My Viral Video ‘The Netherlands Welcomes Trump in his Own Words’ has more views than Trump’s inauguration
(as told to Vanity Fair magazine)
1. How did you get involved in the Netherlands Second video?
The ‘Netherlands Second’ video was a concept from Arjen Lubach’s show, ‘Zondag Met Lubach,’ which is the Dutch version of John Oliver ‘Last Week Tonight.’ I’ve known Arjen Lubach since he was a comedian with the improv group ‘Op Sterk Water.’ Meanwhile, I was working in Amsterdam with comedy improv theater Boom Chicago. (I came over in 1994, “just for one summer” and never left.)
I was really happy to work with Arjen. He’s doing a great job with his show, and I know it’s not easy. I once hosted my own comedy news show on Comedy Central when they debuted in the Netherlands. Since then I’ve been working on a kind of ‘Daily Show for the EU’ called ‘United States of Europe,’ on YouTube. It’s a process. Arjen is in his sixth season now, and he has really found his voice, his groove.
The text for ‘Netherlands Second’ was pretty funny in the first draft I saw. I got the call from Arjen’s head writer Janine Abbring. She asked if I could come in and read their text as a native English speaker, ‘but not too Trumpy.’ Then I tried it again full-on Trump, and the room agreed ‘that’s the way to go.’
2. Were you given any instructions apart from the lines and to read them in Trump’s voice?
The writer who directed me on the voiceover was Diederik Smit. I know him from his work on the Dutch version of The Onion (De Speld). He asked if everything sounded authentic enough. We adapted a few phrases, and I added a few embellishments. I also free-styled a bit, but they didn’t use it. The original text was really good.
Part of the reason the original text was so good is that it’s so counterintuitive. Comedically, you generally have one perspective per piece. Either you’re making fun of Trump, or you’re making fun of the Netherlands. Normally you can’t have both. And is there a serious political point? If so, you might want to introduce it at the top. But no, this script squeezes it in at the very end: ‘If you abandon NATO, you’ll make our problems great again.’ The effect is that it catches you off-guard the whole time and then creates the opening for this genuine appeal.
3. How did you perfect your Trump impression? How long have you been practicing it?
I’ve been working on a Trump impression for our political show ‘Angry White Men: Trump Up the Volume’ at Boom Chicago theater in Amsterdam. My comedy partner is Pep Rosenfeld, and we’ve been doing election shows since 2000. We’ve been doing this show since the 2016 primaries. There was a point when Pep was doing Trump, as a classic New Yorker. (And I was doing Hillary, so I could debate Pep’s excellent Bernie Sanders.) But at some point, we switched when I realized Trump doesn’t have a typical New York accent. Just to be silly, I tried him once as a California surfer dude. And we realized that’s closer to the way Trump actually talks. ‘We’re going to go catch some awesome rays, we’ll catch some gnarly waves, it’s going to be totally tubular.’ To me, Trump is this uber-NewYorker who embodies a California accent, but he can only get elected by appealing to everywhere but those places.
4. What’s the key to a good Trump impression? How do you nail the voice?
I actually give a tutorial on my YouTube channel: ‘How to Do a Trump Impression – When You Have Large Hands.’ I freely admit I look nothing like Trump. But to me, the key to getting the voice right is the hands. The hands that are constantly making one of two gestures: ‘peeny-peeny’; or ‘teeny-teeny.’ Once the hands are going, then the face comes naturally. As Pep Rosenfeld pointed out: his eyes are never fully open, and his mouth is never fully closed.
I honestly didn’t set out to do a Trump impression. But now that I have one, I’m committed to answering questions as Trump online. My Fake Trump is now giving more press conferences than the real one.
5. What’s it been like to see all the videos that have followed, and the traction they’re getting?
I still can’t forget seeing the ‘Netherlands Second’ video play for the studio audience. Trump was sworn in on a Friday, we recorded on a Saturday, and they played it for the crowd on Sunday. It got so many laughs – some where I didn’t expect them. And then a couple of my favorite bits got nothing. There’s this non sequitur line that comes out of nowhere about a Dutch news reporter: ‘This is Gerry Eickhof.’ It didn’t get the laugh it deserved because the crowd was still laughing from the previous bit.
I expected the video might do well in the Netherlands. Arjen Lubach has scored other viral hits already as of last season. But when it went viral internationally, I was astounded. I heard it now has more views than the official Trump inauguration video. People are asking ‘Do you think Trump has seen it?’ I hope he’s got better things to do. But if indeed it has more views than his own video, he must have noticed.
When I saw the German video for ‘Neo Magazine Royal’ my first reaction was ‘Oh no, that’s a total ripoff.’ But then Jon Boehmermann admitted it was a ripoff, and he heightened the premise by expanding it to this European-wide contest with its own website ‘Every Second Counts.’ And now there’s this comedy version of the Eurovision Song Contest. Satire is uniting the EU. It couldn’t come at a better time. And I’m very proud to have played a part.
Here’s the video:
Here’s the wonderful first write-up in Vanity Fair.
Here’s the New York Times