Last Saturday, the Carsey-Wolf Center screened two episodes from the fifth season (the first episode titled Morning After and the second titled Kissing Your Sister) of the award-winning comedy series “VEEP” at Pollock Theater. Showrunner and head writer David Mandel was brought along with star/executive producer Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays Selina Meyer, and actor Tony Hale, who plays Selina’s personal aid Gary Walsh, to participate in a post-screening Q&A.
“VEEP” focuses on the story of Vice President Selina Meyer as she attempts to leave a lasting legacy. Meanwhile, she has to maneuver all the political animals in Washington and deal with a staff that is hilariously incompetent.
Seeing the episodes on a bigger screen, and with an actual audience, allowed for a new perspective I did not have before as a fan. The most immediate thing that stood out was the continuation of the rapid-fire humor and dialogue that occurred in previous seasons. This was notable because “VEEP”’s fifth season was the first without creator/former showrunner Armando Iannucci. The panel was asked how they felt about having an audience see the episodes. Louis-Dreyfus responded that she “loved listening to it” and that it was nice to get a response as to what parts of the episode were the funniest.
Louis-Dreyfus talked about what initially attracted her to the role of Selina Meyer. She didn’t want to do network television after “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and signed up for “VEEP” before a script was even written. The actress sang her praises for HBO, saying that they’re “respectful of the creative process,” but they will let you know when they disagree. Louis-Dreyfus said there was a “mutual respect built into the process.”
Mandel joined Louis-Dreyfus in praising HBO, and said that the difference between HBO and other networks was that “network television go out of their way to hire people and tell them how to do their job.” Despite the fact that HBO is very hands-off in the creative process, Mandel said it was important to “create your own limits,” because having no limits leads to a poor end product.
The closeness of the cast was a theme that recurred throughout the Q&A. Hale discussed how much he appreciated “the trust the cast has with each other.” He mentioned that it was very rare for him for an ensemble to be that close and that it was important, especially for comedy, because comedy was a “dance that you play.” Louis-Dreyfus praised Hale as an actor and how committed he was. She was so impressed with him that, during the audition process, she said “if we could get Tony, we could have a show.”
They were asked how often the script changed on the set. “Sometimes it changes on set,” Louis-Dreyfus answered. It really depended on how the scene would play out when the cast would film it, but for the most part the scripts were pretty well-formed by the time they start filming.
Mandel added that they “always tried to thicken the broth” and add different layers to the scenes. He stressed the importance of realism to ground the comedy and rehearsal. “Important scenes, we try to rehearse,” he said, because it was important to try to balance their tonality. Louis-Dreyfus concurred that the show was “tricky tonally” and that they try doing a “comedy-drama mashup,” but sometimes the task is so daunting that she jokingly asks herself, “How are we going to thread this fucking needle?”
Inevitably, the panel was asked by an audience member about the current administration and how it impacted “VEEP,” because they felt the show was a parody of the powerful and egotistical in Washington. Louis-Dreyfus then corrected her statement, saying that “our show is not parody,” but rather a comedy about political culture. The show doesn’t reference any political candidate since Reagan, and doesn’t reference any political parties, and so “both Democrats and Republicans enjoy the show,” Louis-Dreyfus joked, implying their show was the only bipartisan thing in Washington.
“It’s a show about power,” Mandel added, and stated that the current administration just “did 100 episodes in row.” If “VEEP” was a parody, they “wouldn’t be able to compete,” Mandel joked.