There’s no shortage of comedian commentary on this election cycle — all the average American has to do to get their fill is turn on their TV. Samantha Bee on TBS has the righteous anger angle. John Oliver on HBO has the “I’m not mad, I’m disappointed — actually, I’m kind of mad, too” vibe. Seth Meyers does the thorough, daily takedowns of whatever absurd details have come out that day on NBC’s “Late Night.” But don’t sleep on Adam Conover’s “The Adam Ruins Everything Election Special,” which premieres Oct. 25 at 10 p.m. on truTV.
In the special, Conover takes a close look at the idea that this election is somehow different than others: nastier, more despair-inducing, more more. It is different, but not quite for all the reasons we think — we have seen most of this circus before. Conover called Variety up to discuss how.
Where did the impetus for this special come from?
I’m not a politics expert. We’re not a political show. But I’m certainly as interested in it as everyone else. And this year it’s more consuming than it was in others. In our first season, last year, we did an episode on the Electoral College and gerrymandering, which are complex topics, but they worked. And then I had this idea to do a show about this election and tape it in front of a live audience. So we tested it out on the road for a few weeks, then filmed it.
It’s a pretty simple set-up: You on a stage with basically just a PowerPoint presentation.
I discovered that format works really well with this presentation I did earlier this year on how “Millennials” don’t exist. It was just something I did for a Turner thing, but someone taped it and I put it on my YouTube page and it got about a million views. And a lot of people have been using that format effectively — but not comedians. Until now.
What did you discover that really surprised you, in trying to remind us we, as a country, have seen most of this before?
The Edith Wilson story really surprised me, where the wife of Woodrow Wilson basically ran the country for, like, a year and a half. That presumably would be a big part of our history, but it’s sort of hidden to time. We’re not aware of it, we’re not thinking about it. The goal of the show, especially this show, is to make them visible.
Why does this election feel so different?
I have a pet theory: The political and media industries are going through a disruption period similar to the music industry a few years ago. I think the same sort of thing is happening in politics and media. The enormous number of new outlets, the way people can go in these hidey-holes on the internet, has resulted in a disruption in politics and media. Trump is sort of taking advantage of this weird moment we’re in.
My hope would be over the next 10 years is the media can build that trust up again. Our show is a counterpoint to the idea that the consumer is at fault. People love to learn. They just love it. It’s like eating and breathing. There is an appetite for what we’re doing. Our show, when we toured around the country, it was people from all walks of life. I think people in the media don’t give people enough credit for being intelligent.