NEW YORK — People tell them they’re kind of like the Borats of the 2016 election season.
You may not know their names, but you probably have read about some of their antics. Remember the two Trump superfans who were thrown out of his rally for calling The Donald boring? Or how about the guy who interrupted a Marco Rubio speech to claim the Florida senator had stolen his girlfriend? Or what about the two guys who appeared behind Hillary Clinton at a speech with “Settle for Hillary” T-shirts on?
In each case, the culprits were Jason Selvig and Davram Stiefler, a comedy duo from New York City known as The Good Liars.
In the latest episode of The Jamie Weinstein Show, Selvig and Stiefler discuss their campaign antics and the new Netflix film based on them, “Undecided: The Movie.” (Full disclosure: Selvig has been a friend of mine since we were both high school students.)
- How they trolled Trump, Rubio, Clinton and the press (4:02)
- How the Netflix film came to be (12:22)
- Shooting guns with Rick Santorum (15:10)
- The Ben Carson prank that didn’t make the film (17:30)
- Defending their comedy from critics (19:15)
- The Occupy Occupy Wall Street “movement” (21:40)
- The politics of their comedy (24:36)
- Their thoughts on the 2016 election (27:10)
- How the media covered the election (31:31)
- On political correctness on college campuses (33:01)
- Advice for aspiring comedians (34:37)
- On their comedic influences (40:48)
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“People are saying it reminds them of Borat, which is great, but it’s like a Borat-style mockumentary,” Stiefler said of how he would describe his new movie. “It follows the narrative of these two undecided voters on the campaign trail mixed in with — about half of it is real footage, real-world footage.”
When Selvig and Stiefler began trolling the 2016 election early in the primary season, they didn’t have a movie deal in hand or a narrative for a mockumentary-style film in mind. But after their stunt with Trump, a director who is a friend of theirs contacted them.
“After we did the Donald Trump is boring, and Davram got on stage with Ted Cruz, which was really funny, in New Hampshire, we were approached by a director by the name of Julio DePietro, who we wrote the whole script with, basically a loose outline of what the whole movie was going to be, and then like hopefully we would be able to have these candidate interactions to plug in the holes,” Selvig said. “And we just got lucky, and we planned it, and most of them worked. It was crazy the stuff we got.”
Many of the characters in their film, such as they are, had no idea they were characters. In fact, journalists often reported their stunts as real, believing Selvig and Stiefler to be protesters or crazy people. While some journalists eventually began to notice that the most bizarre stories of the 2016 campaign always involved two familiar looking guys, most did not.
“Some did, but it’s kind of like staying in character for the film,” Stiefler said of journalists figuring out what they were doing. “If you just don’t say what it’s for, people think there’s a possibility that it’s still true and they don’t do their research, and they report on it, and it makes for hopefully some buzz that’s going to get people to see the film when, as you said, people start putting it all together and realize it was for a bigger purpose.”
Not everyone thinks Selvig and Stiefler’s antics were particularly funny — or even ethical. At his last speech in Iowa before the caucuses, Jeb Bush fell victim to The Good Liars. Shortly after Bush began speaking, Selvig and Stiefler stood up and demanded to be paid overtime, claiming they were hired as seat fillers by the Bush campaign.
“I think pranks are funny when they are clearly pranks,” Bush campaign spokesman Tim Miller told me in an email. “What bothered me about the paid seat fillers thing was that they passed it off as a real thing, did so on a day where people were voting, and journalists took it seriously. Obviously this was not the reason Jeb lost, but for me I think that gave the prank a bit of an unethical feel. I do love democracy though so maybe I’m being a bit of a crank.”
Selvig and Stiefler aren’t impressed with Miller’s criticism.
“I agree with the crank part,” Selvig said when presented with Miller’s comment. “He was polling at, what, 2 percent? I think he actually did better than he was actually polling. He was polling at 1 or 2 percent and then he had like 3 percent. I don’t think we had any negative effect on this at all.”
Selivg and Stiefler are self-described liberals and while they do like their comedy to make a point, they believe getting a laugh is paramount. But did they learn anything from all the time they spent on the trail?
“I just remember it dawning on me a little bit that there wasn’t some grand plan, that it was just these people struggling day to day to deal with the news, to try and have a successful rally and a successful moment, and they handle things poorly sometimes,” Stiefler said. “And it just felt like people trying to figure it out. It didn’t feel like some genius pulling the strings and this was all figured out months ago or anything like that.”