Walking into David Mandel’s second-floor office on the Paramount lot, where he writes HBO’s political comedy “Veep,” is like stepping into a museum of pop culture memorabilia. From posters and original prop portraits from his show on the walls to shelves of action figures, toy cars, and DVDs, Mandel lets his collector’s flag fly. “Among the things I collect are TV and movie props. I have a LOT of stuff,” he laughs. “So to actually have stuff from the things that I’ve worked on is extra enjoyable. It has a double meaning.”
Judgmental Eyes are Watching You
Hanging over the couch perpendicular to Mandel’s desk is the portrait of Mee-Maw, the imposing matriarch of Selina Meyer’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) “Veep” family who famously passed away in the fourth episode of the fifth season — Mandel’s first season. “Selina, who is not particularly good with her emotions, needs to deal with that as she’s dealing with the Nevada recount,” Mandel recalls. “I think for us and also for the audience, it was a different flavor in the ‘Veep’ world. In some ways it let people know that the show under my group of people was going to be a little different. We were trying to do things that interest me, and one of the things that definitely interests me is digging a little deeper into these characters.”
Straight across from Mandel’s desk is a bookcase full of merchandise of Bizarro, the “mirror image” of Superman from DC Comics that partially inspired the “The Bizarro Jerry” episode of “Seinfeld” Mandel wrote during his tenure on that show. Though it wasn’t the first episode he ever wrote, it was the one he says he is most proud of. “Not only does it incorporate the Superman concept, but also ‘man hands’ in there is sort of about my wife,” Mandel laughs. “She has farm hands because she grew up on a farm, whereas I have baby-like hands and have never worked a hard day in my life. We exaggerated it for the show, and the joke became this woman with giant hands. Obviously everything I write is me, but this is the one that felt the most me.”
Art and Politics
Mandel keeps a bulletin board adorned with a drawing his son did of “Ghostbusters,” the first big comedy film that he saw and loved. He expects to hang something from his daughter soon, but for now the “Ghostbusters” art is joined by a bumper sticker from Al Franken’s senate campaign. Franken worked with Mandel on his first professional job (“MTV Give Me My Life Back” for Comedy Central that Mandel wrote when he was still in school) and quickly became his mentor. “He hired me when he was doing coverage of the Democratic and the Republican conventions. That would have been the summer of the Bill Clinton/Al Gore campaign. And then he brought me over to ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and we wrote together for many, many years,” Mandel says.
Mandel, who was a government major in college, still loves to read historical nonfiction — specifically books about presidents. One of his favorites is John F. Kennedy, so when he came across a unique toy car version of the presidential limo just moments before Kennedy was assassinated, he just had to have it. “It just spoke to me both in its incredible accuracy of the moment and dare I say, there was something very darkly funny about it. It makes me laugh in a very tasteless way,” Mandel says.
Surely He Jests
One of the few pieces of non-show specific art in Mandel’s office is a framed print of a jester that he purchased in Prague when he was there to film “Eurotrip” more than a decade ago. “This piece reminds me of that time, and oddly enough, the symbol of the jester — the only person who can tell the king the truth, but still acts as comic relief — definitely connects to comedy writing,” Mandel says. “Also, I got interested in comedy writing back in college with the Harvard Lampoon, and the jester is a symbol at the Lampoon. So it’s all of that in one piece; it’s full circle in a way.”