Presidential Impersonators See Serious Business In Election (VIDEO)
As the Iowa caucuses wound down, Dustin Gold began to panic. Suddenly Rick Santorum was the man of the moment, and Gold wasn't prepared.
Gold is no political operative. His company, William Gold Entertainment, specializes in booking presidential impersonators around the country, including Reggie Brown, by many accounts the most successful working impersonator of Barack Obama.
Gold already has a Mitt Romney doppelganger in the fold and is working with a Newt Gingrich guy, but until Santorum's strong showing in the Hawkeye State, he didn't feel the need to find a lookalike for the former Pennsylvania senator.
"I really had no intention of getting a Santorum until I woke up at 2:30 a.m., the morning after the Iowa caucus," Gold told HuffPost Weird News. "Now I'm looking for one, but it depends on how he does in the next few primaries."
Such is the world of presidential impersonators, where an election can four more years of hefty paychecks.
"I think the president earns $450,000 a year, but Reggie Brown, our Obama, earns more than that," Gold said. "However, Obama will probably make more when he leaves office than Reggie will."
PHOTOS: POLITICAL IMPERSONATORS (Story Continues Below)
Maxwell Price has portrayed Barack Obama on shows like "Flight Of The Conchords" and said he has been spending the last few months trying to walk and talk like the President.
Jim Gossett has created impressions of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. He hopes his Mitt Romney succeeds where those didn't.
Bill Clinton impersonator Tim Watters said the key to any good presidential impersonation is exploiting the candidate's weaknesses.
Reggie Brown is an actor from Chicago, currently based in Los Angeles, who decided to work up a Barack Obama act on the night of the 2008 election. His biggest claim to fame was when he appeared at the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, and delivered jokes that criticized several of the Republican Party's 2012 and was pulled from the stage by convention organizers.
Standup comic and drywall installer Mike Cote is hoping to turn his resemblance to Mitt Romney into two terms of commercials, corporate speaking engagements and comedy shows. A resident of southern Maine, Cote admits the hardest part about doing Romney is getting the voice right. He also says the key to Romney is to pretend he's "a giant Ken doll."
In 1962, comedian Vaughn Meader rose from obscurity to superstardom with an uncanny John F. Kennedy impression. His debut album,"The First Family," sold 7.5 million copies in a year. However, JFK's assassination in November, 1963, had a devastating effect on Meader personally and professionally and he wound up using heroin. He vowed never to do his JFK impression again and switched to playing country music until his death in 2004.
Never a presidential impersonator per se, Aykroyd has nevertheless done well-received impressions of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, as well as 1996 Republican nominee Bob Dole.
Dana Carvey's impression of George H.W. Bush was so popular that the President hired him to perform it for his staff near the end of his term.
Damian Mason started out doing Bill Clinton for a Halloween party in 1993 and, by 2000, was getting $7,500 per show. Mason says the key to portraying Clinton is to play him as a smart guy who also has a Bubba side and wants to just have fun while being a diplomat or former president.
Jim Cooke is a Massachusetts-based actor who performs one-man shows dedicated to Calvin Coolidge. Unlike other impersonators who perform comedy, Cooke calls what he does "solo history." He first did Coolidge back in 1976 and felt there was more to him than the nonentity fostered by historians. "As I read his speeches and autobiography I could hear a voice in my head; I liked the way it sounded," Cooke said. "I liked his honesty, humility and humor. Especially his humor -- Will Rogers said: 'Calvin Coolidge was one of the funniest public men I ever met!'
Cooke also does shows as John Quincy Adams, who he says is a powerful example of what a man can do at the end of life if he is driven to do something. Adams died in 1848 after having a cerebral hemmorhage while raising an objection in the House of Representatives and Cooke admits that appeals to him. "I'd quite like to keel over and make my final exit in performance much as he did in Congress -- I'm not in any hurry!"
Brian Patrick Mulligan
Character actor Brian Patrick Mulligan has worked up a repertoire of famous people that includes President Teddy Roosevelt, Ben Franklin and Dick Cheney. He says the key to doing Roosevelt is being "a steam engine in trousers." "Teddy attacks everything like a bear devouring a fish," he said. Mulligan is also working up a Newt Gingrich impersonation, which he says sounds like a cross between Kermit the Frog and a college professor.
Mike Cote, a standup comic and drywall installer from southern Maine, wants to play Romney.
Cote, 56, discovered his resemblance to Romney in 2008 when some fellow comics pointed it out to him. Within weeks, he was on David Letterman's late-night show.
But Cote admits he still has some work ahead of him if he wants to be a really good fake Romney.
"I need to get the voice down," he admitted with a thick New England accent. "The voice is a challenge, because I'm not an impersonator."
Both Cote and Gold said Romney's button-down personality presents a daunting challenge for any impersonator -- unlike Bill Clinton, who has personality quirks that Gold says are "the gift that keeps on giving."
Cote said he has a handle on the Romney character, though.
"He's like a Ken doll," he said. "You just pull the string."
WATCH: HOW TO IMPERSONATE PRESIDENT OBAMA (STORY CONTINUES BELOW
While presidential impersonators once saw their gigs dry up when the subject left office, Gold is trying to extend the masquerade of Clinton copycats and bogus Bushes with a bevy of multi-character shows.
For his part, Brown said he think an Obama impression will remain relevant long after the president has left office.
"I am confident Obama will win," Brown said in an interview, "but if he doesn't, he's still a historical figure and I believe I will be able to do him, either comedically or seriously, for the rest of my life."
Gold says it takes about a year after a new president gets elected for an impersonator to establish himself professionally.
"It took a little bit longer for Reggie, in part, because people liked Obama at first and being the first African-American president, people weren't sure how to spoof him."
Brown says his career really took off this past June, when he was ushered off the stage at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans after ribbing various GOP contenders as well as Obama.
"It took a long time to build up a business, but, since then, I've been on the road constantly," Brown said, adding that he started working on his act the night of Obama's election.
"The key to him is confidence. You have to act like you know how to engage the room," he said, going on to divide the president's persona into discrete fragments, including "Campaign Obama," "Sincere Obama" and, when he's speaking to a large audience, "Martin Luther Obama."
Although being a presidential impersonator can bring fame and fortune, Damian Mason -- who has portrayed Clinton professionally since 1994 -- said he remains regularly surprised by how often people believe they are actually talking to a former president. Occasionally, he said, that can get scary.
"I had a little dude at an Indiana Republican event come unglued and scream at me that I was 'stirring s*** that didn't need stirring,'" Mason said. "That event was early in my career and it taught me of the passion people bring to political stuff. These were people who probably knew I was not really Clinton but decided they hated Clinton and they would be angry at me because of it."
Brown feels mixed reactions at the passion Obama evokes from haters as well.
"Regardless of politics, I want you to like me," he said. "I've performed in front of people who hated the president and, therefore, hated me."
Still, Brown said he remains grateful for his recent career swing, owing to Obama's rise in tandem with his growth and training. "A good presidential impersonator needs to be ready for this and have the talent," he said.
As for kindred spirits looking to make Gold's callback list, however, Brown offered a word of warning. "If you're hoping to become a Rick Santorum impersonator," he laughed, "I suggest you keep looking for another job."