Tracey Ullman Could ‘Get Away with Anything’ as Judi Dench
Tracey Ullman’s Show
Friday, 11 p.m., HBO
Tracey Ullman’s new six-episode sketch-comedy show is a master class in impersonation.
The comedienne calls on decades of experience to mimic celebrities — like Dame Judi Dench and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — as well as commoners in the series, which originally aired on the BBC in UK.
“Every seven years I seem to do these shows,” says Ullman, whose first sketch series, “The Tracey Ullman Show,” debuted on Fox in 1987. Over the next three decades, she created a string of successful programs in the genre, including “Tracey Takes On…” (HBO, 1996-99) and “Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union” (Showtime, 2008-10).
“I just impersonate the age group around me, thinking, ‘Wow, I can do this when I’m 80, hopefully,’ ” says Ullman, 56. “I’ll just impersonate other 80-year-olds.”
Ullman has that covered, delivering an uncanny likeness of Dench, who is 25 years her senior. Ullman skewers the Oscar winner’s reputation as a “national treasure” by portraying her as a kleptomaniac who gets away with stealing from corner stores and vandalizing public restrooms for kicks.
Ullman, who lives on the Upper East Side, recently spoke with The Post from London, where she was wrapping up Season 2.
As Judi Dench, you bring out equal parts innocence and mischief.
Yes! That was the thing that made us laugh. There are a few people who are famous that could get away with anything. So we just thought it was a funny idea that Judi Dench does these really dreadful things and people don’t mind — they’re untouchables. It’s like Meryl Streep — I’m always making fun of her. When we did [the movie] “Into the Woods,” I did an interview and they said, “What’s Meryl like?” And I said, “You all thinks she’s wonderful — she’s just dreadful. It’s just all about her. She’s a cow!” And people were horrified! [laughs]
How has Dench reacted to your impersonation?
She accepted an award in England and stood up and said, “Hello, I’m Tracey Ullman.” And somebody said she had a meeting at the BBC and as she left she pretended to steal stuff. [laughs] So she’s been a great sport about it.
Why did you decide to portray uptight German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a scat-singing “sex bomb” who thinks she has to fend off her male peers?
Remember when George W. Bush hugged Angela Merkel from behind and she went completely rigid? [laughs] She was the only girl in the room, so how does she feel about being with all those world leaders mansplaining things to her? I just imagine that she thinks everyone thinks she’s incredibly sexy. You find an angle that sort of makes you laugh.
Previously you’ve played on stereotypes and worn dark makeup and prosthetics to depict black characters. Do you do things differently now?
My criteria is people like that exist — why can’t I impersonate them? Eddie Murphy played a white guy back when I was in “The Tracey Ullman Show,” and I said, “Oh, well, why can’t I be a black woman?” I got a great response from it and people loved it. I don’t know. They met the criteria. People talk like that, they sound like that. You know, I’m an actress. I like to decide when to try to be anyone I want to do. — Eric Hegedüs