Alphacat on Playing Obama: What to Do When the Term Ends?

/ Feb 14, 2014

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It’s great news for YouTubers when a popular video can open a gateway to endless content within the same theme. On the other hand, it can also trap you into a single shtick. Alphacat (real name: Iman Crosson), a now legendary Obama impersonator on both YouTube and Vine, spoke to the pros and cons of playing a crowd-favorite character on the newest “Ear Biscuits with Rhett & Link.”

Crosson’s foray into Obama impersonation was actually quite strategic. If you’re going to pick a public figure to spoof on the internet, timing means a lot. “I had a sobering moment of clarity,” Crosson said prior to the November 2008 election. “At that time, I didn’t do any impressions…[I figured that] if I can come up with an impression of this guy [Obama] now, and if he wins the presidency, he will be the first black president, which will automatically make him the most popular guy on the planet, so if I can get out there, I can corner that market.”

To prepare for the role, Crosson researched Obama, presumably watching videos to pick up on mannerisms and voice. Crosson did this way before the election, since he was looking to get a head start on being the Obama on YouTube, which made him “nervous to put [himself] out there.” When he did, his first Obama video got views like Crosson had never accumulated before.

Of course, you can’t lie back and hope a surefire impersonation will continue to impress fans without also throwing them special twists. For Crosson, bringing his Obama character to musical parody served as his “flash point.” The first video in this vein, which now has about 22 million views on YouTube (most of which accrued within the first few months), led to a whole slew of offers, the strangest of which may have come from Aretha Franklin. Crosson called everyone on her guest list to invite them to her birthday party…in the voice of President Obama, of course.

The problem with playing a popular figure on platforms like YouTube, where the audience holds more sway over entertainers’ content, is that it gives you little room to branch out. Crosson described “getting upset with [his] audience” because whenever he would post something new, many would respond, “Just stick with Obama.”

Getting tired of hearing this (and of people’s unfailing requests to “do the Obama voice”), Crosson “hit a point where [he] stopped making videos for six months.” Though he reflected that this was probably a bad move on YouTube, he didn’t think of that at the time.

Coming back to YouTube, Crosson began to balance his Obama videos with other sketches and parodies, learning that “you kind of have to train your audience.” Crosson eased them into a variety of videos and now knows who makes up his true, core audience. They were the ones who supported his non-Obama videos and stuck with him through various changes in content.

Perhaps the last challenge here for Crosson will come at the end of the President’s second term. What do you do when the figure you’re impersonating becomes less relevant? Crosson’s not worried, with plenty of projects in the works [link to last acat article about his other work] to keep him busy as he anticipates the end of an era.

For more on Crosson’s YouTube techniques, here’s the latest “Ear Biscuits with Rhett & Link.”

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