How David Mandel Is Using 'Veep' to Shine a Spotlight on Down-Ballot Races  

David Mandel attends the Veep Season 7 premiere - Getty-H 2019
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The showrunner hosts his second reunion event with Timothy Simons and Sam Richardson, this time to benefit North Carolina Senate Democratic candidates.

Something strange has happened since HBO's Emmy-winning comedy Veep went off the air — it's gotten more popular, says David Mandel.

The showrunner, who ran the final three seasons of the political comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, tells The Hollywood Reporter that, under the Trump era, he feels like they have a larger audience now than when the show wrapped in mid-2019. "During the two years as things got worse, it’s like someone said, 'You should watch Veep!' And people did," says Mandel, who has been assembling his former Veep stars for fundraiser reunions ahead of the 2020 presidential election. "I did wonder about the appetite — we haven’t been off the air that long. But I think both because of the funny spotlight that’s been on Veep since we’ve been off the air and the sense that they are running this strange Veep incompetence playbook at the Trump White House, people seem more into the show now than when we were making it."

That appetite has been the driving force behind two Veep reunion events, one viral Seinfeld ad (Mandel wrote and directed Wayne Knight's Newman spot) and one Seinfeld mini-reunion. After raising more than $500,000 and courting volunteers for Wisconsin Democrats with the virtual Veep cast reunion, both moderator Mandel and star Louis-Dreyfus fanned out to see what they could do next. The result of their joint efforts is a mini-Veep reunion, to be moderated by Mandel, that will focus on the special relationship between Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) and Richard Splett (Sam Richardson) and will take place virtually Thursday to benefit North Carolina Democrats (donate for access to the event at actblue.com/page/veepnc). And a mini-Seinfeld reunion, with Mandel working behind the scenes, as Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Larry David virtually reunite to benefit Texas Democrats, is happening Friday (donate for access to that event at txdem.co/Something).

“This is my full-time job," says Mandel, with a laugh, of his efforts to raise awareness for down-ballot races in key states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas. Of Thursday's event, he says, "The opportunity to shine a spotlight on the North Carolina state Democrats helps everybody across the ballot, but it’s shining a spotlight on the lower part of the ballot. And that’s the wonderful thing about taking something like Veep and using it for that." Read more about the fan events and the motivating forces behind them in Mandel's chat with The Hollywood Reporter, below.

What is driving you to devote all of your free time to turning out the vote? 

I look back at 2016 — we were shooting Veep at the time — and I was an active Democrat and an active donor. I certainly did my little part and I think, just like everybody else, assumed there was no possible way that Donald Trump could win. Cut to four years later, and I can’t leave my house without a mask. My feeling this time around is that I’m going to keep doing everything humanly possible that I can do. I don’t want to think there was one other thing I could have done. I don’t recognize the United States of America and I put the blame firmly on President Trump and his Republican enablers — both in the Congress, to a lesser extent, but certainly in the Senate.

You said you are doing everything you can in the Mandel house to raise awareness. What does that entail?

We’ve been doing a lot of letter writing. There’s a wonderful organization called Vote Forward. I write the letters, my daughter does the addresses on the envelopes. My son, whose handwriting is terrible, does the stamps. It’s a full operation. (Laughs.)

The virtual Veep cast reunion came together quickly. Is everyone on the cast feeling similarly to you, where it’s an easy ask to get involved?

The way the Wisconsin thing came about was that they had already done a West Wing event and they announced a reunion for Princess Bride, which then obviously exploded. We weren't sitting around saying, "Can we figure out a way to do some kind of a reunion to help?” But they asked. The call came and it was from Ben Wikler, who is the head of the Wisconsin Democrat Party, asking if there was something we could do. I reached out to Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] instantly and she was more than into it, as I figured she would be, and then we threw the email out to everybody else. Almost everybody was available, and then couple who initially weren’t then became available. On our side, it was legitimately a reunion. For a brief shining moment, it felt like we were back on the set in a really wonderful way. It does make you kind of forget that we’re all locked in our houses —  there’s a bonus beyond just the helping part.

You never directly addressed Trump on Veep, but the show held politicians to task. Now that you are off the air, are these social awareness initiatives for 2020 the next best thing?

We’ve been off the air for almost two years and in some strange way, I feel like the show has become more relevant off the air compared to when we were on the air. I feel like not even two days can go by without a politician — and unfortunately, usually a Republican — almost saying one of our lines or, more or less, doing one of our scenes. And in some cases, doing worse than one of our scenes where someone on social media — not me or anyone involved with the show — says, “Oh my God, it’s Veep,” and puts the Veep music and end credits on the shot and it makes its way around the internet. People weren’t doing that when the show was on. (Laughs.) We’re doing all of this stuff because there’s an audience for it, and because it raises money. What’s great about the Veep reunion is that we raised half a million dollars. If we had seen everybody and raised $4, I’m not sure it would have been as joyous. But there is a hunger, I think, for the show and from the fans, and that motivated people to both give to Wisconsin and, more importantly, donate their time. People signed up for volunteer shifts in Wisconsin from the event. That’s the real victory.

The Veep event focused on the key state of Wisconsin. This mini-reunion event with Timothy Simons and Sam Richardson benefits North Carolina Senate Democratic candidates. How do you pick your cause?

The thing that’s nice about these events is that it's an opportunity for us to put a spotlight on some of these state organizations. We’ve done events for the Biden campaign as well, but the Veep reunion was an opportunity to put a spotlight on Wisconsin and not just Biden winning there but all the people on the ballot, the down-ballot stuff. And the same thing is going to be true about the Seinfeld event for Texas. This North Carolina one that I’m doing with Tim and Sam is for the state Democratic Party, and it’s an opportunity in that state to flip a legislature. If we could flip the North Carolina Senate to Democrat, then the Democratic governor will have an ally and we can [make] fairer maps and [stop] gerrymandering, and stop bad bills. The places that have passed restrictive abortion bills are the state legislatures that are full Republican. So when you undo that, you can stop those bills from getting any further. State legislatures are where things like voting rights and all sorts of stuff like that can be protected, and it’s the fact that they’ve been in the hands of, dare I say, the other side that has created so many of these restrictions.

How did you get involved with North Carolina Democrats?

They approached us. We’re semi-approachable! But I knew some people connected to North Carolina State Sen. Wiley Nickel, who was in the Obama administration, and they asked me if we could put something together. I knew I wouldn’t be able to wrangle everybody again, so I landed on doing a focused thing on Sam and Tim because, as the moderator of this event, I know they have such wonderful chemistry and it’s fun to ask about the Richard and Jonah relationship. I also had an extra deleted scene laying around that we didn’t get to from the Wisconsin event that was a really funny Richard and Jonah scene that we cut out of the show. You try to give the fans something special.

You are also involved in the mini-Seinfeld reunion that's happening Friday. 

I’m involved behind the scenes. Earlier in the pandemic, Julia was doing these weekly Instagram Live one-on-ones that were raising money for Direct Relief. She did them with the cast of Veep and she did one with Jason [Alexander], who is also out there big time doing these kinds of events, and Larry [David], who is also a big supporter. So it was very natural for the three of them to come together and say, “Look, the three of us are doing these separate events, why not just do one together?”

Veep ended more recently than Seinfeld. How does it feel to revisit Seinfeld after all of these years?

We're on a group text. We’re trying to write some funny announcement ads and things of that nature. But it is all hands on deck in terms of good questions. Seth [Meyers], the moderator, is both a fan and a great question-asker. They are going to pick one of their favorite episodes to talk about and that will be where some of the questions will be concentrated, so there’s been a lot of talking about what episodes they should be picking. The other day, I had a phone conversation with Larry, Julia, me and [Curb Your Enthusiasm executive producer and former Seinfeld writer-director] Jeff Schaffer and we were just laughing so goddamn much. The funny mix of the four of us on the phone; it seemed like we were on the phone yesterday. We were talking about episodes and the show and who could remember what. The Seinfeld bonds — they don’t go away.

How did the Seinfeld event get linked up with Texas Democrats? 

We definitely had the big talk of where this would be most effective. The feeling was that the combination of putting the spotlight on an individual state would be best at this moment. As we’re getting closer, some of these campaigns almost need more volunteers than money. The opportunity to pick a state and not just raise money, but also try to raise volunteer awareness, was so important. And then there’s something about Texas and the possibility about it flipping blue in general. It’s gonna happen. Is this the year? Maybe not all of it, but parts of it. There is a Senate seat in play; there’s obviously the presidential election in play, but more importantly, there is the legislatures. If that could change and we can effect map-drawing and those kinds of things, that would be amazing. Textbooks are drawn up based on Texas because it’s the largest state in the union. All of this stuff connects to Texas and the opportunity to put this spotlight on Texas, and the possibility of flipping it blue is ultimately why we landed there.

What are your hopes for how these events can pay off come Nov. 3?

One of the things that I think is very powerful about entertainment is that it is a way of bridging the gap. I think one of the reasons that Republicans have tried to turn the notion of Hollywood people talking about issues into an issue is because of how powerful it can be. No one from Hollywood is ever saying, “You have to listen to us.” But if somebody is a Seinfeld fan who watches that Newman spot or tunes in to the Seinfeld reunion, or if you are a Veep fan and tune in to one of our events, and if you hear something that you wouldn’t normally have heard in your news bubble or if it slightly changes your mind, that’s the effect. Someone might watch Wayne Knight talking about the Post Office that isn’t predisposed to listen to a message from the Democratic Party. That, to me, is the power of entertainment.

What are debate nights like in your household?

I find them painful. I go back all the way to Saturday Night Live and to sketches I wrote in ’92, which was the Clinton-Bush-Perot debate that I worked on back then, and then all the way up to Veep. I’ve done too much fake-debate writing to watch a real debate at this point! But I watch them the way I watch the Oscars — I come into them half an hour late so I can fast-forward if I need to.

At this point, what are your thoughts about how Election Day and election night will go?

I’m trying to get into the mindset of just reminding America that I think we’re not going to be able to think about it as "Election Day" or "election night." I think we’re, unfortunately, going to be talking about it as "election week" and "election two weeks," possibly. I would love to see it get called, but I have my fears that he’s going to declare victory no matter what, so I want to sort of prepare America to make sure we find out who really wins. In 2016, we were shooting that "Georgia" episode for Veep and filming the opener where Selina [Louis-Dreyfus] was overseas in Georgia supervising the election. We were doing jokes about how crappy democracy is and then between takes, we were watching on our phones as Hillary [Clinton]’s percentage just dropped lower and lower. We would get more and more depressed, but then we had to get ready for the next take. Julia and Tony [Hale] were in the scene and they had to pull themselves together and go out there and be funny about democracy. It was perverse. So one way or another, I think this election night will be better than that. I hope.

What is your optimistic scenario and what is your pessimistic scenario for Nov. 3 and beyond?

My optimistic one is that with the way people have been voting — voting early and in person, and making their voting plans and carrying them out — I do think there’s a possibility that Biden takes a certain couple of key states that night and it is all over. That’s extreme optimism. And then my pessimism is that I start calling real estate agents in the greater Vancouver area.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.