If we’re going to keep saying, “This is just like an episode of Veep…” at the very least we deserve an actual episode of Veep out of it.
That’s somewhat behind Sunday night’s fundraiser for America Votes’ Show Up For Georgia, in which star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, showrunner David Mandel, the comedy’s cast, and special guests including Stephen Colbert and Don Cheadle will gather virtually for a table read of the classic—and apparently prescient—Veep episode “Mother.”
The virtual fundraiser is aimed to urge voters to turn out for the upcoming Georgia runoff elections, in which Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock could flip the Senate if they win. It’s not the first time Veep’s three-ring circus took its antics from inside the Beltway to a civically minded digital event. A virtual reunion in support of Wisconsin Democrats raised over $500,000 in October.
When this reporter spoke to Louis-Dreyfus and Mandel Saturday night amidst rehearsals for Sunday’s table read, they revealed how they had cannily adapted to—and clearly embraced—the opportunity to capitalize on Veep nostalgia for more democratic good than Selina Meyer would ever accomplish.
“This has been the year of a lot of these events,” Mandel said, speaking on the phone with Louis-Dreyfus. “Let's face facts. We're in an election runoff. Everybody's exhausted from the first election. You don't want to just say, ‘Hey, just come for more of the same.’ You want to give people something special, especially if they're hardcore fans.”
Upping the ante from October’s Wisconsin event, Sunday’s Georgia fundraiser will be a table read of “Mother,” with the series’ core cast reprising their roles and a slew of guest stars on board to add splash to walk-on roles. “We have Mark Hamill,” Mandel said. “Luke Skywalker is coming in to do, like, two small scenes.”
Choosing the season five episode “Mother” for the table read is a pointed decision. As we flagged for The Daily Beast, it surfaced as somewhat of an oracle—albeit an exasperating one—in the days following the 2020 election.
In the episode, Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina Meyer requests a recount of votes when the Electoral College doesn’t surface a clear winner on election night. She rallies supporters to protest outside a courthouse where her appeal is being decided, the crowd chanting “count every vote!” But then when new information reveals that a recount wouldn’t tally in her favor, her team changes the slogan, chanting to “stop counting the votes.”
In classic Veep fashion, she screams at her team, “You're going to cancel this recount like Anne Frank’s Bat mitzvah.” It’s a more expletive-laden portending of the Trump team strategy to scream for counting votes, or stopping the count, depending on what seemed more advantageous, in the days following the election.
“It was the only episode we could pick,” Mandel said. “It just seemed like the episode was coming alive.”
But Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus want to stress that the virtual table read is more than just an occasion to revisit an episode that’s already been resurfaced by every news outlet in the wake of the bizarre election events. Louis-Dreyfus points out that it’s “Veep Uncut,” so to speak. The episode will be read in the form that it was at its first table read.
Veep is such a dense show that countless extra scenes were written and filmed, only to fall to the cutting room floor in the mission of keeping the series to a half-hour. Now, all that carnage will be brought back to life by the original cast.
Stephen Colbert, for one, was losing it in rehearsals over that, which tickled Louis-Dreyfus and Mandel. “He was like, ‘As a Veep junkie, I cannot get enough of these extra scenes,’” Louis-Dreyfus said. “Did you hear him say that, David?”
Louis-Dreyfus channeled Rudy Giuliani himself in order to drum up attention for the fundraiser, pitching the event in a video while hair dye drips down her face.
While Veep when it aired had always been strictly non-partisan, her own activism had never been a secret, especially during the Trump administration. She was one of the celebrity co-hosts for the Democratic National Convention this fall. She knows the precarious dance it is to use a celebrity platform for politics, and how hard it can be to have those efforts taken seriously—and, more, matter; to, for example, to have your first Veep reunion raise half-a-million dollars.
Zoom events, reunions, and table reads have been a boon for Hollywood fundraising in the last year, more so than previous efforts at celebrity political engagement, which can at times read as alienating or insufferable.
“I think it’s interesting how it’s all sort of born out of the pandemic that this has happened,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “And I think people get a kick out of it. They feel as if they're a fly on the wall in a room they wouldn't normally be in.”
She and Mandel will never forget where they were when Trump was elected. As if it wasn’t surreal enough to be shooting an episode of Veep at the time, they were filming an episode in which Selina is sent to another country to certify an un-corrupt and fair election.
“Isn’t that uncanny, Dave? It was the Georgia episode,” Louis-Dreyfus said, connecting it to their current, similarly minded crusade. “I think we had a joke about Georgia the country or Georgia the state,” Mandel recalled.
But thinking back to when they filmed “Mother” the season before, that they would be in a situation like this would have seemed implausible.
“When we were shooting this, a lot of the experts that we were constantly talking to about the show were just telling us, ‘You can ignore the Trump candidacy,’” Mandel said. “They said it’s not gonna happen, here’s what’s gonna happen: Someone’s gonna punch him in the mouth in one of these debates and it’ll all be over. And they were all wrong!”
There were text chains and phone calls and just dumbfounded staring off into space as they watched the events of “Mother” unfold in real life, as Trump supporters echoed the characters clearly portrayed in the episode as buffoons and changed their “count the vote” message on a minute-by-minute basis.
To actually say those lines again in rehearsals for the table read has been another layer of trippiness.
“Well, it’s nice to laugh about it, let’s put it that way, as opposed to being utterly and completely horrified,” Louis-Dreyfus said. “The reality of it is not even slightly comedic, so it’s fun to immerse yourself in this kooky Veep land again.”
Even beyond the “count the vote” hypocrisy, Mandel is shocked by how much there is in the episode, which aired in 2016, that is eerily relevant today. “Her obsession with how many votes she got just rings hauntingly true in a way that, certainly, it was funny five years ago. But now it’s freaky.”
Then and now, in the wake of the relevance of “Mother,” both Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus have been peppered with questions about what it’s like to witness the actual White House so closely resemble the lunacy of Veep. But there’s a disturbing collateral to that conversation: The fact that there is too much happening now that would be too ludicrous to even script into an episode of the show.
Giuliani staging a press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping? The hair-dye debacle? The tweeting? It would never make it in.
“To be honest, it’s one of the reasons that we ended the show when we did,” Louis-Dreyfus says. “We just couldn’t compete with this Trump White House, who was doing a better job of our show than we were. But of course their show wasn’t funny.”
Mandel points to Melissa Carone, the slurring “witness” to voting fraud in Michigan, who recently went viral alongside Giuliani’s trial farts and was parodied on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live.
“I was watching that footage from Michigan and thinking we would never have gotten away with that,” Mandel said. “If someone came in and auditioned that way, we would have not hired them. If I'd written it, Julia would’ve fired me.”
That realization is behind their work with groups like America Votes. They don’t want to be this relevant. “It's a funny show,” Mandel said. “But it’s not funny in real life.”