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DAVID LITT: I'll never forget the first speech
I wrote for the president where it was a speech he delivered
in Puerto Rico.
DAVID LITT: I remember thinking how totally bizarre that was.
As a speechwriter, you're always recognizing that it's not
really my idea, right?
It's inspired by President Obama, but just the fact
that you can sit down and be part
of that is totally surreal.
And it never stops being surreal.
LAURA LING: You were just 24 years old when
you started at the White House.
How did that come about?
DAVID LITT: I did not mean to become a speechwriter.
I didn't really mean to go in to politics or anything like that.
I was on a plane and we had just begun our initial descent
and I was sort of channel surfing on the free airplane
I saw this candidate who I had heard of
but didn't know a lot about named Barack Obama.
said this day would never come.
DAVID LITT: By the time that speech was over,
I was like, never mind.
Whatever he's doing-- I want to be a part of that.
I was totally awestruck.
It was really one of those moments where,
like, by the time we hit the tarmac,
I was on a totally different life path.
And that doesn't happen a lot, but it was a heck of a speech.
because you believed so deeply in the most American of ideas--
that in the face of impossible odds,
people who love this country can change it.
LAURA LING: What are some of the biggest challenges in helping
to craft a speech for the most powerful person on the planet?
DAVID LITT: You have to realize how high the stakes are.
We would write speeches knowing that there
are people whose full-time job is to pick apart
every single word the president says
and sometimes just to take things out of context.
And that can be incredibly intimidating.
LAURA LING: How do you even get started working
on a speech for the president?
What's your process?
DAVID LITT: If I really didn't know what I wanted to write,
I would try saying it instead.
Speeches aren't meant to be read.
They're meant to be heard.
And so if I felt like I could start
to finish make that argument in my own words just talking
to myself, then I could go back and begin to shape it in a way
where it would make sense for the president.
LAURA LING: What have been your sources of inspiration
when you're going through this process?
DAVID LITT: Sometimes what I would
do is I would go on YouTube and pull up that video of that Iowa
speech from 2008 and hit play.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They said this day would never come.
DAVID LITT: Rewatching those words
and feeling that sense of both power
and responsibility keeps you going
when you wonder whether it's all making a difference.
I worked on the Obama campaign in 2008
and all of my volunteers, when I left,
they took one of those hope posters
and on the back in cardboard they
all just signed their names.
And so I had a sort of face the other way
where the hope side was against the wall
so that I could see all the names.
It was just this reminder that what I was doing
was not just about my job.
It was not just even about the president.
It was about people in places like the one
where I had worked.
For me, really, all of my rituals
are about trying to recapture that feeling I had in 2008,
to put you back in that mindset when you're 21, 22 years old
and you're absolutely sure you can change the world,
and you're pretty sure you can do it tomorrow.
LAURA LING: You've worked on a number of White House
correspondent dinner speeches which
are known for highlighting the president's humor.
How has comedy been a tool for you
in terms of getting a political message out?
DAVID LITT: Well, one of the interesting things
over the last eight years is getting
people's attention has become harder and harder and harder.
I wrote some speeches on climate change that I'm very proud of,
but they didn't have a huge audience.
We did something with Luther, the anger translator,
and President Obama got really upset over climate change
deniers in Congress, and that had 40 million views
on Facebook.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Rising seas, more violent storms--
LUTHER: You got mosquitoes, sweaty people
on the train stinking it up.
It's just nasty.
DAVID LITT: Something that's funny
just gets people to pay attention.
It gets people engaged.
LAURA LING: President Obama has amazing comedic timing.
DAVID LITT: He really does.
The president can hold a pause for just the right amount
of time that there's a little bit of tension
and then cut it was a punch line.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Being president is never easy.
I still have to fix a broken immigration system,
issue veto threats, negotiate with Iran,
all while finding time to pray five times a day.
Which is strenuous.
DAVID LITT: Then there's also just moments
when you write something, whether it's
a joke or a more serious line of argument that breaks through
in some way and becomes part of this national conversation
around an issue.
And a lot of the time, that's a team effort,
but to be one part of that team-- it's a special thing.
LAURA LING: What have you loved most
about working with the president, President Obama?
DAVID LITT: Well, I think there is-- there's just something
extraordinary about working for somebody who
is such a good writer, such a good speaker,
and has the ability to just walk into a room
and create memories that everybody else is going
to remember for a lifetime.
And so you get to be part of all of these life-changing moments
in little ways and big ways.
And that is-- when I walk into a room, that doesn't happen.
So that was nice to get to play a small part in that.
LAURA LING: How do Hillary Clinton and Donald
Trump differ when it comes to giving political speeches?
Be sure to watch this episode of Seeker Daily to learn more.
Clinton is trying to reach out to younger voters who
may not be familiar with the Clinton legacy.
And this may take a little extra effort
than it would take Trump, who already
has an established television presence.
DAVID LITT: I think for somebody who is by her own admission
not a natural performer, she is trying to get better and better
and focus attention where it needs to be.
LAURA LING: Thanks for watching Seeker Stories.
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Meet the Speechwriter Behind Obama's Best Jokes

37278 Folder Collection
胡嘉修 published on September 24, 2017
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