Ask her how she’s doing, and Teresa Barnwell, the veteran Hillary Clinton impersonator who recently got dragged into the latest health conspiracy swirling around the Democratic candidate for president, lets out a deep sigh.
“How much time do you have?” asked Barnwell with a laugh from her home office in Palm Desert, California. “It’s been a little overwhelming … and crazy.”
Just how crazy? On Sunday, 61-year-old Barnwell, who’s been impersonating the former secretary of state since 1993, got the news that Clinton was forced to leave a Sept. 11 memorial service in New York because of a health issue. Hours later, the presidential candidate emerged from her daughter Chelsea Clinton’s apartment looking hale and hearty.
Internet conspiracy cracks theorized that the woman photographed outside of Chelsea Clinton’s apartment was, in fact, a body double. Leaning into the joke, Barnwell, who admits she never really “got Twitter,” tweeted a surreptitious photo she’d snapped in front of that very apartment building in Manhattan in early August. She added the fire-fueling caption “maybe I was in New York.”
And “healthers” ran with it.
Barnwell quickly corrected the record, making it clear that she was in fact in Los Angeles during Clinton’s New York stop, taping a live episode of “Lip Sync” Battle with a Bill Clinton impersonator.
But just as quickly she learned that once it’s out there, it’s out there.
“I thought the story would be over and done with,” she said, adding, “Help me.”
The way politics is consumed these days, according to Barnwell, is entirely different from when she first entered the impersonation game in 1993. Back then, people understood the purpose of her craft, specifically to poke a hole in the Very Serious political balloon. It was about laughs, folks. Plain and simple.
“People still had a sense of humor back in the ’90s about politics, and I have seen that evolve and change over time,” she said.
Which isn’t to say she doesn’t take her job as Clinton’s sillier “evil twin” with a grain of salt. There are definitely jobs Barnwell won’t do. Like the time a “very famous” Hollywood producer wanted her to appear in a video opposing the Iran nuclear deal. In it, Barnwell as Clinton would star alongside Barack Obama and John Kerry impersonators. All three would bow down to “Muslim leaders,” and the last shot would be of “Clinton” walking away from said meeting in nothing but her underwear. Yeah, no.
“It’s hard to turn down a paycheck, but I have my standards,” explained Barnwell, who makes thousands a month and tours the globe being Clinton. “I’m not gonna portray Hillary in that light,” she added, noting that she does a gut and moral compass check before accepting or turning down a gig.
In the meantime, Barnwell plans to just stay away from Twitter. Already she has a glut of interviews to do about the latest dust-up. The unrelenting schedule – radio interviews, TV sit-downs and phoners with publications as far away as the United Kingdom – sounds a lot like Clinton’s unforgiving campaign schedule. And with Election Day around the corner, Barnwell has to spend extra time beefing up her Clinton shtick in anticipation of more gigs to come.
Problem is the former first lady doesn’t give her impersonator a lot to work with.
“She doesn’t throw me a lot of bones,” explained Barnwell. “When she said she short-circuited, I got really excited.” For now the impersonator is toying with the idea of carrying “a little picnic basket with deplorable things inside.”
“There are some really sad and scary people out there,” said Barnwell.