Jeff Jones wakes up every day in Studio City and decides whether or not he wants to advertise that he’s Bernie Sanders’ doppelganger. Most days, the answer is “yes," so the 74-year-old puts on his white sweatshirt with red-and-blue text that reads: “I Am Not Bernie.”
The semi-retired musician and longtime L.A. resident is a dead ringer for the Vermont senator and former presidential hopeful (not to mention Larry David playing the Vermont senator and former presidential hopeful on SNL). He has Sanders’ same white tufts of hair, rumpled attire and wire-rim glasses. Recently, a woman stopped Jones on the street and asked him why he endorsed Hillary Clinton. “I said I didn’t,” Jones explains. “I had to convince her that I really wasn’t Bernie. That it was, in fact, not Bernie wearing the sweatshirt.”
Jones is not only Sanders’ look-alike — he voted for him. “The twist is that I’ve been a registered Republican my whole life,” Jones says. In order to vote for Sanders he changed his registration to Democrat: “I like him. He’s the least compromised candidate, in my opinion.”
Although Sanders, of course, lost the Democratic nomination for president last month at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which swelled with rowdy Bernie fans (during such events Jones thinks that his fellow Berners can learn to be a little more observant), that hasn’t dulled Jones' admiration. He’s looking forward to Sanders’ upcoming book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe in, which is slated to be published in mid-November, and he doesn’t plan on retiring the fun that comes with his “I Am Not Bernie” sweatshirt anytime soon.
“I usually take it out one place a day,” Jones explains about what he calls his “uniform.” He’s worn his Sanders-inspired get-up to the Getty, Disney Hall and LAX. “I make a conscious effort to put it on if I’m going to someplace I haven’t been before. … It usually lightens the air, and in this atmosphere, that seems like the correct thing to do.” According to Jones, there’s no political agenda to his Bernie gear — it’s a gag among family, albeit one that’s spawned memes, Instagrams and other brushes with internet fame. It was initially his daughter’s idea. She came up with the sweatshirt design after Jones kept getting stopped on the street and asked if he was Sanders, and Jones decided to go with it.
On the day of the California Democratic primary in June, at the bustling Aroma Coffee & Tea in Studio City, Jones faked being Sanders for the day in a suit and tie. He rallied the caffeinated crowd and told them to go out and vote, and the local NBC news affiliate caught it on tape — along with laughter, and people’s surprise and disappointment when they discovered that Jones wasn’t actually Sanders (who was in town campaigning at the time).
The NBC news clip captured what’s now a daily occurrence for Jones. When he sports his “I Am Not Bernie” sweatshirt he’s usually greeted with stares, thumbs up, lots of laughter and requests for photos. “I’ve taken my photo with babies and veterans' dogs,” Jones says. In photographs he poses by stretching his arms wide, or holding up one arm with Bernie’s signature gesture of pointing with a closed fist .
Although Jones gets a kick out of the enthusiastic reactions from millennials, as well as the conversations he's stirred up with conservatives, he says he'll never become a professional Sanders impersonator: “I’m not trying to play on someone else’s image for my own gain; it’s really just a gag I’m having fun with.”
Being a Sanders doppelganger also comes with a certain degree of power, and Jones is aware of it. “I do not want to do this at his expense in any way, and I’ve been pretty careful about that,” he says.
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Jones plans to continue trotting out his uniform until he meets Sanders in person one day. “I actually would like to meet him. I have gone to some effort should the situation present itself,” Jones says. He’s prepared an “I Am Not Jeff” sweatshirt for the occasion, and he carries it around with him in case he happens to run into the senator (and to let people in on his joke). “I’m interested in furthering Bernie’s case. He’s not known for his sense of humor. If this circumstance can be used to his advantage, then I can be pointed toward that.”
What would Jones say when he finally meets the senator? “Hey Bernie, you look an awful lot like Jeff.”