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The Democratic Convention May Be Too Funny For Comedy Writers


OK I'm with Democratic pollster Margie Omero and with my colleague Don Gonyea. And, you know, the tone of the Republican convention in Cleveland last week was very somber, very serious, bringing up threats to this country, how Donald Trump said he would would fix a lot. And, Margie, Donald Trump has gotten a bump in the polls coming out of Cleveland.

MARGIE OMERO: Yeah, he has a small-to-medium bounce that now shows him about tied or a couple points up. Our own poll shows him up and actually even widening that lead if you show additional clips. So it clearly had a positive impact for him.

GREENE: Don Gonyea, the Democrats trying something different - a more optimistic event here in Philly?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: More positive, more optimistic, less dark - and we got some of that last night from Senator Al Franken, who spoke. Recall he's the former comedian and "Saturday Night Live" writer and star. As a U.S. senator, he tends to kind of keep the joke book in his pocket unless he's, you know, off the record. But last night, listen to how he told the audience that it's time to get to work to elect Hillary Clinton.


AL FRANKEN: Many of you have jobs. Many of you have families. Ignore them.

GREENE: Now, of course we know conventions are, in many ways, television events, which is why we checked back in with some TV writers who we heard from last week during the Republican convention. They write for the HBO comedy "Veep," starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus - executive producer Dave Mandel and writers Billy Kimball and Erik Kenward. We should say they are unabashed Democrats. We asked them about some of the bizarre things happening this week, like the suggestions about the leak of those DNC emails and whether they had been orchestrated by Russia. This is pure comedy gold, according to Erik Kenward.

ERIK KENWARD: There's such comfort and nostalgia, in a way, to having the Russians back in the mix.

DAVE MANDEL: That's true. That's very true.

KENWARD: I really feel like people are kind of like, oh, these guys are back.

GREENE: Yeah, this is not some new enemy. Oh, it's our old Cold War - the Cold War guys are doing all this. I got you.

MANDEL: All over Los Angeles, people are doing, like, sort of a find-all and change Arab to Russian. So a lot of action movies are being changed as we speak.

BILLY KIMBALL: And as people who, you know, struggle to come up with stories, it's just great.

GREENE: We should say that, I mean, this hasn't been confirmed yet, that the Kremlin is actually involved here. But I - is there a sense, as you guys...

MANDEL: I'm sure they're not.


MANDEL: I'm sure they're completely innocent.

GREENE: Is there a feeling that reality could actually put TV writers like you out of business because the reality's so rich?

MANDEL: It certainly makes our job harder. You know, when we do sit down to write these things, obviously people look to television to sort of either escape or they're looking for some comment on stuff. And when they're sort of watching and going, well, that - the Electoral College tie on "Veep" and then the sort of her losing it and then another time - whatever. When that starts to seem boring because the Russians are hacking the Democratic Party, we do get into a little bit of trouble. You know, we thought that was a stretch. And now that just seems like, oh, that could happen any day. We're on to, you know, Russians and plagiarizing speeches and, I mean, just real crazy stuff.

GREENE: So does that make you guys feel like you have to be even more outrageous? Or are you already talking about that?

MANDEL: I don't think we try and go bigger. In weird ways, it just seems like bad writing.

KIMBALL: It seems like...

GREENE: You mean bad writing if it is too close to stuff that's happening in the real world?

MANDEL: No. Like, I guess the reality right now seems like there's, like, a room of bad writers coming up with ideas.

KENWARD: I mean, to have a reveal that the America-first jingoistic candidate actually has ties to the Russians is, like, a Scooby-Doo level reveal, you know? I mean, like, that's not great.


GREENE: So - OK, OK. If you guys think that it's bad writing or comes across as bad writing, what advice would you have for the Democrats as they script out their events this week in Philadelphia?

KIMBALL: Well, I would certainly recommend that they have some really boring writing. You know, what the Democrats need this week is a dull, uneventful convention that essentially reassured people that - that Hillary Clinton was the kind of safe candidate. Now, it would be great if they'd come up with something that - a storyline that involved her being a really exciting candidate that people got enthusiastic about, but let's not overreach. Just a nice, dull convention would've been the perfect thing, and unfortunately, it's already gotten too interesting in kind of a hacky way.

GREENE: OK, the writers from the show "Veep" there. I'm with Democratic pollster Margie Omero and my colleague Don Gonyea. Margie, let me ask a serious question. Would it be better for a dull convention?

OMERO: Well, interesting is good. It certainly helps people to tune in. But this election, the polls show you actually have quite a few more people who are engaged, who are paying attention, who find the election interesting.

GONYEA: And as a party, you want people to pay attention, but you don't want them to pay attention because the wheels have come off. But I don't think they want it to be dull.

GREENE: NPR's Don Gonyea and Democratic pollster Margie Omero, we'll be hearing much more from you. Thank you both.

OMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.