Deconstructing a President
A physical resemblance leads to an unexpected career and the chance to travel the world
The year was 2001. Reggie Brown had just moved from the western suburbs to Wrigleyville. His brother stopped by, glanced at him and mentioned something quite forgettable. “You look just like this guy who plays basketball at East Bank Club — Barack.”
Later that year while waiting tables downtown, a customer of Brown’s kept staring at him. Finally, she said, “I’m so sorry! You look just like my professor. His name is Barack Obama. You should Google him!”
Alerted to this potential doppelgänger twice now, Brown did. “I saw a slight resemblance,” he recalls, “but he was skinny and had big ears.”
The skinny guy fell off Brown’s radar until 2007. “He was a senator by then. People would come up to me and think I was him.” Walking along city streets, cab drivers yelled to Brown, “Senator Obama!”
As Obama campaigned for President, attention to Brown escalated. Endlessly, he heard, “You know who you look like?” He started answering in jest,“John McCain?”
Growing up in Woodridge and Bolingbrook from age nine, and graduating from Lombard’s Montini Catholic High School, Brown always “had fun with voices to make my friends laugh.”
He attended University of Illinois-Urbana where he planned a career in food service, as his first love was cooking. Until the feeling that the “universe was trying to tell me something” prompted a move to Los Angeles in 2010.
“You have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves,” says Brown, slightly unsure if he could.
He learned to make fun of a person he respects — to imitate Obama’s voice, accentuating their similarities and “compensating for the differences.”
Brown got an agent. Performing at comedy shows and corporate events around the country, he bonded with other celebrity look-alikes. With faux-Sarah Palin and almost-Bill Clinton, the politically balanced team successfully traveled the world.
Ironically, it was the 2011 Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans that catapulted Brown into the public eye.
“I started roasting the Republicans who were running. It seemed to make the host a little nervous,” says Brown. “I was kicked off the stage — live on TV — and they turned off my mic. I thought my career was over.” Instead, it was a catalyst.
“That put me on the map — it got me on Real Time with Bill Maher. I gave so many interviews I lost my voice,” recalls Brown.
Since then, Brown, 36, has performed in 19 or 20 different countries (he has lost track), every year applying more and more makeup.“It’s hard to keep up with his aging!”
While his counterpart’s aging may slow down a bit now, so might demand for Obama impersonators, right?
“A little,” acknowledges Brown. “But he’s still a high-profile figure and I’ve changed my show to a keynote speech about how I ‘became’ president, deconstructing the character on stage. I enter as the President and leave as myself, telling the audience my story.”
It’s a familiar tale of a young man whose black father left his white mom when he was five.
“I talk about growing up without a father and how one day I see this man who is an amazing, intelligent person with the same background as me. I found a father figure and I had an opportunity . . . imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Though Brown met Obama once briefly, he was never invited to the White House. But he came close after performing at Washington D.C.’s Air and Space Museum. Walking past the White House in full character “people were freaking out saying, ‘Oh my God, look!’”
“The Secret Service gave me the best look I’ve ever seen — a double-take, like ‘What the heck is he doing out here?’ Then they realized and said, ‘You got us, man!’”
Yes, he did.Edit Module