Have a laugh and learn all about ‘The G Word,’ a comedy docuseries about our government
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Have a laugh and learn all about ‘The G Word,’ a comedy docuseries about our government

July 18, 2022 | Updated on July 22, 2022

Our podcast, “Profiles in Public Service” took a comedic turn with guests Jon Wolf and Jon Cohen, partners at Fair Point Productions, who spoke with co-hosts Loren DeJonge Schulman and Rachel Klein-Kircher about their work as the executive producers of “The G Word with Adam Conover.” “The G Word” is a comedy docuseries on Netflix hosted by comedian Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything.”

Wolf and Cohen discuss how they created the show and what they learned about showcasing the federal government’s impact on our daily lives to general audiences. The show also features two former Service to America Medals® winners: Jamie Rhome from the National Weather Service and Arleas Upton Kea, a former leader at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Episode summary

“The G Word” explores the many ways our government works behind the scenes to make our lives better—from creating GPS technology and monitoring our food production to predicting the weather and treating serious diseases.

The Netflix series is based on “The Fifth Risk,” a 2018 book by bestselling author Michael Lewis, who joined “Profiles in Public Service” last season for an episode discussing the harmful effects of government shutdowns. Wolf and Cohen produced “The G Word” in partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s company, Higher Ground Productions.

Listeners will hear from our two guests on several aspects of the series, including:

  • Their decision to use comedy to amplify the role government plays in our daily lives.
  • Their experience working with former President Barack Obama on the show, highlighted by an excerpt of Conover’s conversation with him featured in the last episode.
  • Their takeaways on how individuals can make a difference in their communities by getting involved in public service and working at any level of government.

Pulling back the curtain of our federal government

Taking viewers on a journey across the country, “The G Word” highlights how our federal government is not a faceless behemoth, but rather a human institution made up of individuals who often work without publicity and rarely demand acknowledgement from those they serve:

“What I find the most fascinating and mind-blowing are the extremely small-scale jobs that are performed—without fanfare or recognition—365 days a year by people who are just like, ‘How can I improve the lives of my friends, family, and neighbors?’” Wolf said. “The show, I think, does a great job of showing the breadth of cool positions in the government.”

Cohen added, “I walked away from the experience feeling informed, and my big takeaway—which is the show’s takeaway—is [that] I can do something about [our government’s future] as an individual by starting on the local level.”

Watch the trailer for The G Word and view the whole series on Netflix!

How to listen

Tune in to this episode from “Profiles in Public Service” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Loren DeJonge Schulman:

From the Partnership for Public Service, this is Profiles in Public Service—a podcast that shares the stories of the public servants who work on our behalf every day to make our country safer, healthier and more prosperous. 

We talk to career public servants, emerging leaders, journalists and more to better understand what it means to be a public servant… the incredible variety of careers possible in government… and how public service impacts all our lives. I’m Loren DeJonge Schulman, 

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And I’m Rachel Klein-Kircher.  Today we have a great show for you featuring two guests who developed a new comedy docuseries on Netflix that shows what our government does behind the scenes to make our lives better.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Jon Wolf and Jon Cohen, partners at Fair Point Productions, join us to discuss their work as the executive producers of “The G Word with Adam Conover,” which they produced in partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions.

“The G Word” explores our government’s triumphs, failures and how we might be able to change it, as well as the interesting and important work that public servants do— with an added dose of humor.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Hosted by comedian Adam Conover of “Adam Ruins Everything,” “The G Word” is based on “The Fifth Risk,” a 2018 book by bestselling author Michael Lewis, who joined us last season to discuss the harmful effects of government shutdowns.

The series covers the range of ways that our government affects our daily lives, showcasing the public servants who monitor our food production, track hurricanes and predict the weather, treat serious diseases and more.

In addition, the show features former President Barack Obama, who discusses how our government can improve the way it works in order to better serve communities.

Loren DeJonge Schulman:Both of our guests today have also been tremendous supporters of the Partnership and our work to honor and recognize outstanding public servants as the producers of our annual Service to America Medals® television special.

Rachel Klein-Kircher

Without further ado, welcome to Jon and Jon!

Transition Music

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Adapting The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis was one of the first projects that Higher Ground Productions took on. That makes a ton of sense to me. I love The Fifth Risk here at the Partnership. But I want to ask about how you two got involved in this. How did both of you and Adam Conover at FairPoint get involved in producing The G Word, with Higher Ground? That, and why did you want to be involved in a comedy series about government?

Jon Cohen: Well, initially one of the executives at Higher Ground had seen Adam Ruins Everything and I think they had spent a few months reaching out to filmmakers all across town in L.A. About how they would consider adapting the book. And a lot of people were taking a dramatic approach.

And so finally, um, when Ada Chiaghana at Higher Ground came on to their team, she had seen our show and thought maybe a comedic approach would be better. And so they approached us and within three days, I think, we had a meeting set and John, Adam and I immediately knew exactly what we wanted to do for the show.

I think the final product that you see on Netflix is very close to what the initial pitch was that we presented to them in the room. And our general philosophy is that dense information goes down easier when there’s comedy involved. And it just makes it easier for people to digest it that way. And so, you know, how, how are we going to convince millions of people on Netflix to watch a show about how the government works when there’s so many other options for them there? And our philosophy on that is just make it as funny as you can.

Jon Wolf: Yeah. I mean to paint the picture a little bit, it was, May or June 2019. We had just wrapped up Adam Ruins Everything and the three of us were looking for our next project and our manager calls us and says, ‘Hey, do you want to take a meeting with Higher Ground? By the way, it’s Barack and Michelle Obama’s company.’ No big deal, no big deal.

We were like, yes, of course. He was like, generally they want to talk about The Fifth Risk.

So, Adam had read it already when it had first come out. Jon and I picked it up, read it as quickly as we could over a weekend and spent the next five days coming up with exactly what the pitch was. And yeah, like Jon said, it’s very, very close to what we initially came up with, which was, let’s take this part of the book.

Let’s leave this stuff about the transition alone because by the time, any TV show that we would be able to make came out. We knew that it would be much delayed from the events of the Obama administration transition to the Trump administration and, and news moves and moves so fast. But let’s focus on what we found to be the core message of the book, which was highlighting these amazing untold stories of federal workers who are coming in every day and just trying to improve our lives.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So, I worked in government for 10 years and worked in a lot of incredibly serious situations, worked in national security, all that being said, what the show really gets right, is in some ways, how ridiculous government is just because the powers that it has, the things that it’s involved in are things you would never even imagine, or you had no idea somebody could actually do that.

So, the overall tone to me was just so spot on. I love it so much. But I’m curious as you were going through the series, I, as you, as you read the book and you’re going through meeting all the government workers that you’re talking about, did it challenge any of your ideas about government or maybe reinforce some of the ideas that you had going in?

Jon Cohen: That’s a really good question. I think for me, what it did for me more than anything was help me gain some perspective on how big it really is. I think like as a kid, you go in, you know, high school college, you’re learning about the government, but Jon and I were actually able to travel around the country and meet a lot of the different people who work as a part of it.

And I think it’s really hard to close your eyes and imagine how many people are actually involved in this thing. And starting to unpeel those layers helped me gain a little bit of perspective on how massive it is. And as a result of its size, it is really, really difficult to change.

Jon Wolf: Yeah, exactly. I would say from the moment, you know, because of The G Word working and developing the television show, we were able to get connected to the Partnership for Public Service and we, immersed ourselves in the stories of the Sammies winners over the years and were able to attend the 2019 Sammies gala which was incredible. Just the scope of the federal government and for me, like what I find the most fascinating and mind blowing are the extremely small-scale jobs that are performed without fanfare or recognition 365 days a year by people who again are just like, how can I improve the lives of my friends, family, and neighbors? The show, I think does a great job of showing the breadth of cool positions in the government, right?

Adam goes up in the hurricane plane, that’s amazing. But also the federal government in some of these like extremely small but integral jobs, like a healthcare worker in one county in one state. And so those, those are the kind of stories that I love.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, when you think about all these stories and this is, you know, a common theme––certainly for Loren and for me, as we talk to our guests on all of our podcasts–– it is that continual amazement about you can have any job, any profession in the world and work for the federal government.

It does blow my mind continuously. And I feel The G Word reinforced all of that. Jon, you talked about why comedy for this and dense information can go down better when it’s comedy. I actually also found myself getting a little bit choked up during a couple of moments.

And so I’d love to hear more about this, you know, with the comedy angle, what were some of the challenges and benefits of using comedy for this particular project?

Jon Wolf: Sure. Yeah. I, the benefits of it I mean, we had seen again over the years, producing Adam Ruins Everything, people are able to retain information more easily when they can tie it to a specific visual or joke that solidifies that factoid for them. You know, one of the stories in Michael’s book he talks a lot about how AccuWeather and other private companies lobbied for years to try and limit the amount that the federal government was able to do in terms of sharing information that it had gathered freely with the public. It’s such a vivid story in the book and we knew we really wanted to tell it and ultimately, we crafted this scene where we combine, you know, all of these private entities into one sort of very cartoonish figure representing private industry.

This is, again, something that we had really perfected on Adam Ruins Everything. And we also have the representative of the government there, this very sweet, national weather service scientist so that we can play out this scene where as humans, we start to empathize with someone whose little water hose is getting shut off and we start to feel, ‘Hey, maybe that guy who’s like swinging the big wrench and cackling like a villain like, maybe we don’t really like exactly what he’s doing. That story using these caricatures or these tropes, I feel like really helps people remember the information later, and then that’s always a big help and always very exciting when, when we hear stories of kids, especially but anyone saying, ‘oh my gosh, I told my parents, I told my family, you know, have you heard about this thing?’ I learned on The G Word. Isn’t this amazing? We love, you know, hearing that spread of information.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: That was our dinner table. We had a conversation after every episode.

Jon Wolf: We love to empower kids to say, mom and dad, you don’t know as much as I know, that’s really our biggest goal. We love that goal.

Jon Cohen: I just want to touch on the second part of that though, which is you know, you had mentioned that you choked up a few times. I think as we started writing this process, writing the show three years ago, we wanted it to be as funny as Adam Ruins Everything, but over the course of that three-year period, the world changed a lot and that impacted the writing.

So, after the events around George Floyd and COVID, we rewrote a large portion of the scripts. We actually swapped out one episode that we were writing for what ended up being the finale episode and that was important to us to reflect what was going on around us. We weren’t worrying too much about the news cycle because it’s always hard to tell when your show’s going to come out, but we wanted to talk about these evergreen, you know, topics that we felt like were still going to be relevant.

And it was also really personal to Adam. He was at the time becoming very involved in our local government in Los Angeles.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Hmm.

Jon Cohen: And so the writing reflected that.

Jon Wolf: Yeah. And what we found as we were discussing the show, you know, we finally got all the parts in place after selling the idea. Everyone finally showed up, you know, whatever week in March, it was that, everything shut down.

So, we had one week in person with all of the writing staff and all of the research staff. And then we all had to go back home and talk to each other and craft the show on video conferencing software. And of course, that impacted how Adam and the writers saw their relationship to the government.

And so, it felt disingenuous to write a show that was just, ‘wow look at the amazing things the government can do.’ And it can do amazing things. But also realistically, and especially at the time, it felt like the government was really leaving all of us hanging. And because of this show, again, more so than our previous work where Adam is playing a character named Adam on Adam Ruins Everything, on The G Word, he is himself.

And so, he needed to be able to have that honest and open relationship with the viewer, and to say, ‘Hey, I’m conflicted about the things that I’m seeing.’ I feel really touched when people say to me, after they’ve watched the show, ‘Hey, I love that you, you go back and forth and you present a really nuanced view.’

Hey, you know, I thought I was watching the show with my partner and my partner’s a vegan. And so the first half of the food episode where you talk about, wow, isn’t factory farming, great. He was really up in arms about that, but then you pulled the rug out from under him, and you flipped. And I was so happy to, to, you know, see that.’

Jon Cohen: Our biggest concern in the writer’s room was that audiences would tune out immediately because they saw that it was produced by Barack Obama. And so, it was going to be a show that was effectively government propaganda. And it was something that we were super conscious of the entire time, which is why we ended up designing it to have good and bad aspects about the government in each episode and why the show opens with the scene where Adam is just bluntly calling it out so that our audience would know that we’re going to treat everything as fairly as we can.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: That’s I really liked that part about the show because it demonstrates the space that government can fill, all the things that it touches. And not that it’s good that it fills that space or it’s bad, but it does, or it has that potential, and in its absence, you are either going to have nothing or you’re going to have maybe something that’s not as desirable, or you’re going to have competition like that there’s, there’s alternatives to it, but there’s benefits and risks to all of these. And so much of that is invisible to people that they don’t understand, like the weather element, the economy element and the food safety elements of this. With all that being invisible, not knowing the government’s role, the good and bad of it it’s hard to know. What kind of government you want? And I think the show does a really good job giving people the opportunity to think through what it is that they’re actually desiring. And if people haven’t seen the episodes, if you just read like the bare description, you’re like the FDIC… why do I care?

Trust me. The episodes around the meat plants are incredible. The one around the FDIC is amazing. I love the scene with like the 20-year-old who’s running GPS for the entire world. There’s so many amazing stories in that. But I’m really curious from your perspective, from both of you.

What was the topic that you were most intrigued by as you were investigating? What was the one that really drew you in the most?

Jon Wolf: I mean, you say the FDIC. That was my because I love the sort of surface level stories that seem mundane but are incredibly important. And the story about the FDIC is about a government agency whose entire goal is to make sure that you don’t know they exist.

And unfortunately, that means that they, that people don’t recognize them for their amazing work. Yeah. But there are so many talented people there who just want to make sure that our money can be safe in the bank. And they would be happiest if we all never lost our money or like never had the…

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Never see them

Jon Wolf: Never see them, never have the, you know, bank fail or anything like that.

That was definitely my favorite story. What about you Cohen?

Jon Cohen: You touched on mine as well. Mine is GPS for sure. When I found out that the U.S. Government puts out GPS as a free public worldwide utility, it completely blew my mind.

Jon Wolf: And let’s just, let’s just say, I just want to repeat that, like, like anyone in the world, like other countries at any one on the planet.

Jon Cohen: Right. And then the, the second part of that is just breaking down the misconception, which we do in that episode that private tech companies are responsible for all major innovation. And when you think about GPS, that is a massive timescale project that took 50 years to develop.

And part of it was because profitability was not a part of the consideration. I can’t imagine a company like Apple or Google spending that much time on something that isn’t ready yet and because the government was able to do that, we have all greatly benefited from it.

Jon Wolf: Yeah, it reminds me of, I mean, all of this sort of like hiding the federal government and its work behind a curtain reminds me of this story that was in Michael’s book that we didn’t turn into television.

But he tells very briefly the story of someone who I believe worked at the Small Businesses Administration, whose job was to work with local banks around the country and provide loan money and use those local banks to distribute that loan money. Michael tells the story of how someone who is a beneficiary of a loan, had a negative view of the government and thought that the government couldn’t do anything for them even though secretly throughout this chain of distribution, they were directly benefiting from government support. I found that so fascinating. And I was like, oh my gosh, we I’m so excited to make this television show to try and tell that person, hey, this is what’s up.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: There’s some incredible academic research. I’ll just nerd it out for two seconds here. So incredible academic research on this topic that basically shows when people receive a really good service, like customer experience, things like that, they assume it must be being delivered by a private company that it’s Amazon it’s UPS, like whoever else. They receive something bad.

Then governments got to be involved in some ways and Suzanne Metler and Amy Lerman do great on this Suzanne Metler calls it the submerged state, like the purposeful invisibility of government and not just purposeful in the sense that we don’t want you to know because they don’t care. But because purposeful that people are often trying to hide government’s involvement because they don’t want people to know the benefit in some ways.

Jon Wolf: Exactly. I mean, going back to the weather episode and that section of Michael’s book about private companies trying to hide the work that National Weather Service and NOAA do, there’s an argument to be made from the private industry’s perspective of we as a small private industry, could not possibly compete on the scale that you can as the federal government, you have so many resources and therefore we need to make it harder for you to promote your own work to a consumer because we can’t compete with the government for advertising dollars. And, and I, to a certain extent, I get that argument. But it leads to a world where we all just don’t know that the government is the one providing so, so many things for us.

You know, I wish there was a better federal government weather app that I could have on my phone, but it doesn’t exist yet.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Nope.

Jon Cohen: Right.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Maybe someday.

Jon Cohen: I think part of the reason that, and this is anecdotal, but part of the reason why people feel that way is because, politics and government get put together.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Totally.

Jon Cohen: And that was something that we really hyper-focused on. And whenever we were tell anybody that we’re working on the show, our description was we’re working on a show about how the U.S. Government works and politics are not involved at all. We felt that it was necessary to say that because I think most Americans assume those words mean the same thing. And so, because the news cycle focuses so heavily on politics, government kind of gets lost.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Jon, we just did this massive report on trust in government that showed exactly that. Like when you ask people, do you trust government? Like, uh, no I don’t, but what they’re thinking in their head is do they trust politics, Washington and politicians, and they don’t because they’re conflating the two, they’re thinking Congress, they’re thinking the horse race they’re not thinking everything that’s in the G word. Rachel, I’ve been dominating here, so you can, I want you to dive in with your next question, which I’m excited about.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: But it’s like yes. To everything that we’re hearing and, you know, Lauren and I spoke with Carrie Stokes, not too long ago on another podcast also saying, you know, the government, we don’t advertise what we do and so again, what a benefit of your show to get the word out.

I appreciate that earlier you were talking about the fact that we needed a show that shows the good and the not so good, like to be credible, to have an audience that’s going to stay with us and so to be very honest, one of the points at which I choked up was during the last episode, when Adam and President Obama were talking about this is reality, so what do we do?

Barack Obama: So, how’d everything go?

Adam Conover: With the show?

Barack Obama: With the show!

Adam Conover: I’ll be honest with you. We have found all of these ways in which the government improves our lives, saves our lives. We’ve also seen a lot of ways in which it is working on behalf of other interests, other than the American people, or even that it’s hurting people. Right? How are we supposed to feel like the government represents us in that?

Barack Obama: Well look, first of all, we have to remind ourselves that it’s a human institution, like every other one, which means there are going to be screw ups. There are going to be people who are doing things for the wrong reasons. The second thing about government is it’s an ocean liner and not a speed boat. So for you to change direction on anything means it’s going to take some time.

Adam Conover: But there’s also issues that, you know, we’re talking about on the show that we, uh, people have been demanding change on for a really long time. Criminal justice, police violence. It’s hard to take, ‘Hey, change is the long arc of history. I’ve heard it. You know, I’ve heard it and I believe it, but then sometimes. Yeah, I’m still frustrated by it. Do you ever feel that way?

Barack Obama: Of course you’re frustrated by it, and you should be. And the reason it gets better is because people are impatient. The only thing we can’t do is lapse into cynicism and say, well, because this hasn’t changed at the pace that it should. There’s nothing we can do about it.

Adam Conover: And so, I’m sitting here as a comic, I’ve identified a problem, right? I’m yelling about it on national television for everybody to hear. Right. How the hell do we start fixing it when it is that big?

Barack Obama: Look, I have, I mean, you. Find the thing that you are passionate about, that angers you, that frustrates you. And then you try to get some like-minded citizens to start changing it. And you also have to remind yourself that government isn’t just the federal government. Government is state government.

Government is city government; government is county government. So, a whole bunch of decisions that are being made, aren’t being made by the president they’re being made by somebody who’s probably elected by a thousand, 10,000 voters.

Adam Conover: This is a very obvious thought. Now that you’re saying it. Thank you. Thank you very much. Can we eat our sandwiches now?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: That was so significant for me and the fact that like, you brought it home with here’s an honest discussion. Here’s some actual answers of what can be done. Like I was not even expecting that. And that was amazing. So how did you or was it easy to get President Obama to agree?

Like, yes, we’re going to have this not down and dirty conversation, but like a real conversation about it. How did, how did that go?

Jon Cohen: That took a lot of work that took a lot of going back and forth with his team. You know, initially he wasn’t going to appear in the show at all. And John Adam and I had to really petition them. And what ended up happening was us getting on the phone with him several times directly, where he had the opportunity to express some of his feedback about the show.

And it gave Adam really an opportunity to push back and make it clear that the show is in Adam’s voice. And because of that, it’s not a place where it matters what anyone, a part of the Obama administration’s feelings are about the issues. It’s it just matters what Adam’s feelings are. And so, we tried to take that approach to that conversation as well.

And we felt like it would seal the first and last episodes together in terms of making people really feel like this is Adam’s show and President Obama is not influencing what he’s going to say or do. And we feel like that came together in the end.

Jon Wolf: Yeah. And specifically, to that conversation. It took a lot of prep on, on Adam’s part to get ready for that, PB and J sandwich split, uh, at the end of the series.

We worked for a while we had come up with, you know, we knew that the episode was going to focus on well, the federal government is so big how can we do anything about it? And again, with what John said earlier about Adam’s own involvement in local government in Los Angeles, we said, oh, you can and again, personally, anecdotally, I have attended, you know, city council zooms, uh, and volunteered, uh, on the local level and it’s amazing. Um, and it does make you feel like you can have an impact and it is the government. So, we knew that the conversation between Adam and President Obama was going to end up there.

And it was a matter of working together to prep, Adam to lay out the, uh, groundwork to step through, you know, all of his feelings and help guide the conversation to that end point.

Jon Cohen: Yeah, for sure. I think our biggest concern was that, you know, we shot the two scenes with the president over two days.

The first day we were with him, we shot the sketch. And during that day we felt like, okay, we have control of this environment. We are sketch comedy filmmakers and right, this is our space, so we’re going to own it. And it’s going to be easy for us. But then on this next day, we’re dealing with possibly the greatest on camera interviewee of all time, and who has an incredible amount of experience, controlling a narrative and getting an interview to go where he wants to go.

So how are we going to fight against that? And we just practiced.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: That was amazing.

Jon Wolf: Luckily it worked out. Yeah, it was about an, it was about an hour’s worth of conversation between the two of them that unfortunately we had to cut down, uh, for television purposes keeping the, the episode moving, but yeah, they had, they had an incredible conversation, and it was really like a top 10, you know, experience for me listening to them.

I was getting a, a very exclusive podcast that no one else would ever get.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. I thank you for sharing the inside baseball, because it resonated so strongly and to really understand how hard you had to work and maybe even fight for that to happen is, is fantastic.

Jon Cohen: Appreciate that.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So I’m curious now that this show’s been out, and I think Rachel and I have some of our favorite moments, we’ve talked about some of our favorite moments when people approach you to talk about the show, what are some of the things that they were most surprised by, uh, either to learn about government or surprised by the show overall?

Jon Cohen: For me, it’s the same thing every time almost, which is not the thing I was expecting to hear. People seem to be shocked that the government sends human beings into every hurricane. That is not a thing that I knew about. And I don’t think it’s a thing most people know about. It seems like a thing out of a movie but it’s happening all the time. And these are incredibly brave people who do this so that we can all benefit and learn and be safe. And it’s incredible. It’s amazing.

Jon Wolf: Right. And it’s, it’s also multiple teams of people going up into hurricanes. Right. We showed the military side of it where Adam went up with an air force, plane.

But folks from NOAA are also going up and collecting data with their own planes. Just over and over again, through the eye of a hurricane on eight hour shifts and it is how we get all of the data on our TV screens, and it is just another thing that you don’t think about and then when you hear about, you’re like, wait, what else could these people possibly be doing?

Let me look into this. I need to know more.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Yeah. It’s like when Rachel says you can do any job in the world with the federal government. What people are not thinking is there’s a whole bunch of jobs that you would have to create out of your imagination, that the federal government job does as well, whether it be flying to hurricanes or, um, one of my favorite job announcements a couple months ago was grizzly bear manager in Yellowstone.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And one of the other things that we would love to know, based on what you’ve learned working on the show, meeting public servants, sharing their stories. Why do you think audiences should be hopeful about our country’s ability to meet new challenges in the future?

Jon Cohen: That is an incredibly challenging question. I don’t know that. I don’t know that I walked away from this experience feeling necessarily hopeful. I think I walked away from the experience feeling informed and it made me, my big takeaway, which is the show’s takeaway is I can do something about it as an individual by starting on the local level.

But you know, John and I have spent a lot of time on this and I, I’m not sure what the clear answer is in terms of how to feel optimistic about the government at, you know, in general or just on the federal level. Um, I’d love to know if you have an answer, like what makes you feel optimistic about it?

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Me or Jon?

Jon Cohen: No, you.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, me.

Jon Cohen: Jon doesn’t, Jon doesn’t have anything.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Well, first I loved what you just said about informed versus hopeful like for me, if I’m panicked or worried about something, the thing that calms me down is information and being prepared and doing what I can and having my little checklist or my go bag or whatever it is.

So I do like that you phrased it that way informed versus hopeful. For me, what gets me so psyched about all of it is when we do discover like, wow, there is somebody sitting in a room doing like the GPS codes. There is somebody who dreamed of being a doctor their entire life since they were a kid. And now they work for department of defense doing medical stuff that nobody knew the department of defense was doing.

Like, it just. For me, it is hopeful because I didn’t know all this stuff was happening and there’s people who are going to work every day, because they love it. And yes, they’re getting paid, but maybe not as much as they could elsewhere, and they just want to help and show up and do the thing that their brain power allows them to do.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I will admit there are moments of you know, like this can’t, there’s just so much, and it resonated so strongly the scene with leading the orchestra. And I won’t go too far down that path, but that was something I thought that was, you know, for folks who haven’t seen the show yet this is in the, you know, episode and talking about COVID response and what went wrong.

And I just thought that was such an illustrative example.

Jon Wolf: Well, I think what you said Rachel, about what gives you hope, uh, is what gives me hope is thinking about all of the individuals who every day they’re like, all right, I gotta go again, help my friends, family, and, and neighbors. And that’s like, that makes me hopeful that, you know, we can continue to improve the country and the government and all of our lives.

But I think imagining that person, and resting sort of my own hope and optimism on that person’s shoulders is a double edged sword because my fear is what if that person burns out because the work is so hard? Or they get an offer from private industry that is much more lucrative than what they could be doing in the public space.

And you know, what worries me, I guess, are the reports that I see sometimes about the aging federal workforce.

Jon Cohen: I was going to take it there. Yeah.

Jon Wolf: And. Uh, Jon and I really, really hope that like one of the ancillary effects of making television shows like this, like the G word is inspiring people to maybe consider that, um, working for the federal or for the local or the state government could be just as rewarding, if not more rewarding than finding something in private industry.

What were you going to say, Jon?

Jon Cohen: No. I mean, that was it specifically. I think when, when I think Max at the Partnership initially was the one who gave us that piece of information about the aging of the federal government. It kind of scared me a little and it made me even more motivated to make this show as funny as we could, because we knew that it would appeal to young people.

And that’s why Jon and I are also involved in making the Sammies as well because we believe so much in the mission of what you guys are doing and had we not made the show, we wouldn’t have even known about it.

Jon Wolf: Right.

Jon Cohen: And so, anything we can to try to convince young people to be more involved in the government is, is a win.

Jon Wolf: And Jon and I are in our thirties. So, we’re also considered young people. So, anyone who’s listening out there thinks who are these two old guys thrown around the term, young people, we’re teens. So actually, we’re hip.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I do wish I knew this, you know, way back when I was not in my thirties. But yeah, and the partnership was originally, you know, founded to inspire that next generation to serve.

And we’re, we’re not giving up on that.

Jon Cohen: That’s great.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: So, Loren, I think you have a final question for John and John.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: I, I do. And, um, I am curious about what you hear from public servants about this show. Have any federal workers told you about their views on it and how they’re experiencing it?

Jon Cohen: You know, the, I haven’t heard anything from you know, public service workers, the only people we’ve really heard pushback from to be honest are meteorologists who win a large pushback in the meteorology community because they do get it pretty good on the show. And I think a lot of meteorologists have involvement in processing weather data in a way that we didn’t depict on the show, but it was really for comedic effect more than anything. So, to all the meteorologists out there, we do appreciate you. It wasn’t, uh, you know, a personal attack and we apologize.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: That’s amazing. If, any meteorologist is listening, we can hook you up with a guy who can fly you into a hurricane you can have an incredible experience. It’ll be wonderful.

Well, John and John, this was an incredible conversation. Thank you so much for joining us, but also really thank you for the work that you did on The G Word. It really compliments the mission of what we do here at the Partnership so much and it was one of those moments. When I saw the preview, I said, I have to send this to my family. They’re going to get it. Now. They’re going to finally understand why this is so important and they have so, um, thank you both. It’s been great. Thank you so much for having us, this was so much fun.

Jon Cohen: Yeah, we really appreciate it. Yeah.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Thank you.

Transition music

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Rachel I have watched The G Word all the way through now. And I mostly just went there to be maybe two, three, or maybe like seven more seasons. Such an incredible show and I feel so lucky that we had Jon and Jon come on our panel.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: What was so great for me, Loren was the fact that here are these two people who have been on the same journey that we’ve been on, they’re discovering all the things that government does, how amazing public servants are the absolutely selfless and, you know, incredible things that people are doing and things we just had no idea like, oh, there’s somebody whose, you know, tracking GPS. So just, the whole range of things and their absolute appreciation for and wonderment, I feel like has been my whole Partnership journey as well. And through this podcast.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: That was like totally my impression that they went from being and still are incredible writers and comedians and supporting, you know, College Humor and Adam Conover’s work to absolute die-hard fans of government, the potential of government and public servants while still seeing the challenges that it faces in the ways that it needs to improve. And it’s not like it was in no way, a hard sell for them. Like they are with us every step of the way on that conversation, and I loved that, and I can see it 100% in the show. You can tell that this show is made with humor and care and love and that they are wanting to take the American people and their audience along this journey with them as well.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. And when you say humor and care and love. I mean, I laughed, I cried. like no joke. There were just moments where, you know, the reality, the woman with the daycare and Adam says, can I give you a hug? You know, and really seeing the tangible impact of when government’s working well and where there are those hiccups, because it’s just such a behemoth, you know, as the president said, at the end, it’s like trying to move a cruise ship.

It’s not going to go fast and then discussing yes, there are these amazing programs here, but it isn’t always going to just like flip a switch and go the way you need it to go.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: We had that pleasure of having an event later the evening after we recorded this podcast with Adam Conover and some other folks that are associated with The G Word and people asked them about some of the same things we talked about, which was how can go.

Do some of this, how can government get better at storytelling and engaging better and using humor and so on? And they had some wonderful advice for them, but I also feel like this is a bridge that the Partnership can play. And they talked about this as well. This is where the Partnership so successfully brings stories forward makes them human sees how that faceless bureaucrat is actually not a faceless bureaucrat, but an incredibly passionate, dedicated public servant. And, and honestly, like it showed me Rachel we should be opening up more opportunities for humor as well.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: I love that idea. And so, I have to be honest, so right not just the humor, but then also, you know, as one of, one of our guests had said, it is hard at times to feel hopeful and that the show really did a great job, The G Word of informing, but there are so many questions and there are so many hard things and so I want to honor that as well. You know, I’m such an optimistic person and I get excited very easily by these great stories. But there is the, the harsh reality too and so I appreciate it in the last episode, the discussion of what can be done and maybe the answer isn’t always the federal government, but that there are, are other ways through public service to, to try to make things better.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: That point has been sticking with me because I think it’s a question of what I would like people to do because of the work I do to have an opinion on what kind of government they want. And I don’t mean size, but more role and do they like that, that having a good government is what is a really good thing for the country, regardless of size.

And regardless of the role that they have in some ways, but for the most part, I think as a country, we have sort of relied on the fact that this is a, this is not a conversation that you have to have. Government is just government. You don’t have to think about exactly what it is, but the way you broaden it there into what do we want public service to look like?

What role do we want public service to have in our lives is an incredibly deep and challenging and also really inspiring question that I think our podcast, I really hope, allows people to start thinking about in their own minds.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah. I love that. How do we want public service to impact our lives in ways that we didn’t even realize were possible? I do feel that that’s like this whole journey of all these guests and conversations and stories. And not even realizing like, oh, that’s the government that’s doing that. Like, that’s amazing. And I do feel The G Word is, is getting that across so well.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: The headline to me is that government flies into hurricanes. Not because it’s fun though. Wow. Looks pretty awesome. Because it’s doing something that nobody else is going to do to our benefit and we don’t need publicity about it. It’s just going to keep happening anyway, no matter what. And that is both. inspiring, terrifying, amazing thought provoking. Like there’s so many angles to this, and that’s why it’s such a fabulous opportunity for us to do this podcast together and to bring in people like Jamie, Rhome, who helps facilitate that um, and so much other great work that are the public servants we talk to do every day.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Right? Including the ones who are at the meat inspection plants for us looking out for our health and safety, right? Like the completely, what you might think as the non-glamorous jobs. So, it’s just a big, thank you to all of them for looking out for us.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Absolutely. Well, wonderful episode, great conversation. I’m so grateful to, uh, both Jons as well Adam Conover for bringing this incredible piece of art to us and being willing to chat with us about it.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Yeah, I agree.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: So that’s our show, thanks so much for listening! If you haven’t already, please follow or subscribe to “Profiles in Public Service” wherever you get your podcasts.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: You can also check this episode’s show notes to learn more about today’s topic and be sure to follow the Partnership for Public Service on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to find out about future episodes!

Loren DeJonge Schulman: “Profiles in Public Service” is created by the Partnership for Public Service.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: Our writer and producer is Abigail Alpern Fisch.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: Our script supervisor is Barry Goldberg.

Rachel Klein-Kircher: And our executive producer is Jordan LaPier.

Loren DeJonge Schulman: See you next time!

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