The scorchingly irreverent political podcast Pod Save America, created by three wisecracking former protegees of President Barack Obama, has rocketed to fame as the de facto voice of the liberal “resistance” since it debuted in January 2017 as President Trump was ascending to the White House.
With its freewheeling, conversational format, the twice-weekly podcast makes you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on a bunch of political insiders at a bar in Washington, D.C. But two of its founders, Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor, hail from Massachusetts. They launched Crooked Media — the company behind the Pod — because they wanted “to talk about politics in a way that doesn’t make you want to throw your phone out the window,” as they explain on their website.
Favreau, 36, who was Obama’s head speechwriter, grew up in North Reading and went to the College of the Holy Cross. Vietor, 37, who was Obama’s national security spokesman, is from Dedham and attended high school at Milton Academy. Their fellow host and founder, the screenwriter and former presidential speechwriter Jon Lovett, graduated from Williams College.
Crooked Media has since launched spinoff podcasts and inked a deal with HBO to produce a series of Pod specials later this year. In recent months, they’ve performed live shows across the United States and in several European cities.
I chatted with Favreau and Vietor ahead of the Pod’s upcoming live shows at the Wang Theatre on May 24 and at Boston Calling on May 26.
People say that you are the Democrats’ long-awaited answer to conservative talk radio stars like Rush Limbaugh. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
Favreau: No [laughter].
Vietor: We’d like to frame this more as the nerdy Matt [Damon] and Ben [Affleck], you know? Like Pod Save America is our Good Will Hunting, you know [laughter]? I hope that all came through as a joke.
Favreau: I remember, growing up in Massachusetts, on long drives, especially going to New Hampshire, I was sometimes listening to Howie Carr, Jay Severin, some of these right-wing [expletive] on Boston radio. And I remember thinking then, you know, if the left did something like this, it would just look different and sound different than the right. They’re all about getting people angry all the time. . . . We do better when we communicate with people with humor and with inspiration. When we started Crooked Media and Pod Save America, the other thing we hadn’t seen media do on the left or the right is actually tell people what they can do about the news that they’re seeing, reading, or hearing. And so we wanted to make sure that on Pod Save America, when we talk to people about news stories, that we say, “OK, if you don’t like this, you can go contribute to this candidate. If you are worried about Congress ripping away your health care, here’s a way to contact a member of Congress. Here’s a way to organize a rally or a town hall.”
Vietor: It’s a thing we hear a lot. And I think the reason we reject it so strongly is because the right-wing media infrastructure is not — they’re not media. They are part of the Republican Party’s political organization. I mean, look at Breitbart. . . . You know, it’s very clear whose side they are on.
New England is home to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, two of the very early front-runners for 2020. Do you think they should run, or step aside for the next generation?
Vietor: Don’t forget Mitt Romney. Now that he is in Utah, I think we should remind people that he is a Massachusetts liberal. I’m just kidding. You know, I don’t think that we’re going to be telling anybody if they should or should not run. I think, like, big picture, it would be a good thing if a whole lot of Democrats ran for president in 2020 and had a big, loud argument about the future of the party and the country, and then voters vote, and they decide the course that we’re going to head down, you know? That was the case in 2008. There were a lot of people who were incredibly qualified who ran for president that year and they fought it out, and it made all of them better candidates. And that’s what I’d like to see again.
Favreau: Yeah. We were part of a very tough primary in 2008 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Vietor: And Chris Dodd [laughter].
Favreau: And Chris Dodd. And miserable as we were in March or April in 2008 when the primary was still going on, we all believed — and Barack Obama will say this himself — that having a long primary made him a better candidate. . . . It’s very important for Democrats to be able to choose from a wide range of candidates, and to have them all debate ideas and the future of the country together. Hopefully that debate is about issues and it’s not about personalities, because that’s when things get nasty.
Which rising political stars in New England do you think we should be paying attention to and why?
Vietor: Joe Kennedy is awesome.
Favreau: Love Joe Kennedy [III].
Vietor: He’s so smart and inspiring, and young and hopeful. I think that he’s someone we should support and watch. Seth Moulton is just . . . an incredibly smart guy who’s willing to take tough positions and loudly repeat them and lead by example.
Favreau: There’s a great attorney general in Maura Healey who I think is a rising star.
Vietor: Deval [Patrick].
Favreau: We love Deval. He’s already risen [laughter]. We are big Deval fans. And also running in the Third [Congressional] District, an Obama alum who we love quite a bit, Rufus Gifford.
Vietor: Don’t forget Eric Lesser.
Favreau: State Senator Eric Lesser, one of our good pals from the Obama days.
Some critics say that your podcast perpetuates the liberal echo chamber. What is your response to that?
Favreau: We were in Austin, Texas, and a woman came up to me, a young woman, and she said: “I just want to say to you guys, I was a Never Trump Republican, I didn’t vote for him. And then after he won, I started listening to your podcast. And now I’ve moved fully from Republican to unaffiliated and now I’m fully a Democrat because I’ve been listening to you guys.” So we are very interested in the business of converts. . . . The Republican Party’s a lot different nationally than Charlie Baker’s Republican Party in Massachusetts. . . . We’re dealing with the most extreme, right-wing Republican Party we’ve ever seen, so I think that leaves a lot of space from the far left all the way to the center left and even the center right for us to talk to.
Vietor: Here’s what I would say to those critics: There’s this idea that the way you reach people is to trim your sail and moderate your opinions on both sides, and kind of chart a course politically based on what the polling tells you are all the issues that poll at 70 percent. . . . We think that the way you reach people and the way you convince them is to tell them the truth and to speak the way that human beings actually speak, not like talking-points monsters on cable news panels. And I think part of that is actually stolen from Donald Trump. He is a landfill shoved into a suit, but he was able to communicate with people very clearly because he spoke like them. He said what he thought, and he said what they thought.
If people listen to Pod Save America, yes, they will hear us criticizing Trump a lot. But they will also hear us criticizing Democrats when they’re not doing the right thing. If we go into the midterms this year and Pod Save America is responsible for getting a bunch of Democrats who might’ve just voted in the midterms, but not actually volunteered or given money or knocked on doors, if we can get them to take action and [get] on the trail, that would make me very, very happy.
LISTEN TO ‘POD SAVE AMERICA’ (Contains swearing)
Let’s talk about your new HBO show.
Favreau: Even before the HBO show, we wanted to be out on the campaign trail this fall, traveling to as many places as possible, to help get Democrats elected and to get people active in politics. And so the idea is to follow up to a few of these locations, where we already were going to go, and do a show about what the 2018 campaign is like for a movement of people — some of whom are getting involved in politics for the very first time — to try to elect a Democratic Congress. We’ll have some fun along the way. Tell some jokes.
You just wrapped up a European tour of the Pod Save America live show. Did you get the sense that Europeans are worried about what’s happening over here?
Vietor: Yeah. They are. We were at an event in Stockholm, and a guy stood up and asked us about a very specific congressional race in Pennsylvania.
Favreau: It was the Conor Lamb race.
Vietor: And he knew the registration advantage that the Republicans had, he knew it inside and out. And he was not an expat, he was from there. . . . They’re not watching US politics in a bemused way. They’re watching in a very frightened way.
Favreau: It put the danger of a Trump presidency in perspective for us in a way that I think you sort of lose being in the United States every day and just sort of watching the circus. Because sometimes it seems funny, and sometimes it seems sad, and you’re mad, and you don’t know what other people are thinking. And when you go outside of America and meet all of these people who are like, “I believe in you guys, I believe in America. And I expect America to be a leader in the world. And what the [expletive] is happening in your country?” It’s sort of, um, it’s a little depressing. And it makes you want to work harder to change things.
If you had to pick, what is your favorite political scandal of 2018 so far?
Favreau: Oh my God, that’s hard. There’s like five a day. How do we pick?
Vietor: Wait this is a good question, I don’t want to let this go.
Favreau: The, like, 72 hours of Mooch [Anthony Scaramucci] was pretty funny. That was a good one.
Vietor: So much to choose from. What’s hard is the ones that are the most insane are in some ways the worst and the most offensive and scary, so you don’t want to, like, joke about them, you know? We’ll come back [to that]. I promise we’ll have a good one.
In general, what reaction to the podcast has surprised you the most?
Vietor: For me, every time we do a live show, and we walk out and it’s not empty, surprisingly, I think it speaks to the fact that people are dealing with the horribleness of the Trump administration. And they can feel they’re isolated and alone. And I think if you’re with a group of people and everyone feels like what they’re reading in the news every day is crazy and it’s unacceptable, it’s nice to do it together.
Favreau: Even during the Obama years, there was a lot of cynicism about politics. And I feared that Donald Trump’s election would just break people. That people would be angry and cynical all the time and give up on politics. And I have been pleasantly surprised that at these live shows, they are energized and ready to get involved.
After HBO, what’s next for the Pod?
Vietor: We have a lot of plans to get us through November that involve the touring, the HBO stuff. But our planning calendar kind of stops in November.
Vietor: I have [my favorite] scandal. My scandal is the mere existence of Jared Kushner [laughter]. Not only did that little [expletive] not have a [permanent] security clearance while sitting in the [president’s daily briefing] for month after month after month. The fact that a kid who failed at real estate was allowed to take on the portfolio of negotiating Middle East peace is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. It underscores all the reasons why this White House is a complete joke.
This interview has been edited and condensed.Visit bostoncalling.com to buy tickets. At press time, the Wang show was nearly sold out. Meghan Barr is a Globe Magazine editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.