Why Can't Barack Obama Speak English?

Um, because that's not him.

It was at the convention when Puisseaux realized he had slammed face-first into a global cultural Zeitgeist. The experience would scare the shit out of him.


The frenzy began on the American Airlines plane ride to Denver. A woman sitting next to Romay tapped him on the shoulder and asked if that was Barack Obama snoozing next to him. Romay explained that he was, in fact, a look-alike.

The woman wasn't satisfied. "She said, 'No, that's Barack!'" Romay recalls. "She was sure Obama was sitting in coach."

On the campaign trail: Faux-bama and his Miami New Times Secret Service.
C. Stiles
On the campaign trail: Faux-bama and his Miami New Times Secret Service.
Shaking hands at Miami International Airport's Versailles restaurant.
C. Stiles
Shaking hands at Miami International Airport's Versailles restaurant.

From the moment Puisseaux landed in the Colorado capital, from the airport to the hotel, whether he was wearing a suit or not, he was hounded. "He can walk around unnoticed," says Romay, "but once one person says, 'That's Obama!' — all of a sudden we have a thousand people around us."

During shoots at Invesco Field, Puisseaux became terrified of the crowds of believers who surrounded him. "Too much, too much," Puisseaux says of the experience. "Everybody was touching me and hugging me and yelling, 'Obama! Obama!' I felt like I was losing myself, my identity."

Says Romay: "He's a person who has a hard time saying no to anybody, and here he has hundreds of people swarming him, asking him for autographs and photos."

Though Puisseaux hasn't yet gained the right to vote, he had read up on Obama and had come to admire him. Puisseaux began to think his charade degraded the senator. "He refused to do anything that he felt disrespected Obama," Romay says. That included Romay's idea of Puisseaux standing in a median and holding a sign reading "Will Be President for Food."

And Puisseaux felt gravely dishonest for deceiving Obama's earnest supporters. They would clutch his frame and tearfully confess their deepest fears in a language he has yet to master. They would talk about their houses in foreclosure or their children in Iraq. At one point, Puisseaux leaned into the embrace of an especially moved fan and whispered, "Woman, I am not Obama. But if he was here, he would hug you."

By the second day in Denver, Puisseaux refused to exit the satellite truck. "He was completely stressed," Romay says. "He was chain-smoking like a chimney and calling his wife every 10 minutes.... He also has that Cuban macho thing. He says, 'I don't like taking orders. I'm not a trained monkey.' My other actors do whatever I say. If I say put on a wig and jump around, they will, no questions asked."

Despite Puisseaux's reluctance, Romay gathered good footage. Puisseaux, who was interviewed by the New York Times, Denver Post, Inside Edition, and TV stations from Japan and Germany, achieved worldwide fame, if only for a day or two. And he earned a new nickname from bloggers: Faux-bama.

Puisseaux now claims he enjoyed the trip, especially his handshake with Ted Kennedy, who he says momentarily mistook him for his senate colleague. Puisseaux had carefully rehearsed the line he fed Kennedy: "I gratefully accept my party's nomination for president of the United States."

But when the crew returned from the tumultuous journey, Puisseaux resigned. "As soon as we got back," Romay recalls, "he said, 'I don't want to go out as Obama anymore. I'll work maintenance full-time.'"

They reached a compromise. Instead of taking his act outside, Puisseaux would work only on the Apprentice spoof and other in-house sketches. Puisseaux was pleased. Before he leads New Times through Miami International and Dolphin malls, he says he will do no more outings as Obama. Then he adds, "If they think it's Obama, it's a lie."


"Sometimes I think my life is worse because I look like Obama," laments Puisseaux, holed up on a Monday afternoon in his and Hortensia's small but immaculate one-bedroom apartment.

Puisseaux is prone to pendulum-like mood swings. And yesterday his Escort grinded to a smoky halt and had to be towed to a mechanic. This minor disaster, preventing him from reporting to work, has propelled him into an unforgiving assessment of his life.

He is broke, misses his kids, and is stressed by his acting career. Strangely, he has taken to comparing the progress of his life to that of Senator Obama — with predictably pathetic results. "Barack Obama has his life under control," he says. "He went to Harvard. He's a lawyer. He's rich. When he goes home to Illinois, he goes to a big house and hugs his kids. He's a smart man. He's a great man."

"Not me," Puisseaux concludes.

His children watch Pellízcame at the home of a neighboring family with outlaw cable in Havana, and Puisseaux has become something of a superstar dad among kids in their neighborhood. But their inflated opinion only makes Puisseaux feel shame at his three years without a visit and his inability to send more money home. "They see me on TV and they think, Whoa!" he says. "They think I'm living the high life. Are my kids proud of me? They tell me yes. But I don't agree. I'm supposed to do more for them."

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