Blindingly bright and hot outside on Sixth Street, it is cool and dark inside Esther’s Follies as the talented cast rehearses for one of its five performances stretched out over three days each week.
Bounding onto the stage for a political duking-it-out skit is Billy Brooks, who joined the troupe last spring to portray President Obama. He is introduced by the ring announcer as the “Hawaiian Lion” in a bout with the “Stormin’ Mormon” (Mitt Romney, played by Ted Meredith). Later he returns as Obama/Old Spice Guy in a campaign skit of fast-moving song and dialogue punctuated with the President ripping off his shirt to reveal that famously buff torso.
Brooks, 33, has deep roots in Austin, moving here as a child, graduating from Anderson High School and attending St. Mary’s University in San Antonio before heading to Hollywood’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts where he studied dance and acting. (Yes, Mehcad Brooks, star of “Unnecessary Roughness” and former co-star of “True Blood,” is his younger brother.)
After eight years of supporting roles and lots of commercials, Brooks happily came home to Austin. When he’s not singing, dancing and acting at Esther’s, he does voice-overs and standup and auditions for TV and movie roles.
For any of you Austin newcomers who may not know, Esther’s Follies is a pop culture/political/satirical/musical/comedy review that was born more than 30 years ago and landed in its current Sixth Street location in 1990. Co-founder Shannon Sedwick still rules and performs (as everyone from Ann Richards to Sarah Palin to Hillary Clinton). And people still line up to see the ever-changing, topical shows.
During a rehearsal break, Brooks gave us a peek inside his very own Barack Obama.
QUESTION: Have you ever met President Obama?
ANSWER: No, I never have. Unfortunately. If I ever did, I might be a little tongue-tied; maybe I would talk to him about basketball. And yeah, I might automatically fist-bump him.
QUESTION: How did you decide how you were going to play him? You don’t really do an impression or a spoof, do you?
ANSWER: The reality I put in him is that he seems really cool and is definitely good-looking and suave. That seems to work for the character I play. What I’m doing is singing, dancing and acting — it’s not an impersonation. I don’t wear makeup or anything. I just put on a suit.
QUESTION: I assume you voted for him in ’08 and continue to support him, right? Did you volunteer on the first campaign?
ANSWER: I was in Los Angeles just trying to eat in ’08! But yes, I support him. As President, I think he’s great. Change takes time to manifest itself. Yes, we can, but we can’t do it all overnight! Some people forget that.
QUESTION: If you got word that President Obama was in Austin and was coming to see your performance at Esther’s, would you change anything?
ANSWER: I wouldn’t change a thing … not a lick. I would love for him to see it, especially the Old Spice Guy skit. I think he would enjoy it.
QUESTION: What new Obama skits will be coming before the November election? Can you spill any secrets?
ANSWER: We’ll do something on the debates, probably have him debate Romney (played by Ted Meredith) in a game show.
QUESTION: You were named one of Austin’s 10 Most Eligible Bachelors in the August edition of Austin Monthly. What’s that like?
ANSWER: I’m surprised it’s gotten so much attention. The (magazine) release party was crazy. I was auctioned off for charity, and the money went to Austin Pets Alive, I think. I don’t remember how much I went for. But yeah, it’s brought a lot of attention.
QUESTION: So, tell the truth: Are you’re really eligible?
ANSWER: Well, I have a girlfriend — and there she is (pointing to fellow Esther’s cast member Rachel Sedwick, who happens to be Shannon’s niece). But they didn’t ask if I was dating anyone. They just asked if I was married, which I’m not.