Adam Conover’s ‘G Word’ is a fun crash course in government | Television
By LYNN ELBER Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Adam Conover is certain that laughing and thinking at the same time is both possible and downright synergistic.
He tested the approach in “Adam Ruins Everything,” in which he broke through conventional wisdom on issues ranging from charity to jaywalking. He’s back with “The G Word” — that’s “G” for government — a six-episode streaming Netflix series that’s aptly described as a comedy-documentary hybrid.
Comedian and writer from a family of scientists, Conover explores how the US government affects our daily lives in surprising, reassuring, or dismaying ways. Quick Quiz: Who gave us the beloved Global Positioning System that obsoletes the sense of direction? The federations of owner-operators!
Other topics include the role of the federal government in food safety and weather and disease control, as well as the potential of local governments.
“I deeply believe that comedy is a way to communicate real ideas, not just snark, not just writing funny situations, but communicating ideas inside people,” Conover said, quoting George Carlin as a source of inspiration.
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“When someone laughs, that’s when their defenses crumble. And that’s when you can plant the seed of a new idea and let it grow,” Conover said, paraphrasing the late comedian. “That’s what I try to do with my job.”
He took pains to avoid using “The G Word” as a political megaphone, despite Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions being among its creators. The former president trades punchlines with Conover in an opening skit that tackles the connection head-on.
“I felt it was a core part of the show,” Conover said, and reflects the independence he sought before signing on as the show’s co-creator, writer, and host.
Penn Jillette and Oscar Nuñez (“The Office”) are among other familiar faces on hand for explanatory and, of course, humorous segments. Conover discussed the roots of the project and its approach in an interview with The Associated Press, edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: “The G Word” is based on “The Fifth Risk” from “Moneyball” and “The Big Short” author Michael Lewis. How similar is the series to Lewis’ 2018 non-fiction book?
A: Michael Lewis goes where the story takes him, and he ends up marveling at the incredible power and responsibilities of the US government. It employs one in 16 Americans and very few have any idea what it does. I had read the book and loved it. But there’s actually only one story that we’ve used directly from this one, and that’s the story of the National Weather Service and weather societies’ attempt to undermine it. The rest (the series) came from our own elaboration on the perspective and subject of the book.
Q: There are die-hard skeptics when it comes to government and other institutions. How do you try to reach those people beyond just being funny?
A: I watch television with everyone, and so I put myself in the position of, “What if I watched, what would I think?” I mean, a whole show about government, is it going to be a piece of propaganda that says government is great? No it is not. But we’re going to take a lucid look at all the good and bad ways the government affects our lives, and then I challenge the audience. I say, “Isn’t it weird that we have this screaming national game every election season, when most of us don’t know what the government is really doing? You don’t want to know? Most people will go, “Yes, I do.” Then they will enter the tent, and then I will have a chance.
Q: What prompted you to mix humor and the documentary format?
A: Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” was the guy I watched every night. That’s partly because he pioneered a new way of doing comedy, that comedy could be about real things in the real world and could actually move the cultural needle on those issues, could make people think differently. His world was politics and what was happening in the American news. I’m interested in these things, but I’m also interested in everything else. A big part of my approach has been what I can take from this reality-based comedy and open it up to the rest of human knowledge. Why not do it about the story? Why don’t we do it about the government? The original piece, which I feel like I invented myself, is the idea of doing it in a documentary format where we use all the tools of visual narration. I grew up watching shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. Where have all these shows gone?