The hottest political show this campaign cycle isn’t The Daily Show, Morning Joe, or even Last Week Tonight — it’s a podcast called Keepin’ It 1600. Hosted by friends and former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, 35, and Dan Pfeiffer, 40, the show (carried on Bill Simmons’ The Ringer podcast network) has become such a must-listen that the duo recently doubled their output to two episodes per week with help from cohosts Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett. We talked to the Favreau and Pfeiffer about the podcast’s meteoric rise and this crazy election.
How much did you guys know about podcasts before starting one in May?
JON FAVREAU: I did not know that we would be able to host one! When Simmons asked us once to do his podcast, I thought, “That’s pretty easy. I can handle an interview.” But when he said, “Oh, do you guys want to try it yourself?” I thought, “How the hell do you host a podcast?” So the way that Dan and I approached it was just, well, why don’t we just have a conversation about politics and see what happens? And it turns out that was an okay formula.
DAN PFEIFFER: My big concern when we started was, will we be able to find enough stuff to talk about and fill 45 minutes to an hour a week? Fortunately, Donald Trump solved that problem for us pretty early on. It ended up becoming harder to figure out what not to talk about.
You have a standing invitation for Hillary Clinton to be on the show, but what about your old boss Obama?
PFEIFFER: We’d love to have him on anytime, in any format — whether it’s when he’s in the White House or afterward. But he also has a lot of things on his plate that seem more important than being on our podcast.
Hillary’s campaign started a podcast to help promote her campaign message. As people who worked in the White House for Obama, do you think there should there be an official presidential podcast, kind of the way FDR had his Fireside Chats?
FAVREAU: I don’t know if there should be an official… I mean, the problem with an official podcast, anything that becomes official, is you sort of lose kind of the freewheeling nature of the conversation, right? Campaigns and White Houses are trying to deliver a message. But I could totally imagine Barack Obama hosting a podcast post-presidency. That’s right up his alley.
PFEIFFER: The White House, they have to do this weekly address every week, which is spilled over from the days of radio, and we thought we were being super revolutionary in 2009 to videotape it and put it on YouTube every week. But you know, the president will be the first to tell you it’s a stale format, and there is I think something that could be done there with a podcast. It’ll always have the problem Jon talks about with this — if it’s official, people will see it as propaganda-ish. But you know, there is something to do there, and someone smarter than us will hopefully figure it out soon.
A lot of people say this campaign, more than any, resembles more entertainment than politics. From your guys’ perspective, is that true, or do we do the same hyperbole every election period and they’re all sorta of the same level of entertainment shit show?
PFEIFFER: I think we’ve reached peak sh– show with this election. I mean, people complained for years that politics has become too much entertainment and treat it like a game, like a bit of a circus. I think, this time around, that’s true in a very dangerous way. We have a professional entertainer who has, you know, no qualifications or experience whatsoever, who’s coming close to winning the presidency. And I think no matter what happens in this election, even if, hopefully, Hillary wins, I think we all have some soul-searching to do about just how much entertainment we want in our politics.
As Democrats, you guys are very open about your bias. Is your listenership more liberal because of it?
PFEIFFER: I’ve been surprised by how many Republicans listen to the podcast. I don’t know how many of them are Trump supporters, but they’re Republicans. The fact that our bias is so obvious and we make a little fun of it, I think makes it easier for other people to listen to.
FAVREAU: It’s not like we’re former liberal Obama partisans who are now trying to be objective journalists. We don’t pretend to be that.
PFEIFFER: This is not a gateway to a career in journalism for us. Quite the opposite, actually.
What are your post-election plans?
PFEIFFER: What we’ll talk about is a great question. We’re going to keep it up after the election for a while and then see what format, frequency, etc., will make sense. We’ve only done this in the heat of Trump mania, and so we’ll have to see what it’s like in a post-Trump world.
FAVREAU: And if the worst happens and Trump wins, we’ll be doing the podcast from a secret, undisclosed location.
As people who’ve been on the inside, what TV show do you think best captures working in the White House?
FAVREAU: I always say that real politics is a cross between The West Wing and Veep. So it’s not quite as inspirational, music-swelling-in-the-background as West Wing, and it’s not quite as screwball as Veep. But I think of the current shows on, Veep most accurately captures what politics is.
PFEIFFER: I agree. We’re also rooting for Designated Survivor. Our friend Kal Penn is on it!
Jon, do you ever get writer-director Jon Favreau’s mail? Or does he get a lot of angry tweets meant for you?
FAVREAU: The number of congratulations on Twitter about the Lion King remake that I’m involved in has been something. [Laughs] I feel bad because probably before this election, I don’t think too many people mixed him up for me, but I’m sure he’s getting a bunch of hate tweets now from Trump supporters, which he doesn’t deserve.