Photo by Mindy tucker

Editors' Pick

Best Breakout Star with Local Roots

Sarah Cooper

Internet sensation Sarah Cooper, raised in Rockville, now counts Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Halle Berry and Cher among her 2.4 million fans on Twitter and 646,000 followers on TikTok. Cooper’s hilarious lip syncs of Donald Trump’s unhinged discourses won her global fame this past year, leading to a Netflix special with Helen Mirren, Ben Stiller, Connie Chung and Jon Hamm, and a deal for a CBS comedy based on her 2018 book, How to Be Successful Without Hurting Men’s Feelings. She’s appeared on The Tonight Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and guest hosted for Jimmy Kimmel.

For a comedian most people hadn’t heard of before last spring, fame has come fast. But former Magruder High School classmate Michaela Walker remembers Cooper’s more humble theatrical beginnings. Before taking the Magruder stage, the two once peeled endless pounds of apples to bake apple crisp for the school’s dinner theater production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. “She’s funny and brilliant and truly a good person,” Walker says of Cooper, who was a top student and a member of the pom squad in Magruder’s class of 1995. Their high school drama teacher, Mike D’Anna, still recalls Cooper’s speech as a finalist in the National Shakespeare Competition held at the Folger Library. “She was…a great, sensitive observer,” says D’Anna, who cast Cooper in several musicals and plays. “She can dance, sing and act, but I always thought she’d become a lawyer. She was very globally minded.”

The youngest of four siblings, Cooper, 43, was born in Jamaica and her family moved to Rockville when she was 3. Her father, Lance, was an engineer at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and her mother, Jennifer, worked in human resources. Realizing the risks of show business, her parents encouraged a more stable career.

Cooper graduated magna cum laude in economics from the University of Maryland in 1998 and then earned a master’s degree in digital design at Georgia Tech. While working as a designer at Google in New York City, she met her engineer husband, Jeff Palm. But the stage beckoned. After her blog post “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings” went viral, she left Google to write and perform comedy. She did stand-up in Atlanta and then Brooklyn, where the couple now lives with their dog, Stella.

Last spring, after Cooper’s 11-year-old nephew introduced her to TikTok, she started filming and posting videos dramatizing some of Trump’s sound bites. Many focus on life under quarantine. Her videos “How to Medical,” about his idea to inject disinfectant to tame COVID-19, and “How to Water,” covering his rant on low-flow toilets and showers, are among those viewed by millions. Her fame propelled her to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where she encouraged mail-in voting. Now, flush with projects, Cooper is working with Audible on a comic take on Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Political satire brought Cooper renown, but D’Anna says she will continue to find humor once the pandemic and Trump fade. “She’s using her brainpower to produce laughs.”