The trio tell EW how they combined forces to create a timely comedy special with a slew of A-list guest stars in the middle of a pandemic.

By Tyler Aquilina
October 27, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Credit: LACEY TERRELL/NETFLIX

Sarah Cooper has perhaps had an even stranger 2020 than the rest of us. A mere six months after becoming a viral sensation thanks to her satirical videos lip-synching to President Donald Trump, she's landed her own Netflix comedy special, Everything’s Fine, produced by Maya Rudolph and directed by Natasha Lyonne. It’s been a whirlwind — and Cooper still can't quite believe it herself.

“I was pinching myself the whole time,” the comedian tells EW. “I've never done anything like this before, so I don't know what the normal procedure is, but within a week, we had the name, the concept, everything. And within a few weeks, Netflix was attached, and we were off and running very, very quickly after that.”

“Special circumstances require special action,” adds Rudolph. “This was definitely a project that was time-sensitive; we wanted to get it out before the election, and there's so much of it that is timely.”

Indeed, this is no typical comedy special. Everything’s Fine features a slew of A-list guest stars, from Fred Armisen, Aubrey Plaza, and Jon Hamm to Megan Thee Stallion, Helen Mirren, and Connie Chung, and tackles our bizarre, apocalyptic year with off-kilter and slightly unnerving sketches. Plaza, for instance, plays a QAnon “cult member” with her own home shopping show, and Hamm plays a spoof of Trump-supporting MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Through it all, Cooper, as herself, attempts to put on a happy face while hosting a would-be cheery news show. (And yes, she also portrays the president herself.)

“I pitched this idea of doing a special that really encapsulated what was going on this year, and they were excited about the idea,” Cooper explains. “It was kind like throwing a bunch of things at the wall and seeing what stuck, and then putting it all together, and it happened really, really fast.”

With the special now on Netflix, EW spoke to Cooper, Rudolph, and Lyonne about putting it together, making light in this dark year, and what makes Cooper uniquely suited for this moment.

Sarah, what was going through your mind throughout the production of this special?

SARAH COOPER: Throughout the production, I was like, “Don’t get COVID. Don't ruin this entire production for everybody.” I felt a lot of pressure to just keep it together. And I think that was basically my M.O. Every time I had a moment of, “Can I do this?” I was just like, “I don't have time to ask myself that question right now.” And it was a huge transition from being in my apartment, filming with my iPhone, to being on this giant set. I think I just had to stop that voice in my head of, “I don't know if you're ready for this,” and be like, “Nope, I'm ready, cause it's happening.”

Maya and Natasha, what was it that attracted you to Sarah’s comedy?

NATASHA LYONNE: I mean, it's the only thing in this moment that really resonated and connected. We just want to make something that means something, and that's a very tricky thing to do when it feels like the world is falling apart. So many things feel either like you're completely checking out, or suddenly seem very outdated, because they’re not talking about COVID and the presidency and Black Lives Matter. There are so many other ideas floating around that just seem, suddenly, like yesterday's news. The idea, I think, for all three of us, [was] being able to discuss those things from a place of hope, which is a part of the essence of comedy in a way — a sense of, like, don't give up just yet, because we also see what you see. And we're still able to comment on it, we still have free speech; who knows if that's gonna end [with] us locked in a gulag a month from now, but this project feels so special and necessary in this moment.

On that note, how do you all approach making comedy from such a dark and difficult moment in time?

COOPER: A lot of it was, you know, throwing out ideas. Maya had this idea of like, "What about an asteroid?" And like, “This MyPillow guy is nuts. Can we do something with that?” So it was just kind of like, throwing things out there, writing something, reading it, does it work? Is it funny? And then saying yes or no very quickly.

MAYA RUDOLPH: You know, it is f---ing depressing, and I think it took what Sarah was doing for me to feel uplifted, and to feel like there was someone seeing this too, and [have] an ability to laugh at the things that were making me furious, and that I was having a hard time being able to watch or stomach or listen to. Because on top of feeling so depressed and feeling despondent, laughing at how ridiculous things truly are, sometimes, is really the best possible way to deal with it. And then I think just getting in the writers’ room and being able to talk to each other about things was really helpful, just to get through it. I think that spirit is alive and well in the special.

What was production like in the midst of quarantine?

LYONNE: It was a Herculean task at every phase. It’s not a huge budget, it was made in five days, and it required everybody to be firing on all cylinders constantly. Thank God that Sarah was coming fully equipped for her moment with so many ideas, and that Maya and [writer-producer] Paula [Pell] were coming with this SNL [experience] in their bones, of like, "We know how to make things and turn them around in a week."

For me as a director, who's tasked with making it all a reality, it was like putting together a real Avengers-style team of people. Like Polly Morgan, who was our eight-and-a-half months pregnant cinematographer, is one of three women in the [American Society of Cinematographers]; she is not in the comedy special business. And JC Molina's an incredibly accomplished production designer who worked on Lemonade. Once you bring them to the table, and you're bringing in Helen Mirren and Megan Thee Stallion, it's like, slowly, the thing is sort of mounting. I just think everybody came out for Sarah; everybody was like, “This is the only thing worth making right now.” And also, the challenges that existed were incredibly unanticipated. Usually you have some, but they're not in the realm of the way COVID changes shooting.

COOPER: And it wasn't just COVID. I mean, one of the COVID regulations is that every few hours, we had to leave the set and go outside and take a sanitation break. But then, during part of the filming, there were also these raging fires, and the air quality outside wasn't great, so being outside wasn't safe either. And we were shooting a special about the exact situation that we were in at the time, which was kind of a funny place to be.

LYONNE: Yeah. And that's what was really satisfying, was that, quote-unquote comedy special or not, it definitely seems to have tentacles closer to Network or A Face in the Crowd in terms of the societal paranoia of the moment. Like, we were turning lights on the set into the red hellscape of the apocalypse, and simultaneously outside, it's not safe to shoot because the sky has turned red. So it always sort of felt like, “I guess we're scratching the right itch.”

Sarah Cooper: Everything's Fine is currently streaming on Netflix.

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