’s underlying gravitas to bring it home, because, as Maya and Sarah are saying, we’re just immune to everything at this point. This moment should’ve shut it down, yet here we are four years later and it wasn’t the thing that shut it down. There was a lot of work trying to figure out how to have it resonate in a way that’s closer to a psychological thriller: I’m in a house of mirrors, of madness. Nothing means anything, and I’m at the news desk being asked to continue like it’s another day at the office.
Watch Sarah Cooper: Everything’s Fine
on Netflix now.