One of the hottest videos on Twitter a few weeks ago was what appeared to be Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren returning a library book. It’s just the kind of thing the civic-minded senator would do. She’s already shared videos of herself in her kitchen, calling small-dollar donors to thank them, and her dog Bailey has his own Twitter feed (@FirstDogBailey).
So there she was, in her black athleisure pants and purple cardigan, waving and jogging to the library, book in hand. It was only when she stopped to take a selfie as she deposited the book that it became clear that this wasn’t Elizabeth Warren at all but rather comic and Second City alum Molly Erdman.
Erdman’s cheerful, high-energy Warren impressions are starting to create some internet buzz. So far, the library video has racked up more than three million views, including 167,000 Twitter likes and 18,000 retweets. Erdman’s Warren was applauded by users across the political spectrum.
Omg I thought that was her ????????????
— ???????? ℜ.a.j.™ ???????? (@KAGlatino) October 12, 2019
She has a plan. To not pay late fees.
— tara moffatt (@SkutTara) October 10, 2019
I really enjoyed the blind waving. Reminded me of the airport video I saw the other day. Full of grace. But unique enough to bet her own thing.
— Tony Vaughan (@tonyvaughan) October 12, 2019
The library book return is just one episode in Erdman’s growing collection of Elizabeth Warren videos. They’re posted to her YouTube account, Warren Unfiltered, on her own Twitter account, @erdmanmolly, and her parody account, @warrenunfilter.
The L.A.-based Erdman is no stranger to Warren’s unique quirks. She’s has been polishing her impression since 2011 when Warren first ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. “Eddie Geller, a friend of mine from the the improv world, is very politically active,” Erdman says. “He told me Warren was running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and people are really excited about it there.” Because she looked a bit like her, Geller thought she could do a pretty good Elizabeth Warren. Even though Erdman told him she really didn’t do impressions, Geller wrote a script for her anyway, satirizing Warren’s campaign, and Erdman decided to give it a try.
To prepare for her role, she watched videos and found some really good glasses. “I don’t do impressions,” she reiterates. Her inspiration for her several “Elizabeth Warren Running” videos was a viral video of the real Elizabeth Warren running through a crowd. “I want to capture the essence of how she would do something.” Sometimes that takes a bit of work, and sometimes she just gets lucky. “People say I’ve got her running style down,” she says, laughing. “But that’s just my run.”
Looking like Elizabeth Warren might be easy, but speaking like Elizabeth Warren takes more of an effort. “I’m learning a lot as I go,” she says. “I sat down and made a list of things I’ve heard her often say, like ‘The system is rigged,’ and ‘Nobody gets rich on their own.’ But she’s also careful not to overdo it. “Even though I know a lot about her campaign, not everybody does,” she says. “I don’t want to get into too many deep cuts that people who aren’t following her the way I am will miss.”
Erdman collected some of Warren’s most familiar soundbites and mannerisms and gave the candidate a cooking show called “A Biting Chance.” In the first (and so far, only) episode, titled “The System is Rigged-atoni,” Erdman as Warren whips up a quick pasta dish and hits all her populist progressive talking points at the same time. “This may look like a lot of butter,” she says while preparing the sauce. “But let me remind you, no sauce got rich on its own!” She also assures viewers this is a meal the whole family can enjoy: “Even your kids, when you pick them up from daycare, which should be free.”
Erdman captures Warren’s impassioned earnestness so well, but she won’t say much about her own political leanings other than to say she’s a Warren fan. “I think that’s a big help when you portray someone,” she says. “I want to enjoy what I’m doing.”
She’s also not at all worried about being typecast as ‘that woman who does Elizabeth Warren on the internet.’ “It’s a tough business, and while I used to think being able to do a thousand different things was beneficial, I’ve come to discover that specificity can often be your greatest asset as an actor,” she says. “But I also think I look different enough without the wig and glasses that I don’t think a casting director would say, ‘You’re supposed to be playing a down-on-her-luck bakery owner but all I’m seeing is Elizabeth Warren.'”
That other impression
Of course, there’s a competing Warren impression—played by SNL‘s Kate McKinnon, which some people see as a campaign ad for the presidential hopeful and others see as a little too much like McKinnon’s Hilary Clinton, which ultimately did the former Secretary of State no favors.
Erdman says that she’s focused on her particular version and doesn’t worry about other imitators, not even the one who, according to Vanity Fair, plays Warren as “the most earnest and virile of women.”
“I love Kate, and there’s absolutely no competition between us,” Erdman says. “The first time I saw it was the end of last season on Weekend Update. I knew she was going to play her, and I was nervous about what she was going to do. She does a perfectly respectable Elizabeth Warren. But I like mine better.
“I think there’s room for a lot of Elizabeth Warrens,” she says. “It’s all about finding that one thing about her that makes it yours.”
“I want to play who she is and what she’s passionate about,” Erdman says. “Anyone running for president has to have a certain type of brain to be under that much scrutiny. Warren really wants to connect with people. There’s something about her, and Kamala Harris, too. I think they really want to help. That’s the essence of who they are.”
Gearing up for 2020
Like the presidential campaign itself, Warren Unfiltered is still in its early stages. “We’d like to explore more quick-reaction videos, things happening in the news, and things other candidates say about her,” she says. “I’ve had some very talented actor and writer friends pitch ideas for new videos.”
Erdman has also been invited to appear as Warren on several stand-up shows, which she says has been great fun and is a good way to get in front of an audience to test reactions to her material. She’s also toying with the idea of a live stage show sometime in 2020 when the campaign is in high gear.
Erdman says she’d even love to collaborate with the Warren campaign on a video. “That seems crazy to even think about in some respects, but these days, candidates have to work so many angles and find new ways to appeal to people, especially younger voters, that it doesn’t seem totally outside the realm of possibility.” Warren’s campaign account @TeamWarren and several regional Warren campaign accounts follow her videos on Twitter.
Although she hasn’t heard from Warren directly during this campaign cycle, in 2015, her collaborator Geller met Warren and found out she had seen the very first video and wondered if Erdman was planning to do more. “Well, here we are!” she says, adding she’d love to meet the candidate in person, too. “We can both lace up our sneakers and get some good running and waving going!”