Fans of Veep may have watched the HBO show’s Season Three finale last June and worried that, after the merciless satire threw in a major plot twist — perpetually frustrated Vice President Selina Meyer suddenly finds herself getting sworn in as POTUS — the series might have painted itself into a corner. How exactly does a comedy fueled by beta-level Beltway ambitions and rampant rank-and-file powerlessness work when its lead character now occupies the highest political office in the land?
Anyone who caught the new season’s premiere on Sunday night knows that, Presidential promotion or not, Veep has not lost its momentum, its bile or its bite. The new commander-in-chief, played by Emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is still surrounded by a team made up of power-hungry suck-ups, manic aides, and several in-way-over-their-head staffers — the latter represented primarily by her lazy, bumbling Press Secretary Mike McLintock, played by Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Walsh. “[He] probably would have been fired the first day,” the comedian says with a laugh. “Mike is very incompetent. But I feel like it’s almost believable because he’s been with her for 20 years. I think she likes his willingness to bury secrets for her, and to take the fall.”
Just ahead of the Season Four premiere, the improv-comedy legend and director (his latest behind-the-camera effort, A Better You, will be available on-demand this summer) sat down with us to discuss in-depth five of his favorite scenes from the show.
1. Mike Pitches Jokes to an Empty Chair (Season 1, Episode Five: “Nicknames”)
Selina is preparing a speech for a Firefighters’ Association event; while Mike tosses out terrible jokes, Selina runs out of the room to talk to Dan (Reid Scott) about an unrelated matter. Earlier this week at New York’s PaleyFest, Louis-Dreyfus described this scene as being like “Bugs Bunny.”
“Our editing style affords huge jump cuts; it’s such a dense and rapidly paced show. What we always work on is ‘How can we make this believable throughout?’ It’s a very broad moment. So we discovered during rehearsal on-set — which we used to do in the first couple of seasons — was that Julia had this big, funny chair. And she said ‘Maybe your head’s down and then I see Dan, so we connect it to another scene so we can kill two birds with one stone.’ There’s at least some plausibility to it happening that way and and Mike’s not a complete idiot. But again, that’s one of those fresh discoveries that you only get through trying new things out. It was obviously not in the script, so we added it on top of the dialogue scenes.”
2. Mike Sings “Goober Peas” to Get Out of a Jam (Season 3, Episode 3: “Alicia”)
When Mike is caught yelling at a constituent by the odious Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), he humiliates himself to avoid letting the information go public.
“Mike is cornered and Jonah has something on him, so they need to make a deal. I think we improvised ways to do that, and in the room, the writers saw me try to sing, or they said ‘Maybe you should try to sing.’ On our show, you never really know where the ideas originate. But ultimately, they went away and wrote a draft where Mike gets on his knees and sings a song.
“That was one of those instances where we were pitching songs on set and research would come back and say, ‘That’s going to cost us 10 grand.’ So we didn’t know what song we were going to have Jonah make Mike sing. Then I remembered that in fifth grade we studied the Civil War and I learned that song ‘Goober Peas.’ It’s either public domain, or really cheap, and that’s how we ended up with that particular selection.
“Mike is really willing to shame himself — to keep this job and to keep Selina out of trouble. And even to being manipulated by a lowlife like Jonah is pretty pathetic. But he is willing to go that far to keep the ship running smoothly.”
3. Mike Falls Off a Ball (Season Three, Episode Four: “Clovis”)
Sitting on a bouncy ball at the headquarters of Silicon Valley tech company Clovis, Mike is pushed to the ground by Gary (Tony Hale).
It’s funny, because [showrunner] Armando [Iannucci]…I think I unconsciously try to make him laugh. He’s very generous, but to make him cackle like a little kid [is hard]. It’s often those very physical or childish moments that get him — like, the ‘Goober Peas’ bit, he and [writer and producer] Ian Martin were behind the monitor, just shaking and giggling like boys. And you couldn’t ask for a better example than when Mike gets knocked off the bouncy ball by Gary.
“That was another moment where we found it on set and we pitched it, and Armando said ‘All right, why not.’ When he saw it, he laughed — no, he guffawed! It’s that base, simple, childish comedy. Sometimes I push for that just to see if Armando will get on board. I think Julia and the rest of us try to get away with the stupidest thing possible, because it makes us laugh. So yeah, that was just a simple prop that was on set and suddenly, we had a scene around it.”
4. Selina’s Team Steals Mike’s Semen (Season Three, Episode Five: “Fishing”)
“Mike was on the clock with a fertility clinic, and he had to create a sample at a moment’s notice when Wendy’s temperature was correct, so he had a little thermal bag with him. Like many things Mike tries, it failed; they decided ‘Forget it,’ but he had a specimen. And the group decided they were going to throw it at Jonah’s door. We tried to play it really drunk, which slowed Mike down, physically, and tried to stage it in a way that Amy (played by Anna Chlumsky) — I think Amy is the one who grabs it — can get away from me.
“That actually had more at the end of the scene, but I think it got too crazy; it’s already pretty insane for adults to throw a semen specimen at someone’s door they don’t like. So they cut a lot of that — it kind of ended at the most believable point, but there was plenty that happened after. I think there were takes where we actually whip it at his house, or his door, and it was a little too gross. At least it was in the script — I’m not sure if we shot it — but it just became that we were busted, and we denied that we were there doing anything mean. It’s one of the more extreme things we’ve done in the series.”
5. Mike Gets Recognized (Season Four, Episode One: “Joint Session”)
In this clip from the Season Four premiere, Selina’s staff begins to deal with their newfound fame via their association with President Meyer. Mike giddily recounts a story of someone on the street knowing who he was.
“That’s just a speech they wrote for Mike — I love that. The writers have really captured Mike’s ability to be unfunny or uninteresting, but really exuberant when he’s doing it. And I love that complete setup, from start to finish. Just a guy telling a story that isn’t really a story, and he thinks it’s amazing. That, to me, is the epitome of Mike: being really exuberant about something that nobody else cares about.
“We’re all spun out more on our own journeys this year, because we have no time with the president. She’s surrounded and insulated by meetings, Secret Service, generals, etc. As far as Mike goes, I think he loves the sense of celebrity, because the reality is that he’s somebody that’s been kicking around D.C. for 20 years with Selina. No respect, abused by everyone, and now that he has the keys to the information that everybody wants — and he kind of likes the power. I think he also likes the feeling of being on CNN every day, like ‘The Meyer administration is saying…’ with Mike’s goofy face talking to America. It’s a rush to him, because he’s never been anything close to popular.”