It Takes a Pod to Save America
From Obama administration officials to podcast hosts, the guys behind Pod Save America have stayed optimistic about bringing about political change.
HBO: What was your initial goal when you started Pod Save America? How does the HBO special fit into your mission?
Jon Favreau: Our initial goal was to create a podcast that got as many people as possible involved in politics and to realize they can do something about all the bad news in the world around them. That’s why we started it, that’s where we are now, and we feel the HBO show can bring the podcast to a whole bunch more people who haven’t listened before. At the end of the day, if there’s more people getting involved in politics, more people voting — especially young people — then we feel like it will have been a success.
HBO: You’re traveling to a different city in America each episode. How did you narrow down your list to Miami, Austin, Philadelphia and Irvine?
Jon Lovett: My parents live in the Miami area, and that made it very convenient for me to check two boxes.
Jon Favreau: Going to these four cities, there’s some geographic diversity, four different parts of the country that are also very competitive areas, we can hopefully have a political impact.
Tommy Vietor: We want to go to places that are politically relevant and talk to people about the races happening, the issues and what they can do personally to change things.
“Humor is a way of saying we’re all seeing the same ridiculous, absurd, infuriating things together.”
HBO: How has humor informed or assisted your approach to political commentary? Did you set out to use comedy as a tool for processing the news?
Dan Pfeiffer: Well it seems more preferable than crying.
Jon Lovett: It was a deeply conscious choice. None of us had actually told a joke before we worked on the podcast, and then somebody suggested comedy as a route to talking about politics. It made it so much more palatable.
I think we always set out to do something that would inform people and inspire people to get involved. But one other piece of that was always making sure, especially at a time when things are so dark, that we were entertaining. Not just because it keeps people listening but because it’s genuinely important right now people don’t get exhausted. There’s a whole apparatus designed to make people feel like they should be cynical, that they shouldn’t care, that nothing matters, that paying attention is a waste of time. Keeping people from giving into that, I think, requires joking around. Humor is a way of saying we’re all seeing the same ridiculous, absurd, infuriating things together.
HBO: The special will feature a number of guests. What perspectives do they bring to the table?
Dan Pfeiffer: Both in the podcast and in the HBO special, there’s two stories about politics in America. One, that everything is terrible and the world is burning around us, and then there’s this other really inspiring story about all these people who are angry and frustrated about what’s going on and doing something about it. The ability to help tell that story is one of the more important things we can do with the special.
Tommy Vietor: We wanted to make sure the special was about all the people and activists who are marching in the streets and calling senators and actually changing things all across the country. There is this big resistance effort and our hope is to showcase that.
HBO: Looking back at your personal reasons for getting into politics, how have they evolved over the course of your career?
Jon Favreau: I got into politics a decade ago because I thought it was the best way to bring about change. I thought that when I was a young naïve kid working for Barack Obama and I still think that today, now that I’m older and more cynical.
Tommy Vietor: So old in fact you realize it takes a lot more than a decade.
Jon Lovett: I’m motivated by a bottomless well of anger. It’s a joke, but I don’t think I don’t mean it.
HBO: Is it fair to say President Donald Trump is ultimately a symptom of larger issues within America that we collectively must reckon with?
Jon Lovett: You know, a fever is a symptom of a flu. And a fever can kill you.
Tommy Vietor: I think he’s definitely a symptom of a lot of different problems we have in our political and media culture. He’s a symptom of a political media culture that values celebrity and people attacking each other over substance and real debate. What else?
Jon Lovett: I would add that he is also someone who has succeeded in part because of a decline of trust and cultural rot that lead people to think the choices you make aren’t about being right or being wrong but about being a winner or being a sucker. That a lot of people don’t play by the rules, so “why should I be subject to the rules?” I think that lack of trust across the board is also a big part of it.
HBO: What issue do you think could drive non-voting Americans to fill out a ballot?
Tommy Vietor: California is literally burning to the fucking ground. So climate’s a thing.
Jon Lovett: Do you want two more years like the two years we just had?