High life as a Trump im­per­son­ator


Gulf News - - AMERICAS -

andy Nolen is a 66-year-old tal­ent man­ager based in In­dian Wells, Cal­i­for­nia. He spe­cialises in the meet­ings and con­ven­tions sec­tor. His clients seek acts that can en­ter­tain, say, a thou­sand con­fer­ence at­ten­dees who have noth­ing in com­mon ex­cept that they work in the in­sur­ance in­dus­try.

Long ago, he re­alised that ev­ery­one knows the pres­i­dent of the United States, and ev­ery­one likes to make fun of the boss. Thus, his bread and but­ter for the last 25 years has been book­ing and man­ag­ing per­form­ers who por­tray the pres­i­dent. In the 1990s, he did well with a nat­u­ral Bill Clinton looka­like named Tim Wat­ters. In the 2000s, he hit it big with Steve Bridges, who used elab­o­rate fa­cial pros­thet­ics to trans­form into a strik­ing like­ness of Ge­orge W. Bush.

While the cor­po­rate clients want unique and memorable per­form­ers, they gen­er­ally don’t want any­thing risqué or of­fen­sive.

That’s why the buzzword that guides Nolen is “re­spect­ful.” He en­cour­ages the en­ter­tain­ers he rep­re­sents to “poke fun” at the pres­i­dent, in a clever but civil way.

“Our ob­jec­tive is to make peo­ple chuckle and say, ‘Gosh, that was fun,’” Nolen said. “We’re not po­lit­i­cal peo­ple. We’re not go­ing to change any pol­icy with this. We’re en­ter­tain­ers. Our job is to make ev­ery­body laugh, in a way that even the pres­i­dent and his fam­ily will like.”

A decade ago, Nolen achieved that with Bridges, who per­formed along­side Bush at the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ Din­ner in 2006, and also at a pri­vate birth­day party at the White House. Ac­cord­ing to Nolen, Ge­orge H.W. Bush ap­proached Bridges af­ter his show, say­ing: “Steve, I just want to thank you. Your ma­te­rial is so gra­cious.”

Plenty of bronz­ing pow­der

Since the 2016 elec­tion, it some­times seems as if half the co­me­di­ans in Amer­ica have added blonde wigs and or­ange bronz­ing pow­der to their tool kits. But Nolen, who is a con­ser­va­tive, be­lieves most of these would-be Trumps are do­ing it wrong — es­pe­cially Alec Bald­win, whose por­trayal of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Satur­day Night Live won an Emmy, and An­thony Ata­manuik, who plays Trump on Com­edy Cen­tral’s The Pres­i­dent Show.

“Alec Bald­win is play­ing a buf­foon,” he said. “An­thony Ata­manuik is mean-spir­ited. It’s like Dr. Evil. It’s a de­mon­like char­ac­ter. The prob­lem is, that’s not Trump. You’re play­ing him out of char­ac­ter, and it’s not be­liev­able.”

In the early 1990s, Nolen had no in­ter­est in looka­likes. “There was no money in it,” he said. Be­cause they showed up, waved, and then did mee­tand-greets, the ap­pear­ance fees they could com­mand were lim­ited. “They were get­ting $500 [Dh1,836] to $750 a night.”

Then, a col­league of Nolen’s in­sisted he meet a for­mer real es­tate sales­man named Tim Wat­ters, who had started mak­ing ap­pear­ances at cor­po­rate events be­cause of his re­sem­blance to Amer­ica’s new pres­i­dent, Bill Clinton. When Nolen’s ac­quain­tance spot­ted Wat­ters at a Mo­torola con­fer­ence, he said the ex­ec­u­tives there were prac­ti­cally fall­ing over them­selves to get a photo with him.

While Nolen was scep­ti­cal, he agreed to meet with Wat­ters. “From the nose up, he looked ex­actly like Bill Clinton,” Nolen said.

That still wasn’t enough. But when Wat­ters agreed to de­velop an ac­tual stand-up act that would al­low him to charge more for per­for­mances, Nolen started book­ing gigs for him.

In their best year to­gether, 1996, Nolen said he booked 177 dates for Wat­ters at $10,000 a per­for­mance. When Clinton was re-elected that year, Nolen urged Wat­ters to ex­pand his act, from 30 to 45 minutes, so they could in­crease their fee.

“Most con­ven­tion and meet­ings plan­ners want a full hour if they can get it,” Nolen said.

But Wat­ters didn’t want to in­vest the money into writ­ers who could help ex­pand his act.

“That’s when I said, ‘If I ever do this again, I’m go­ing to find a guy who’s got the will and the tal­ent, and then I’m go­ing to find a pros­thetic make-up artist and make him look like the pres­i­dent,’” Nolen said.

In his nat­u­ral state, Dave Burleigh looks noth­ing like Don­ald Trump.

Squint, and you might say Don­ald Jr. Burleigh has brown hair, hazel eyes, round cheeks and a puck­ish grin. At 48, he still looks boy­ish.

That started to change, how­ever, as Kevin Haney, a Hol­ly­wood make-up artist, re­trieved an in­di­vid­u­ally cast sil­i­cone ear, an in­di­vid­u­ally cast sil­i­cone eye bag and so on, and me­thod­i­cally cov­ered Burleigh in a thin layer of Trump.

“What is the tox­i­c­ity of this stuff?” Burleigh asked, as Haney brushed a Q-tip dipped in de­na­tured al­co­hol against the sil­i­cone replica of Don­ald Trump’s left cheek glued to Burleigh’s face.

“It’s all med­i­cal grade — com­pletely safe,” Haney said.

No chal­lenge like Trump

Re­cruited by Nolen more than a year ago, Burleigh has made three brief ap­pear­ances as Trump at South­ern Cal­i­for­nia com­edy clubs. Now, Haney is prep­ping him for his first of­fi­cial paid gig in the role, a pri­vate party in a restau­rant.

Over the course of his long ca­reer, Haney has helped trans­form ac­tors into mon­sters, aliens, apes, corpses and ex­tremely old ver­sions of them­selves. In 1990, he was part of the make-up team that won an Os­car for their work in Driv­ing Miss Daisy. He turned Courteney Cox into Fat Mon­ica on Friends. No char­ac­ter, how­ever, has ever chal­lenged him like Trump has.

“He has so many an­gles. He has so many odd things go­ing on,” Haney said. “It’s the most dif­fi­cult job I’ve ever done. I say this with­out any hes­i­ta­tion.”

Nolen be­lieves he can blame it all on James B. Comey, the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor.

He de­cided to get an early jump on the 2016 elec­tion. “I re­ally thought Hil­lary was go­ing to get in­dicted,” he said. “The server thing. There was so much against her.”

And when that hap­pened, he rea­soned, the Democrats would have to re­place her with a last-minute stand-in. So Nolen started look­ing for some­one who could play Joe Bi­den.

In April 2015, af­ter re­view­ing hun­dreds of co­me­di­ans and im­pres­sion­ists, Nolen came across a YouTube clip of Burleigh’s 2012 ap­pear­ance on Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent.

“Within sec­onds, I could tell he was the guy I was look­ing for,” Nolen said.

Burleigh, who im­per­son­ates a wide range of Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, had never thought to in­clude Joe Bi­den in his act.

But he did know all about the suc­cess Steve Bridges had play­ing Ge­orge W. Bush. At his peak, Bridges had earned far more to play the pres­i­dent than the pres­i­dent him­self earned in salary for the job.

Tal­ent man­ager

Cross­ing out Bi­den

An­tic­i­pat­ing a sim­i­lar pay­day, Burleigh signed a con­tract with Nolen.

Nolen was wrong about Bi­den. He was also wrong in ini­tially think­ing Trump didn’t have a real shot at win­ning.

Then, 11 days be­fore the elec­tion, Comey an­nounced that the FBI was re­view­ing newly dis­cov­ered emails that he said “ap­peared to be per­ti­nent” to an al­ready closed in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clinton’s “pri­vate email server.”

That, Nolen be­lieved, enough to turn the tide.

“Randy had me over for din­ner when I was do­ing a show in Palm Springs,” Burleigh said. “He took out the con­tracts we’d writ­ten a year and a half ear­lier. And wher­ever it said ‘Joe Bi­den,’ he just crossed it out and wrote ‘Don­ald Trump.’” was

New York Times

David Burleigh, a Trump im­per­son­ator, per­forms at a pri­vate din­ner in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. Burleigh says peo­ple are al­ready ad­dress­ing him as if he is the pres­i­dent.

New York Times

Burleigh per­forms at a pri­vate birth­day. The im­per­son­ator plays Pres­i­dent Trump in his schmoozy, self-sat­is­fied MC mode.

New York Times

In his nat­u­ral state (left), Burleigh looks noth­ing like Don­ald Trump. He uses elab­o­rate fa­cial pros­thet­ics (right) to trans­form into a strik­ing like­ness of the US Pres­i­dent.

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