Workplace comedies have become a massive hit in television. From “The Office” to “Parks and Recreation,” there is something hilarious that can be drawn from the mundanities of typical office life. In HBO’s “Veep,” that format is spun on its head by placing this type of comedy within the White House. The series is a cynical behind-the-scenes look at Washington, poking fun at politicians with unlikeable, unethical and hilarious characters. Julia Louis-Dreyfus continually gives her most iconic comedic performance since “Seinfeld,” playing Vice President (and eventual president) Selina Meyer. The series has accumulated a handful of Emmy awards for its sharp writing and hysterical performances. Almost the entire cast appeared at SXSW on Monday, along with showrunner David Mandel, to discuss the show’s upcoming sixth season and how politics can be a source of comedy gold.
The show is known for breaking typical television conventions, most notably by promoting Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer character from vice president to president in season three while still keeping the show’s title, “Veep.” Ushering in season six, the trailer was released at the panel, previewing the direction the show will be taking now that Selina is no longer president. The cast revealed that the new season gathered inspiration from Obama’s actions after leaving his presidency, promising much more laughs even after Selina is done with her presidential term.
Mandel said the series heavily draws inspiration from real politics by “ripping from the headlines,” however he still keeps a distance from current events in order to “have a little bit of fun with it.” The cast believes that the key to the show’s success is satirizing politics with little to no political angle, or as Louis-Dreyfus calls it, being “equal opportunity cynical.” The cast discussed how political shows from the ‘90s used to have Washington officials depicted as heroic, such as characters in “The West Wing,” however almost all current shows depict politicians negatively and, in the case of “Veep,” use comedic whit.
Timothy Simons, who plays Jonah Ryan in the series, elaborated on the continual changing structure of their production workflow to capture the best comedic material.
“Our scripts always change and [...] sometimes that means I’m a lazy actor because I stop learning things basically because, when walking to set, things will change again. But there is something nice that brings an immediacy to some of the stuff we’re doing,” Simons said. “It’s challenging but it’s also really fun.”
To expand on the production process, Mandel introduced the terms “alts” (alternative takes) and “one-for-fun” takes that experiment with improvised jokes, illustrating the structure, and lack of structure, in order to produce the funniest material. Judging from the past five seasons, I would say they have gone above and beyond achieving that goal.
“Veep” season six premieres Sunday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.