Presidential Pretenders Share Their Best Moments Being the U.S. president is a tough job. Impersonating the president is not easy either. Host Michel Martin speaks with Larry Graves, an Obama impersonator who uses putty to make his ears protrude, and Bob Heck, who altered his Elvis voice to match Bill Clinton's twang.
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Presidential Pretenders Share Their Best Moments

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Presidential Pretenders Share Their Best Moments

Presidential Pretenders Share Their Best Moments

Presidential Pretenders Share Their Best Moments

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/137298605/137298593" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Larry Graves is a professional Barack Obama impersonator. Tucker Walsh/NPR hide caption

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Tucker Walsh/NPR

Larry Graves is a professional Barack Obama impersonator.

Tucker Walsh/NPR

This week's Washington Post Magazine article "Political Faux" features two presidential impersonators: Larry Graves as Barack Obama and Bob Heck as Bill Clinton.

Graves is actually a teacher, and when recalling how he got into the impersonation gig, he says his students once chased him around the playground while shouting "Mr.President! Mr. President!" He says, "So, I sent my pictures to Cast Of Thousands, and the rest is history."

Host Michel Martin speaks with Graves at NPR's Washington studio about his Obama impersonations. Tucker Walsh/NPR hide caption

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Tucker Walsh/NPR

Host Michel Martin speaks with Graves at NPR's Washington studio about his Obama impersonations.

Tucker Walsh/NPR

Bob Heck says that he had chosen to pursue acting, particularly in Washington during Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. "Doing Clinton was really Elvis with a hoarse voice," he says, "I did Elvis — all the years and all the songs — and then all of a sudden, I got a cold, and I realized, 'Well, there's Bill!' "

Heck says his role of Clinton raises certain popular subject matters. "Women invariably expect flirtatiousness, which I do in a tasteful manner ... because Bill would. I've actually met the president. I did Clinton to Clinton," he notes.

Graves and Heck also worked together in 2008. At the time, Heck played then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Heck notes that people treated Graves (as Obama) the way they wanted to treat the actual Obama. Heck recalls a woman who came up to him and called Obama "the Antichrist," spouting off vile remarks. Heck walked away.

Bob Heck impersonates Bill Clinton during a bus tour. Courtesy of Bob Heck hide caption

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Courtesy of Bob Heck

What does it mean for America when impersonations can be feasible careers for some people? Graves says, "It means we need to smile more. Laughter helps in the most tense of situations. It's an admirable profession. I love it."

Heck adds, "People need to have a release to the upset of politics, the rancor that goes on where the right and the left cannot even sit down at the same table. So I think you can work out your frustrations and get a good laugh when you hear a political impersonator either make fun of the character, or as the character make fun of others or situations."