The standup comedian and viral impressionist on his weight loss journey, sudden success, and why comedians seem to be getting so serious.
BY MATT TUTHILL
The world of Trump impressions is divided into two distinct tiers. At the top, you have J-L Cauvin. Beneath that, you have everyone else. There have been some very good ones besides Cauvin’s, even great ones and yet, it’s not an overstatement to say he’s in a class by himself. It might even be an understatement. Because it’s not just a voice the impressionist needs to master, but an entire manner and train of thought, and no one can match Cauvin in terms of precision or output Cauvin’s weekly podcast as Trump, Making Podcasts Great Again (Patreon subscribers get access to a whole lot more) is a master class in improv, where he launches into 40+ minutes of rambling as our former Commander-in-Chief, that is altogether hilarious, gross, and so spot-on that it can make fans out of a die-hard Trump supporters.
RI Magazine caught up with Cauvin—who is a lawyer by day—about his sudden fame, his recent turn on Billions, his weight loss, and much more.
RI MAGAZINE: You just lost a ton of weight. How’d you do it and what was the impetus for making a change?
JL CAUVIN: For the last 10 years, I’ve been on this yo-yo. I was an athlete in college and I was in very good shape until about age 30 when I started doing full-time comedy, and the stress and the odd lifestyle lends itself to poor nutritional habits if you’re not super disciplined. Then COVID hit and I was in sort of normal shape for my late thirties, early forties. Then I had sudden borderline overwhelming success [thanks to this video] compared to my up-and-down career until that point, and also had a pretty stressful day job as well. I basically just became sort of a snacking, stress-eating machine and there was nothing to do.
I hit a point where it was June of 2021—having gone through a full year of double work, success, stress—and the scale said 324.
RI: But you’re very tall, right?
JL: I’m 6’7”. But trust me, I went to a gym about eight times that year, so this was not like powerlifting where I was huge with muscle and fat. This was by far the worst shape I’d ever been. It was just sloth and bad food. And I realized I’m 42 now and one of my favorite comedians, Patrice O’Neal, had died at 41. I had worked with him a couple of times briefly before he passed away from a stroke.
Forty-two is middle age. We keep thinking of middle age as somewhere beyond where we are, but it’s not. So 324 scared me. I checked my ego and didn’t worry about what I used to do as a college athlete and in the years after. I literally just started walking a lot and doing stationary bike. All it took was calorie counting, walking, stationary bike, and lifting four times a week. Nothing crazy, but I just really focused myself. In the next seven, eight months I dropped 65 pounds. The truth is I have about 30 more pounds to go, so I’m not done, but I have a jaw line again and I feel better.
RI: You’re a lawyer and a comedian and it is not easy to become or be successful at either one of those things. Having done them both, what advice do you have for readers who feel stuck doing something that they don’t want to do? Because you were able to do both: the thing that paid your bills and the thing that you really love.
JL: I know this goes against what some shirtless gym/life/coach bro on TikTok would say to people, but… you can’t always just make it happen, though that is repeated as a mantra by people like that. My lesson has been: be prepared, work as hard as you possibly can at the thing you want, and be ready when opportunities come.
Some people are pushier than me and are able to maybe make opportunities happen or force the action, so to speak. Unfortunately, that’s really not my personality. My personality has always been to be hopeful, work hard, seize an opportunity if it comes and be ready for the opportunity.
So maybe for anybody who’s out there reading, who feels like they’re a little more passive, you may need more patience with that, but it can work, too. The way that will not work is being passive and unprepared.
RI: Do you have any books, podcasts, anything that you turn to for motivation?
JL: I know this is going to sound cheesy. Maybe it won’t. Church. I’m Catholic and a weekly mass attendee. Some people say, “I meditate,” or “I do yoga” For me, it’s much more old school. I go to mass. Church is the place where I reset each week. … When I take stock of what I’ve done, I’m not satisfied with where I’m at in my career, but I am also proud and aware of how much I have done. So I don’t feel like I necessarily need motivation from any external source.
It’s more like I need calming. Some peace. And to be honest, my girlfriend and my dog have been so important. Especially during the pandemic I grew much deeper in my appreciation for my girlfriend. If I were on my own and all that was happening, I don’t even know what kind of stress I would’ve been under. I sympathize with people who were isolated and had a really tough time with that.
RI: What struck me about the video that went viral for you and created the sudden overwhelming success was not just how good your Trump voice was, but the broken train of thought that you follow so perfectly. Now you have a podcast, a Patreon, you’re on Cameo, and you do this impression constantly. Are there negative side effects to spending so much time in that head space, saying so many awful things all the time?
JL: Yes. So, I’ve been doing the impression since 2014. It got good in 2016. It got great I think around 2019. But the podcast was running for two years with 500 listens a week before that video hit. And that became a space where I was able to work on the impression, work on that mindset. By the time it blew up, I was able to crank out five videos a week, having been able to practice in anonymity, but always with a sort of confidence that if it gets discovered, I know it’s good.
But one time I remember apologizing on the podcast—I think this was before the Easter video—but I had done a bit on Trump complimenting a Broadway actress who was a very attractive, busty actress who happened to be in a wheelchair and she won a Tony Award. And I was going through Trump complimenting her and saying how sad it was, that it was even sadder because she was hot in a wheelchair. I stand by it, artistically, in character. But even after that episode, I said, “Guys, if that offended you, I agree.”
Sometimes I get into the character and I just let it go. You want to let the character run free. But after that, I just didn’t feel great about it. I’ve probably said worse things, but that one made me feel bad afterwards. So I was like, “Hey guys, if that offended you, I’m offended, too, so I apologize. I hope you laughed, but if you didn’t, I get it.”
JL performing standup. By day, the viral impressionist works as a lawyer.
RI: Are you surprised there’s still such an appetite for what you do even though Trump is no longer president?
JL: Well, as soon as the first video hit, I made it my business. I immediately was like, “I don’t want to be a one hit wonder.” I had all these other impressions, all these other videos, this large wealth of standup content. So I kept trying to make efforts to build that up. But Trump remained the headliner. I think social media algorithms—this is the ugly part, I think, of modern comedy—if I post Donald Trump eating a cookie, that will hit for thousands of views, regardless of whether it’s even funny or not, because my accounts and Trump have somehow almost become like Voldemort and Harry Potter, they’re linked, whether I want them to be or not.
Sometimes I think to myself, “Yeah, I would like to stop doing this.” But at the same time I go, “I can make it really funny.” If somebody’s bored of it, I totally get it. I’m bored of it, too. But I take it upon myself to make it great, I want mine to be funnier than anybody else can make it.
RI: Your Louis C.K. impression that went viral some years back has these headlines interspersed where the joke is that no matter what this guy says, no matter how mundane it might be, it’s met with this reflexive praise from everyone. After his fall from grace—even though he’s really the same exact comedian doing the same exact type of material—it is now met with the exact opposite, which is reflexive hate. His Grammy win notwithstanding, there is not a major—especially left-leaning—media outlet operating today that would be caught dead giving him a good review. Is that pretty funny to you? Do you find it ironic?
JL: The truth is it doesn’t pay to be ahead of the curve. In other words, I got so much hate for that. The comments were two-thirds, “This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” and one-third, “You jealous hater. You’re a loser.” People project their own desire to be internet famous onto someone who might be internet famous. I have no desire for that. I want to sell tickets to comedy shows and maybe do some acting and have a full-time career in standup.
But in comedy it seems, and this is the problem that’s getting worse and worse, but people seem to identify now with a comedian almost like a cause. It’s never been worse than it is today, in my opinion, where it’s like you either side with the left and you’re not funny and you’re just woke or you side with free speech warriors and declare them amazing, no matter how unfunny what they’re saying at that moment is. I think Chappelle is obviously one of the greatest comedians of all time, but I had gotten into a discussion with a friend about some of his stuff that I felt was more like lectures from a comedian.
And my friend said to me, “Well, I think he’s earned it.” And there’s that mindset, so I go, “Earned what? He’s a comedian.” There should be no problem making gentle fun of that—this pontificating onstage. But I got a lot of blow back. Some people were saying they thought it was great and then some people saying, “Why are you such a hater?” or “You shouldn’t go after Dave.” And I go, “Is he a special needs child? What do you mean I shouldn’t go after him?”
Now Dave can go after anybody, any marginalized group he wants and I’m not here to say, “No, you can’t.” I am a pretty broad, free-speech absolutist when it comes to comedy, if you are attempting comedy. But with a lot of people, it becomes a free speech issue if it’s targeting the things they don’t care about. But if you come after somebody they like, they want to protect them. And that’s a weird thing to me in comedy and more than a little hypocritical.
RI: I’m not enough of a student of comedy to know if this is a strain that has always been there and it goes back to Carlin and beyond or if today’s premier stand-ups really are more self-serious. I know Whitney Cummings was just dragged for her a self-regarding comment about the solemn duties of comedians as artists. Why do you think people whose job it is to make us laugh keep saying things like this?
JL: There is a problem with comedy, even though I don’t think it’s a huge problem. But if there is a problem, I think the left is contributing more with an oversensitivity. And my theory on that is comedy used to be: you’d go to the comedy club and you were part of that culture. You understood when you walked in there almost anything goes and you had a social contract with the comedians and you got it.
Yes, some people didn’t like it, but most of the time, if you were a comedy club goer, I think you understood that this was its own artistic, raw culture. Whereas now, money has expanded because of the internet. The opportunities, the wealth that’s out there is exponentially bigger, which has helped many comedians, like myself as a paramount example, make a lot more money and reach a broader range of people who might not be in that comedy club culture. They might just be a bored person at work or somebody who likes YouTube videos or memes. But when those things collide, when people go, “I like this person. I’m going to the comedy club,” I think sometimes you have this real conflict and yes, I think left of center people, more politically correct people, start the problem.
But then the reaction to that is not to be funny or ignore it or say, “Ah, get out of here. This isn’t for you.” It’s to then become the I’m-going-to-offend-to-prove-a-point comedian, to not be funny. Or complain about PC culture, which probably won’t be funny. It might get applause from your clique, but once again, we are compounding attacks on funny with other things that aren’t funny.
Comedy has always been an ego-driven business. On social media you can just as much of an ego boost, as much serotonin, from getting a bunch of people retweeting you and applauding your virtue as a free-speech warrior as you can get from retweets because you wrote a good joke. It’s like you’re almost getting 90% of the same feeling from saying, “Look at me, I just defended comedy.”
Okay. Well, why not next time just be a comedian? Maybe say something funny instead of some sort of some self-aggrandizing statement?
RI: You were just on Billions, which, coincidentally, is one of Robert’s favorite shows. Will you be back?
JL: I have no idea because my role on that was fun and could easily be brought back or it could easily be forgotten. In other words, it was its own self-contained segment. I would love to come back. But I genuinely have no idea and I’m prepared for it to just be a one-off career highlight and milestone. So I have no idea.
Follow J-L on Twitter, listen to Making Podcasts Great Again, and check out JLCauvin.com