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Circuit Training 133: A Quick Caucus with Jena Friedman

Jena Friedman

Do you get résumé jealousy? Have other people's CVs turned you avocado-green with envy? Well suck it up, as we take an introductory trek through the backstory of Jena Friedman. The New Jersey native is now one of America's most fearless political comics, via a unique investigative show, Soft Focus, and some striking stand-up.

Before that she wrote for the show every comic dreamed of appearing on, let alone working for - Late Show with David Letterman - then was a field producer on The Daily Show. Which is darn good going. Now, with America lurching towards another freaky election, she's sneaking off to the UK for a bit, and a bunch of shows at London's Soho Theatre from 17 March; it's the first of a trilogy of transatlantic Soho touchdowns, with Stavros Halkias and Beth Stelling also arriving soon. Watch this space.

Friedman's Miscarriage of Justice is 'unashamedly political', which is understandable, after a comedy of errors put that reality fellah in the White House. Is it about to happen again? And what happens then? Let's find out.

Was there a particular moment where you realised that politics and comedy could be powerful together?

I worked at The Daily Show during Jon's last three years as host, from 2012 to 2015, and I saw how covering social justice issues with comedy could be really helpful in shifting the cultural conversation.

There were actually even a few instances where segments my colleagues and I produced may have influenced policy, such as a segment I produced in 2014 called Suppressing the Vote that was cited in a court case to overturn racist voter ID laws in North Carolina.

But now, in this Trumpian era, where it seems as if up is down and most people, at least in America, have election fatigue, I'm not sure political comedy has the same impact it once did.

Jena Friedman

Do you take an interest in what's going on over here, too?

I do take an interest in UK news, because it's so similar to what's happening in the US. It's still fascinating to me how both the Brexit vote and the 2016 [US] election were partially the result of targeted disinformation campaigns that swayed a populace to vote against their own self interests. It's also comforting to look across the pond and realise it could always be worse.

Your first day writing on Letterman - can you talk us through it?

It was a blur. I do remember Dave specifically saying something to the effect of "this is a terrible place to work but it will look great on your resume."

What's the most impactful story you've covered?

I would say the Daily Show segment on voter ID laws in 2014 was one of the most impactful segments I've worked on; that said, voter suppression is still a huge problem in America, that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.

People are so deep in their political bubbles now - can comedy break through, or are we preaching to the converted too?

It depends on the type of comedy you do. I always like to have people who disagree with me in my live shows, as long as they are respectful. But I do think it's increasingly difficult to talk to each other, since we really are all in our own social media bubbles, and politics is now so connected to identity and religious beliefs.

Fast-forward to the US election: realistically, who will be in it, and who will win it?

I think if we don't combat voter suppression, and we don't adopt hand-marked paper ballots to combat election hacking/tampering, Trump will definitely 'win' again. I also think the electoral college is a relic of slavery and as long as it exists, the US will not have elections decided by the democratic majority.

What happens if Trump wins again?

I don't know. Wanna sponsor my UK work visa?

Do you have more Soft Focus planned? And any other interesting projects in the works?

Yes! We are doing another Soft Focus, which will hopefully be out within the year, and there are some other interesting projects I'm working on at the moment. But I'm sworn to secrecy.

Published: Tuesday 10th March 2020

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