Day 6

Veep's David Mandel says Trump presser at landscaping company felt like an episode of his show

When Rudy Giuliani spoke in the parking lot of a landscaping company on Saturday, to some it seemed like a scene from Veep. Showrunner David Mandel says it proves that the Trump administration is beyond satire.

'You just have to salute your betters,' said David Mandel

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani addresses the media with the Trump legal team after news media named Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden the winner in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, Penn., on Nov. 7, 2020. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

When Rudy Giuliani spoke in the parking lot of a landscaping company on Saturday — the day Joe Biden was announced winner of the U.S. presidential election — it seemed to some like a scene from Veep.

Earlier that morning, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his campaign would hold a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a small family-run company on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

The choice of Four Seasons Total Landscaping — rather than the Four Seasons hotel — was apparently intentional, according to the New York Times. A tweet from PBS reporter Daniel Bush further explained that the landscapers' garage was chosen by staffers for its secure location.

But to David Mandel, showrunner of the HBO comedy Veep which follows the blunders of a fictional White House administration, the Trump campaign's unorthodox presser seemed straight out of a script from the show.

He spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about writing satire with Trump as president. Here is part of that conversation.

What went through your mind when you watched Rudy Giuliani at Four Seasons Total Landscaping?

I think my initial thought was I was going to have to get a box and send the Trump administration all our writing awards — that they had just kind of outdone us, and kudos to them. And, you know, you just have to salute your betters.

I saw lots of people comparing it to Veep. But do you think Rudy Giuliani, America's mayor, out-Veeped you?

We didn't get to see all the funny steps, you know. I think part of what makes Veep funny is that you get to see all the steps.

So what we didn't get to see, of course, was them calling the Four Seasons [and] them assuming it was booked. The Four Seasons then telling them, "Absolutely not, you cannot come here. We don't want anything to do with the Trump administration," and then Trump being so angry that he refused to accept that as an answer and that his people were so scared of him.

The steps were missing, but as an end scene — a credits roll scene — on Veep with the music playing in the credits and Selina [Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss] sort of there, I mean, it was a pretty great scene.

It played out on TV like a split screen of U.S. subconscious, because on one side, there's the declaration of Biden's victory and then on the other, landscaping and denial. And that location, David — what did you make of the fact that Four Seasons Total Landscaping is between a crematorium and a sex shop?

Well, where else would it be? I mean, I guess that's the real answer.

You talk about that sort of that dichotomy to Biden winning, and it in of itself was a monument to why Trump lost. I mean, it was an incredible inability to ever admit wrongdoing and dare I say, doubling, tripling down. I don't even know what this is. This one feels like a quadruple down. Do you know what I mean?

Just replace Four Seasons landscaping with COVID and it's the same result, you know what I mean? It's crazy. 

Veep celebrated its final season in 2019, but you have said that a second Trump term would have been another nail in the coffin for the show because he is so hard to out-satirize. But what was it like for you in the years from 2016 onward writing Veep in the midst of the Trump presidency?

It just got so hard because so much of what was funny about Veep was really when you thought about what, for lack of a better word, a normal president would do, and then you juxtaposed it with what Selina did on the show.

Basically what happened is the term, or the idea, of a normal president went out the window. So no longer could she be funny when the guy in office was doing as crazy — or in some cases crazier [things].

It's the same thing with the staff. We sort of set up a world where her staff was the worst staff in the world. Her press secretary was the worst press secretary in the world. And then you just have these people that are so bad at their job that are booking, you know, Four Seasons landscaping. How does that make any of our characters funny?

We got off the air at the right time. I remain convinced.

An exterior view of Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the site of a Trump-campaign news conference days earlier, on State Road in northeast Philadelphia, Penn. (Bastiaan Slabbers/Reuters)

If you could spend one hour in the White House today under these extraordinary circumstances, do you think you would come out with enough material for a new series?

No, the only thing I think I'd come out with is COVID. So, yeah, I'm not going in there without a hazmat suit, but yeah. Sorry.

Again, forgive me, they're so beyond comedy at this point, unfortunately. So that's my honest answer. Sorry.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Annie Bender. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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