It all started in high school. “I was walking into math class one day, and a girl said, ‘Hey, you look like that preacher guy,’” Los Angeles comedian Michael Klimkowski recalls. “I didn’t know who she was talking about, so she told me to watch his TV show. I turned it on one day and I was like, whoa, this is uncanny.”
The “preacher guy” turned out to be Joel Osteen, the multi-millionaire pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church who has achieved international celebrity with his televised sermons and bestselling self-help books. And Klimkowski—with his prominent chin, blindingly white teeth, and curly black hair—is a dead ringer for him. So when the Angeleno began doing sketch comedy for groups like Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, and iO West, it was only a matter of time before he busted out an Osteen impersonation.
“My goal has always been to get on Saturday Night Live, where everyone does impressions,” the comedian says. “So I was like, what can I do that no one else can do? Well, my bone structure is telling me, I gotta do Joel Osteen.”
His impersonation, it seems, is convincing. In November, Klimkowski managed to make it all the way to the stage before an Osteen event at The Forum in Inglewood, shaking hands and posing for pictures with ticket holders, before being escorted off the premises by security. That got him an interview on Houston news station KHOU, where he expressed a desire to “come down there and do an opening five-minute set for [Osteen].”
No such invitation arrived, so Klimkowski decided to take matters into his own hands. “After sneaking into the Forum, we were like, how we we raise the stakes? Well, we gotta go to Houston.”
Last week, he released a YouTube video called “Joel Comes Home (+ McConaughey),” which includes footage from a December trip to the real Osteen’s city. To get the most mileage out of the trip, Klimkowski decided to debut his new Matthew McConaughey impersonation at NRG Stadium, where the University of Texas was playing Missouri at the Texas Bowl. Dressed in a Longhorns t-shirt, leather jacket, and sunglasses, Klimkowski tried to talk his way into the UT locker room to make a motivational speech to the team but was turned away by security. “You’re not Matthew McConaughey,” a guard tells him.
Klimkowski had slightly better luck at Lakewood Church, where he made it to the front of the auditorium before being spotted by security. He also visited other locations around Houston dressed as Osteen, including a Whataburger and the dive bar Poison Girl. “It was definitely harder to get by as Joel with Houstonians,” he admits. “They were not as readily fooled as people out in Los Angeles.” Nevertheless, many were happy to pose for photos with him. “They almost like Joel Faux-steen better than Joel Osteen.”
Last July, the 30-year-old Klimkowski released “Osteen’s Day Off,” a ribald YouTube video that imagines the Houston preacher ordering hookers, snorting cocaine, firing up a joint, and unsuccessfully shooting the basketball at a mansion. In October, he showed up with a cameraman from his sketch comedy group, Dabs Den, at an Osteen book signing at a Los Angeles Barnes and Noble. Dressed in his Osteen uniform of a grey suit and blue tie, he was immediately mobbed by adoring fans.
“There was zero, zero skepticism that I was Joel,” he marvels. “I was just doing my intro and people started swarming me, wanting to meet me.” (Later, Klimkowski actually got his book signed by Osteen during the event and managed to exchange a few words with the pastor.)
When asked what his secret was to impersonating Osteen, beyond the physical resemblance, Klimkowski said it was all about attitude. “The Joel I play is kind of a schmoozer. I like to Hollywood him up. He’s this wheeler-dealer type,” he says. Attitude, and, of course, the hair. Surprisingly, Klimkowski manages to replicate Osteen’s trademark coif without the use of any petroleum products.
“It just sticks. I’ve got natural curls, so I just get it wet and let it ride.”