The one and only Jena Friedman will be in DC for TWO nights of shows this weekend at DC Drafthouse, and if you’re around tonight and/or tomorrow, I’d highly recommend grabbing tickets here. You can also catch her in two darkly funny Soft Focus specials (which are, if I may say, AMAZING) available via Adult Swim; the first features a segment on campus rape and an interview with the Cannibal Cop (he does have a name, Gil Valle, but Cannibal Cop just has a nicer ring), and the second tackles sexual harassment in the gaming industry, and also gives us a look at the heavily armed world of John McAfee. (CASUAL.)
I got caught up with Jena over the phone a few days ago to talk about all of this, but we also got into the nightmarish state of the Twitterverse, and the troll-bots which are working in favor of a dying democracy. Internet-eavesdrop on our full, incredibly light conversation below, and I REPEAT: if you’re in DC this weekend, WITNESS THE GREATNESS LIVE!
You’ve got the two gigs happening in DC this weekend; what can we expect from those?
I was just in London for two weeks writing this show, so I kind of have to translate it to an American audience. It’ll be a little less formal than a “show”, it’ll be more like a stand-up set, but I’m going to try to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s a lot of new material, so it’ll be fun for me. [Laughs]
That’s great! And you just had the new Soft Focus special come out; how’s it been to work with Adult Swim on that? And how did that come to start?
They’ve been great. They approached me a couple of years ago about doing a special, and I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and they were really flexible and cool with allowing me to do the show that you saw. Or, a version of it. And it evolved. It was a different show at first. To their credit, they were like, “There are a lot of political banter shows, and this is a special, so let’s maybe try to see if we can make it a little more evergreen.” So it evolved into the format that you’ve seen, and we’ve done two of those. We’re hoping to do more, but we’ll see.
Were there any ideas that got pitched and ultimately rejected?
Yeah, there were a ton of things that we shot that we didn’t end up airing. In the second episode there was something that we shot that didn’t end up airing, but if we do more, then hopefully it’ll see the light of day.
And how do you go into these things? Do you do anything to kind of mentally prepare? Because you don’t seem like you get nervous at all. Is that just your personality?
I’ve been doing it for a long time, so there’s a level of deadness underneath. I think working at The Daily Show for three years, producing so many pieces there, you just kind of get a sense for how things are going to go for the most part. I knew that McAfee would be armed, but I didn’t know the extent. So there was proceeding with caution, and we all talked about our approaches and how we were going to go forward. He, at the time, was running for president, but I didn’t think he’d just kill us all until after he joked about it.
But a lot of the pieces so far have come from reading the newspaper. I read a story about a woman who claimed to have gotten virtually assaulted, and in the article she said, “I know I wasn’t assaulted, it was in VR, but it felt like it.” And then we tried to get her in a segment, but she’d been trolled so much that she doesn’t talk to anyone anymore. The woman we talked to had similar stuff happen, and she wrote a paper about how game developers can create settings to prevent people from having those experiences. And I don’t know if you saw the segment about the Cannibal Cop, but I’d read something in the NY Post about how he was dating again, and I thought it was really interesting. It just kind of comes from reading an article or seeing something that piques your interest.
Since you brought up trolls, how’s it been going for you on Twitter? How are you handling that?
I’m really vocal right now, because I’m having deja vu from 2015. The same thing happened, and I didn’t take it as seriously. I didn’t realize they were all bots. Or, they’re not all bots, which is even scarier. And I think this is a really important thing we need to be talking about right now, because actual people are being radicalized online. A lot of the bots are influencing real people, and then a lot of the real people are these really toxic, misogynistic trolls. They’re going after a lot of women, women I know, who are kind of questioning things about candidates. And I don’t want to be silenced for saying someone’s campaign manager has ties to Russia on Twitter. You know what I mean? I don’t want the bots to get to me or anyone else. And I shouldn’t call them bots, because they’re real people, but I think this is a really scary moment for democracy, when you have people online waging coordinated attacks on individuals who are just trying to talk about things.
I don’t have answers, I’m experiencing it right now, but I do think it’s scary how it echoes December 2015. I just want to figure it out for myself, but also for all of us. How can the liberal, progressive people in our country unify and coalesce against Trump as opposed to fighting online, which seems to be happening right now.
It’s insane, and there are so many people that I know who are getting off the platform entirely. I respect that, but I also think it’s detrimental. I think we need people who are not insane to be making points and to be visible.
Well, I think it’s twofold. I think we need people who are aware of the disinformation campaigns out there, but I think some people do just need to get offline. I think we need to be talking to each other. I’ve tweeted about this, but I think the left is becoming more radicalized and the right is becoming more radicalized, and I’m reading this book (and this is so intense) called How Democracies Die. It traces democracies throughout history (and currently), and it looks at the things that have sustained them, as well as the things that have broken them. And in almost every case, you see that the way a country will fight fascism is with the center right and the center left coming together and working to exorcise the fascist elements of society. And we’ve seen that Russian disinformation campaigns have been really good at getting people to support Trump, but they’ve also been really good at getting progressive people pitted against each other, like what we saw last year. So we just have to make sure that we work really hard to reach the people that are not yet radicalized, and try to all kind of work together to not let Trump win in 2020. Which I think he really could, if he’s not indicted and we don’t get our shit together.
100%. I’ve said this to people, that I’m very concerned he could win again, and they’ve told me, “Oh, it would never happen again.” No, that is exactly what people told me before the last election, and I don’t believe any of it anymore.
Yeah. I hate to sound hysterical, but it is history repeating itself. And you just pick up a history book, and you look at all the countries where this kind of thing has happened. It’s hard to tell someone who wants change now that change doesn’t happen right away, because people are hurting on all ends of the spectrum. But just study history and see how countries have staved off fascism, and it’s unifying against it. And we haven’t been able to do that in this past election. I mean, we did, she won the popular vote, but I mean…it’s a really fascinating, scary time. So I’m out there talking about it until I don’t have to.
Follow Jena on Twitter here.
(Unless you’re a troll-bot. In which case, we’d all prefer it if you just didn’t.)