"When Trump won, I said, 'I just won the lottery,'" 13-year Trump impersonator John Di Domenico told VICE in the latest episode of our video series Fame-Ish (watch it above). Di Domenico was recently crowned winner of the Trump Impersonator contest at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles.
Since the 2016 election, there's no doubt that comedy has changed because of Trump—but this past April, the Laugh Factory nonetheless soldiered on in its search of "the true greatest President Trump impression the world has to offer." Trump's specific way of speaking—not to mention his arsenal of copyable hand movements—has long made him an impersonator's dream. But what makes someone stand out from the combed over crowd, especially when the material is so, ahem, combed through?
Back in New York, we caught up with Michael Salgarolo, a PhD student at NYU whose Trump-impersonator focus is more on material than looks. A California native, Salgarolo is Filipino, Italian, and Jewish; naturally, his ethnic background makes his appearance much different than Trump's, but Salgarolo's focus renders that redundant.
"Going through the election was traumatic, and this was a coping mechanism for me—to write these jokes." he said. "I grew up in a pretty conservative area, and even my parents friends' are Trump supporters—but they'll come up and say, 'Wow, great job, that was so funny.'" We talked to Salgarolo about what drove him to compete, how Trump's changed comedy, and if he plans on continuing to impersonate him.
VICE: How did you first get into stand-up?
Michael Salgarolo: The first time I did stand-up I was 12 or 13, in junior high. My dad showed me these Bill Cosby comedy albums from the 60s [laughs]. I did theater for many years in high school, college, and grad school. I was sort of bored and wanted to do something else, so I gave stand-up another shot.
What made you want to take part in the Trump impersonator contest?
I had been doing Trump for a little bit—on the stage and in general—and it popped up on Facebook that the Laugh Factory was doing this thing. I thought, Hey, let me throw my hat in the ring and see what happens. It was a really cool event.
Do you feel like Trump has changed comedy?
It's interesting. I get the sense that the market on Trump jokes has totally bottomed out. A lot of people in comedy clubs and open mics are just tired of it. Whenever you hear a comedian go, "I think Donald Trump is an idiot," you just feel the room go, "Oh my God, here we go again." But I do think that comedians and audiences are more willing to talk about politics, race, and things that are in the news.
Going into this contest, did you think you were going to win?
I wasn't sure. I'd never really done anything like that. I thought I had a shot. I knew my impression was pretty solid and my jokes were pretty good, but I also knew I'd be going up against guys who had been doing Trump for years, so figured that it was going to be tough.
How did you feel when you didn't win?
[Laughs] I was fine. At that point—and to this day—I was an open-mic comic who had been getting up on-stage once a week for five or six months, so to be up there at the Laugh Factory, meet Jamie Masada and Darrell Hammond, and get on CNN was awesome. Also, I grew up in the LA area, so a bunch of friends and family got to come to the show, and they had a good time.
Trump is a loaded subject for comedy. Do you feel comfortable telling friends and family that you participated in a Trump impersonator contest, even if it was clearly in jest?
Yeah, everybody likes it. I think it's pretty clear that I have little respect for this guy, but something about it is funny to a lot of people.
Is this something you want to do for a living?
Since the competition, I've made it my goal to work on stuff that's not about Trump, and to bring my own voice out as much as I can. So Trump is now part of my act, but it's not my whole act. I love doing comedy, and it's something I want to keep doing in the future.
Are there any other impersonations that you like to do?
I did Obama for years, which was always fun. I've been doing Aziz Ansari for a while, which is a lot a fun. The collection of people that's in my head is very… it's Obama, Aziz, Trump, Regan, Joe Pesci, you know, just kind of a strange combo—I've been doing a little Jerry Seinfeld, too. I try to do a bunch.
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