There’s no question Super Bowl LI will go down as one in which the actual game was far more memorable than the commercials. But in a year in which many ads were earnest in their politics, viewers in the DC area may hang on to a relatively absurd spot for Richmond-based heating contractor Cyprus Air, which featured an uncanny Donald Trump impersonator to help sell gas fireplaces.
In the ad, former Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby–who also appeared Cyprus Air’s Super Bowl ad last year–lures a shivering Trump, played by veteran impersonator John Di Domenico, into a heated room, where the President marvels at the warm, discounted fireplaces.
“Joe, hold on, I gotta tweet this out, this is an amazing deal. This deal is huge!” Di Domenico says in his Trumpian drawl.
On Monday, Di Domenico called me from the Bahamas to talk about the ad. He’d just finished impersonating Dr. Phil McGraw at a corporate conference, and, as a warm-up for an imminent Trump performance, greeted me in character.
“I’m very, very busy. I need to sign like 20 executive orders,” he tells Washingtonian, before announcing plans to re-watch Finding Dory, though he claims that he doesn’t understand the movie.
Cyprus Air flew Di Domenico out to Washington to shoot the commercial, which was filmed in a day. The original script and storyboard was largely scrapped to give Di Domenico room to ad lib.
“They gave me a lot of creative latitude,” he says, switching into his real voice. “I knew what they wanted me to say, I just said let me say it.” He guesses there were probably five other versions of the commercial Cyprus Air could’ve used.
Di Domenico’s Trump impersonation goes back more than a dozen years to when the real estate mogul started hosting The Apprentice. According to a CNN profile, since Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, Di Domenico gets as many as ten calls a day for voiceovers and appearances. (He’s appeared on Fox & Friends, Conan, and Slate’s Trumpcast). Di Domenico makes up to $5,000 for commercials. By comparison, Alec Baldwin makes $1,400 for his Saturday Night Live appearances as Trump.
“He manages to do this impression that is very funny and spot-on without being mean, and that’s difficult to do,” says Lisa Shenkle, Di Domenico’s agent.
Washington companies that score a local ad slot in the Super Bowl often go for the nutty and memorable. Michael & Son did its own presidential impersonation with a Barack Obama lookalike for the big game two years ago, which was followed up by a surprise appearance from Mike Tyson last year. Jacoby became a legend of local advertising in 1983, when he starred in a famously awkward ad for the television dealer Theater Vision. (His delivery in Sunday night’s ad was much snappier than in his Theater Vision days.)
The real Donald Trump didn’t see the commercial live–he watched the Super Bowl in Florida—but Di Domenico thinks someone will eventually show him the clip. He once met with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who “basically told me [Trump] knows who you are,” he says.
Toward the end of our call, Di Domenico re-channels his Trump imitation to describe his dream scenario for the President’s reaction to his schtick:
“I’ve seen them all, and Baldwin sucks and Di Domenico’s the best, hands down. Baldwin’s absolutely horrible, Di Domenico nails it every time, he’s tremendous.”