On a recent appearance on Conan, Julia Louis-Dreyfus discussed how Veep‘s nonpartisan brand of political satire works in today’s comedy landscape. She also revealed which jokes the show had to pull in order to maintain its nonpartisan approach in the era of Trump.
“On our show, we don’t identify party,” she said. “And so we’ve created this alternate universe. You don’t know what party Selina Meyer’s in; she’s just in ‘her party,’ and we refer to the other side of the aisle as ‘the other party.’ And as a result of that, I think everybody has been able to come to the show and laugh without feeling as if they’re being made fun of.”
Host Conan O’Brien agreed and pointed out that while there are many partisan comedies on the air, Veep is instead “talking about politics and government as being absurd” in a more general sense. He asked Louis-Dreyfus: “Do the writers feel a need to respond to what’s happening [in real-world politics]?”
“No, definitely not,” she said. “Our goal is to not respond, and to steer clear of it. Because, number one – we can’t compete. And number 2, it goes against the ideology. We are really satirizing the culture of politics, not a particular party.”
Louis-Dreyfus continued: “This entire season of Veep was written before this election recently happened, so any sort of parallels were purely coincidental. We did have a golden showers/pee pee joke at one point in some script, and we did pull it, because we thought it was so Trump…”
“People are going to think that you put that in just to comment on that story,” O’Brien interjected.
“Right – which we did not. But we pulled it out for that very reason, because we didn’t want them to make that connection…” – here, Louis-Dreyfus began to giggle at the absurdity of what she was about to say – “…to our president.”
In a separate clip from the same Conan appearance, Louis-Dreyfus revealed that they also can’t say “pussy” anymore, because of its connection to Trump. “We used to say pussy a lot,” she said, “but now we say ‘snatch’…and we would have said ‘pussy’, but our president put an end to that.”
You can see why Louis-Dreyfus had to break down laughing in the first clip. (The alternative is crying.) The current president of the United States is so strongly linked with “pussy” and “golden showers” that these topics can’t be used in a comedy show without seeming like partisan jokes. Good God.
Dystopia aside, I also appreciated Louis-Dreyfus’s discussion of Veep because it didn’t treat partisan comedy as somehow wrongheaded or evil; it simply acknowledged it as different. Arguably, shows like Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal are mocking and raging against the symptoms of our hyper-partisan, soundbite-dependent politics. These symptoms include an increasingly partisan and conspiracy-friendly media landscape, Republican cowardice in the face of Trump’s ethics violations, and the election of an unspeakably ill-qualified man to the presidency.
Veep, on the other hand, is mocking the root cause itself: our messed-up media and political landscape. When political coverage frames policy debates in terms of winners and losers, rather than successful versus unsuccessful outcomes for the public good, we’re bound to get politicians who think in the same terms. Veep‘s protagonist, Selina Meyers, is not someone who believes in or fights for particular politics. She certainly never says she ran for office because she wanted to make America better. And her lack of any moral ambition makes her a purely political animal – created and fueled by our amoral, money-driven, who’ll-win-the-race politics.
It may not galvanize me the same way Full Frontal does, and it may not enrage me the way Last Week Tonight does, but Veep‘s humor speaks just as pointedly to the way our democracy fails us.
(Featured image via screengrab)
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