Neil Delamere

First Published January 2020

‘END’ NEARS FOR DELAMERE

(Part 2)

Neil in Offaly jersey

End of Watch, that is, so DON’T WORRY!!!

The only ‘End’ that’s nearing for Neil is his Tullamore stop on his current End Of Watch Tour, which comes to the Tullamore Court Hotel on February 21st! The Edenderry man’s annual visit to his home county always proves to be a memorable – and sold out – affair. So if you haven’t made sure you’re gonna be there yet, I’d act fast. This is a night that will put you in a good mood until summer gets here! And with a general election upon us here at home, the full implications of Brexit about to begin playing out in real-time by the month’s end, and Trump still with the better part of a year to stir up hate before America’s presidential election in November, the more reasons we have to smile the better. Step forward, please, Mr. Delamere…!

Taking a look at his show diary, I noticed that on Neil’s current Tour – which runs until early May –  it can be anything up to four shows in a row before a night’s rest pops up for him. When we sat down for a catch up before Christmas, I asked him if a break would be needed at that stage, to help keep the show fresh for him as much as just for a rest? Or does it usually just depend on whatever else is happening on his work schedule?

“I suppose it depends on the rest of your schedule, yeah, but it also depends on the fact that people like going out on Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday nights! [laughs]. They don’t necessarily go our on Mondays and Tuesdays! But that is a decision that people – even my friends in the U.K. – make, that sometimes they’ll go and do one-hundred dates…but they’ll do them in three months! Aaaannnd…they go a little bit mad! They do. They go a little bit mad [laughs]. It’s longer travel over there, so they’re waking up in another town every day, and you’ll see them looking at their hand then [at the show], ‘Hello Carlisle!’ [laughs]. Here, it’s handier to do the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but doing it for the extra month. I’m back and forth a bit more now to the U.K. than I used to be, so I’m trying to condense things into a smaller period, but still do fifty or sixty dates. But I think you’re better off to have other things happening as well, because it keeps you fresher for each show, too.” 

When Neil and I sat down to chat, the legendary broadcaster Gay Byrne had only recently passed away. Did Neil have any particular personal memory of Gay that stands out for him?

“I do. He was gone from The Late Late Show by the time I did it, I was very young and inexperienced at comedy then, and I did it with Pat Kenny. But I did some TV warm-ups [where someone -typically a comedian – entertains the studio audience before a show begins]. And a friend of mine used to do them for ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ when Gaybo was the host. But something came up and he couldn’t do it for three or four weeks, so he asked me to do it. And Gay Byrne couldn’t have been nicer. I was watching the audience once, and there was a few teenagers there. And you know how when you’re a teenager everything that’s ‘establishment’ is not cool! So you could see them kinda goin’, ‘Oh God…’, ya know! [laughs]. But Gay walked out, and they were completely entranced! Completely. He had this kind of aura. A charisma. He was fully comfortable and secure in what he was doing, so therefore, he was quite authentic. And the other thing that struck me, apart from him being very nice, was that when you were doing that warm-up…you see…a warm-up is very unusual. Because it’s not like a gig, where they’ve paid to come to see you. So you have to talk about things that are happening in the room. You couldn’t talk about the contestants, you were told not to, because they were all nervous. You couldn’t mess with the audience that much either, because some of them were about to become the audience! So you were a little bit hampered! [laughs]. But, what you could do…what was left to do…was messin’ with Gay. And I remember thinking, ‘I wonder should I say this…?’, because I was messing with him and slagging him. But he just couldn’t have been nicer. You could have said anything to him, and he would not only play ball, he’d have the craic with you, too. He took it all really well. You see, he knew well that he would lead the audience. They’d look to him for reaction, and if he went with it, they’d go with it. So I remember him being completely in control of everything, completely comfortable, and also just very nice to someone who was brand new…me. So yeah, I have very fond memories of him, I have to say.”

When Neil and I last spoke about a year ago, Brexit had already seen two deadlines come and go. And Donald Trump had already revealed himself to be the most unsavory of individuals in so many ways. Lately, of course, we’re discovering that he might well be an even worse character than we could have imagined. Looking at Brexit and Trump now, where does Neil think things are going next?

“I don’t think he’ll be removed as President, because he probably has the majority he needs to protect him. But he’ll be impeached. I don’t know how damaging it’s going to be for him. It does seem that the people who love him – his core bass – they love him no matter what he does. I know the Democrats were nervous about impeaching him at the start because if he survives all that, then it’s just grist to the mill for him for his re-election campaign. So GOD ONLY KNOWS where all that’s goin’ to go. Brexit? Again, see, we’re living in an age where lots of things tend to follow [what happens in] America, as far as I can see. You see some stuff happening in the U.K. that might have happened in America three or four years ago. There’s willful disregard for the truth. Last week, the Conservatives put up a doctored video of the Labour Brexit spokesman, and they made it look like he didn’t know what he was talking about. They edited it that way, so that he looked like he couldn’t explain Labour’s position on Brexit. Then they were called out on it, they were caught. And they were more or less like, ‘Ah yeah’, a shrug of the shoulders, ya know! Even five years ago, somebody would have resigned over that. Somebody would have been blamed for that. And somebody would have apologised for it. We’re living in an age now where all bets are off. And that’s really worrying. Win at all costs is the mentality, and it doesn’t matter what’s truthful anymore, it just matters what people want to believe. I think we’re in for more of the same for the next while. Boris will say – as the D.U.P. have found out – whatever Boris needs to say for Boris. Boris first! Tory Party second. The country third!”

While Neil is a public figure because of his talent as a comedian, he quite regularly touches on issues of a topical political nature on The Blame Game. But in interviews like ours, does it ever annoy him, or make him in any way uncomfortable, to be asked questions about the likes of Brexit or Trump?

“No, no, it doesn’t annoy me at all. No. i mean, I could easily just go, ‘No, I have no opinion on it’, ya know! [laughs]. And just not accept the premise of the question [laughs]. But no, I have opinions on these things, absolutely, and I’ve talked to people who know an awful lot more about them all than me. So I’ve formed some degree of opinion on things for myself. I think I’d still be following the news whether I was talking about it on panel shows or not. Maybe I have to be into the news in a little more depth during the months that we’re on TV. Sometimes when we’re not on, I certainly wouldn’t be reading as much about Belfast or Derry. I wouldn’t reading stuff about the North for maybe a month after ‘The Blame Game’, because I just want to take a break from it.” 

The very first sub-two hour marathon was also completely in or around the time Neil and I spoke, even though it hasn’t made the record-books because he had pacers running with him, and it was on a flat course. But the fact remains, that it has now been done. I wondered if there was anything that Neil would love to achieve – it doesn’t even have to be realistic – just something that he would love to do, that Neil would love to see his name beside in the record-books?

“For me?! I never even thought about that! Well, my name is in the House of Commons…[laughs]. That’s enough! Is there anything like that I’d like? I think Mark Watson first, and then Tommy Tiernan, had the record for the longest ever gig and it’s more than twenty-four hours! They started getting delirious. And I was like, no…I’m grand, thanks, lads! [laughs]. No, I don’t think there’s anything like that I can think of in terms of a world record. No. Sorry, I should have a better answer than that! So…3Arena sell-outs, maybe [laughs]. I’d like to hold that one [laughs].”

The passing of both Brendan Grace and Niall Tóbín were sadly also all too recent events when Neil and I spoke, and I asked him about both of those men as well…

“One of the first gigs I ever saw was Niall Tóbín, in the University Concert Hall with my mam and dad. I was a teenager, I was fifteen or sixteen. People would often ask me about those guys. And here’s the thing. The style of comedy has undoubtedly changed. It tends to be more confessional now. But what hasn’t changed is that those two guys have things that you can learn from, that you could always learn from. There’s a degree of mastery of the stage, for example. There’s a degree of timing, and presence. Things that you just can’t fake. They were around so long and they were doin’ the job so well for so long, that even if you turned off the sound you’d still be able to learn something from those lads. I never met Niall Tóibín, but I did a gig with Brendan Grace’s daughter once, Melanie, and she was lovely. I think he picked her up afterwards, so he was one of those people I’ve waved to in a car! But I’ve learned huge amounts from watching their stuff online. I remember the night of that Niall Tóbín gig, that was one of those seminal moments where the thought strikes that, ‘This is a career!’ And not even just a career. It’s something that people do. There’s a man in front of me, and he’s telling stories! And I’ve never seen this before. That was imprinted in my mind. And sometimes I forget that that was the first thing I saw.”

 

Neil continued, “People often ask where did you get the bug for stand-up, and I would say that I was in college and I saw Dara O’ Briain, Deirdre O’ Kane, Eddie Bannon, and all of those people. But in actual fact, the first time I saw a man standing there [doing stand-up] – now he was in a dickie-bow and it was kind of the old-fashioned more so than the new, alternative comedy for want of a better phrase – but still a man on his own holding peoples’ attention for an hour and a half…was Niall Tóbín. That definitely sowed the seed. And he was so comfortable doing it. Audiences are really intuitive. They’ll sit and watch someone and immediately know if they’re comfortable or uncomfortable [in being on-stage]. And that’s an interesting thing when you’re doing a gig. There’s an onus on the performer when the audience doesn’t know who you are, to gain their trust quickly. What was interesting in someone like Niall Tóbín or Brendan Grace walking on-stage is that everybody trusted them immediately. I think they could have walked on-stage anywhere and everyone would have trusted them immediately. There’s something about the way they stand, there’s something about the way they address the audience, there’s something about the way they hold the microphone, everybody immediately goes I’m in good hands here.” 

Does Neil ever have any sense of his own place in Ireland’s comedic history? The fact that even right now, he might be the person who’s making someone else think, ‘This could be something I want to do with my life’…

“Ya mean make them think well it can’t be that hard if he’s doin’ it! [laughs]. No, I don’t think about that really. Sometimes you meet somebody who watched ‘The Panel’ when they were fifteen or something. And that started in 2004. And you meet them now. Actually, I met a fella recently and he was at a gig a couple of years ago in Downpatrick, a little small theatre in Downpatrick when he was sixteen. And he had moved to Dublin, and was maybe nineteen or twenty now, and he was doin’ stand-up. And he’d gone to see myself and another couple of lads in that theatre, and he said he got the bug there and thought to himself that he might want to do more of this. He came back-stage with his dad, who was a very senior law official in Belfast, and his dad asked us would we mind giving his son any advice, if we had any. So we did. And then I met him recently and he said who he was, and you kinda forget that maybe someone sees you on TV and maybe you are someone that gives somebody else a bit of a spur…It’s kind of a weird thing to think of. Because I still have people who I look up to, ya know. The best two things I’ve heard in the last while, in TV or radio, are Alexei Sale, who has a show on Radio 4, and Bob Mortimer on ‘Would I Lie To You’, it’s one of the funniest things you’ll ever see. ‘I do my own dentistry’, that was one of the things he had to lie about! Or tell the truth about, all depends, of course! [laughs]. And both of those guys are well over sixty, but still at the absolute cutting edge of comedy, at the forefront of their creativity. I looked up to them twenty years ago, and I still look up to them now. So it’s a bit weird for me to think that somebody else is going to one of my shows and looking up to me.” 

 
 

ENDS

Neil Delamere

First Published December 2019

‘WATCH’ OUT FOR NEIL’S NEW SHOW

(Part 1)

Neil Delamere brings his END OF WATCH Tour to the midlands in February.

NEIL DELAMERE brings his brand new show, END OF WATCH, to the Tullamore Court Hotel early in the new year. Recently, however, I had the pleasure of catching up with the man himself again, for a chat about that new tour, Brexit, and as it was about to begin on the evening of the day we met, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. Among the contestants this year was a very good friend of Neil’s, fellow comedian Andrew Maxwell. I say was, because unfortunately Andrew became the second celebrity voted out of the Australian jungle on Sunday night last. But when Neil and I sat down to talk, we began by Neil giving his opinion on how he thought Andrew was going to fare…

“I think he’s going to be wildly entertaining, I have to say! [laughs]. I was talking to Joel Dommett, who did very well from it a few years ago, because it IS a monster of a thing in terms of the ratings and people being interested in it, so I hope he stays in as long as possible. And I’d love to see him win it. I worked with him for donkeys’ years and he makes me laugh like nobody else’s business! You know that kind of Loki character, that trickster from folklore – and films now as well, obviously – this trickster God, this imp! In Ireland, we’d say it’s the fella who has the divil in him! There’s devilment to Maxwell, that’s why he’s so entertaining. I think he’ll be the person who introduces that spark of madness to it! If there’s anyone I can see eating kangaroo testicles with a smile on his face, it’s Andrew Mazwell! [laughs].

Could Neil ever see himself giving it a go?

“That show?! Oh, I think I’d have too delicate a disposition! I wouldn’t even go camping on Croghan Hill, nevermind a bushtucker trial in the middle of the Queensland jungle! [laughs]. And I’m not too fond of spiders, either, or snakes. But listen, never say never, I suppose! I’ll get the lowdown from Max after he comes out and see whether it’s something he’d recommend! I’ve been offered some reality shows over here, but for whatever reasons, they haven’t worked out. Timing…Celebrity Bainisteoir would be during the summer, Dancing With The Stars would coincide with touring for me…but never say never. If it was an interesting enough experience you should definitely put yourself down for it. And also if you could learn a new skill by doing it.” 

I wondered if Neil was aware of Tommy Tiernan‘s excellent chat show and if the idea of doing something like that – not necessarily in the exact same format as Tommy, but even a more traditional chat show – was something that would ever appeal?

“Well I do find that really interesting, and that’s what we did on the radio with Today FM. And you were spoiled for choice there, because you could just pick something during the week that interested you, and indulge your interest in it! [laughs]. And as long as you thought that other people would find it engaging, you could pick anything. It could be a guy making hoodies in Wexford out of peoples’ hair, well let’s get him on on Sunday! [laughs]. You could do whatever you wanted! So yeah, absolutely, I’d like to do that again. But I have a few more things to do before I go back to that. I’d like to write something, that’s the next thing. Maybe a sit-com, or a film script. I have a few more ‘live’ tours in me, there’s a few stories I want to tell there! I did The Unbelievable Truth on Radio 4, and I’ve started to do the News Quiz and the Now Show on Radio 4. So there’s a few different formats that I’d like to try. The News Quiz has been running for like, seventy series now. And when you do it, you’re in the room that Spike Milligan did The Goodies in. So you’re kinda goin’, right, I can tick that off ‘the list’ now. And that’s kinda cool. And Hancock’s Half-Hour was recorded there. There’s a few more things I want to tick off my bucket-list in comedy first, before I go back to something that I’ve kind of already done on the radio.”

 

When we met, I had two reasons to offer Neil my congratulations. Firstly, there was a recent IMRO award for The Blame Game (Specialist Speech Programme), but secondly, and perhaps more significantly, Neil was named in the Top Ten Favourite Offaly People of All Time by Laois Today! Which one means more?

“Well I mean listen, an IMRO award, they come and go! So it’s always going to be the Offaly thing, isn’t it [laughs]. I don’t know how our nearest neighbours decided that, to be honest! I actually did a Blame Game recently, and Tim McGarry, the host, was talking about Shane Lowry and Shane’s grandmother, and he told the audience that Shane was from the same county as me. Then he added that this meant there were now two famous people from Offaly…Shane Lowry, and Shane Lowry’s grandmother! [laughs]. Yeah, that Laois thing was interesting. I texted Will O’ Challaghan on Midlands 103 and I said I agreed with everybody else, but it was a tough one to take having Will above me! But no, the IMRO one is always nice to get, and we’ve got it a couple of times now. It’s nice, ya know. Not so much for those of us who work on the show in front of the cameras, cos’ we get nice things being said to us all the time. But for all the people who put the show together, it’s nice for them.” 

Along with Neil’s famed solo shows in Edinburgh, The Blame Game – now in its sixteenth series – is very much what comes to mind when people think of Neil…

“Yeah, it’s divided equally between the two. Everybody north of the border thinks Blame Game. And we’re actually doing our third series of Soft Border Patrol as well, which we kind of thought would be overtaken by Brexit, but…! [laughs]. There’s another one of those in January or February. So they think of those two things. And by the way, the reason it’s in January or February is for my parts, they’re already filming other parts now. But it’s such a fluid and dynamic situation [Brexit], that if you film it today, Boris could have announced another deal by tomorrow, and they could be part of France by next week! So we have to film it quite tight to air-date. People south of the border don’t watch those shows in the same way, so they tend to think of ‘live’ tours, some people alright think of The Blame Game, some of Edinburgh, some even think of The Panel from years ago, or Today FM. But hopefully you’ve got to the point where you’re just a fixture now, ya know.” 

With Soft Border Patrol, and because that whole situation is proving to be as fluid as it is, at what stage was it decided that another series was actually a viable option?

“Well I don’t decide that, that’s a man or a woman in an office somewhere. But I mean, the very first one was meant to be just one episode and that turned into three. The second series was five episodes, and I think the next one is three. Some of the decision making is governed by the actual process of Brexit itself. And I think if the U.K. had left by now, and it had been a very hard Brexit and people were really suffering under the yoke of that, they might have made a different decision. In that case, they might have gone, well, is this something that we can really take the piss out of? Oddly enough, The Blame Game is the thing that got us mentioned in the House of Commons recently, which was really weird. I was at the cinema, right, and I walked out of the cinema and my phone just had, ‘You’ve been mentioned in the House of Commons’, ‘You’ve been mentioned in the House of Commons’, ‘And so has the Blame Game’…all these messages! I thought it was something like somebody had used the phrase, like, ‘we need to stop playing the blame game’, something like that. But it wasn’t! It was the Shadow Secretary of Northern Ireland, Steven Pound, of Labour. And he said, ‘We should stop playing the blame game. The Blame Game to me is a programme on Northern Irish television..’, and then he went on, ‘starring Neil Delamere, and Tim McGarry…’, and all the rest! [laughs]. So we’re in the record of Hansard for the rest of our days. That was a bit weird! Usually when they’re naming Irish people in there it’s because they’re part of a proscribed organisation! [laughs]We pop up in unusual places, I suppose!”

On Brexit and Soft Border Patrol, and with the way everything is going in that regard, does Neil feel that somewhere along the line that show – clearly created as a parody of real life –  could become almost indistinguishable from real life because of how crazy everything actually is becoming in real life?!

“Well we actually had one of the foremost academic experts in Brexit from the north say that she had written pages and pages of articles on Brexit, but that ‘these boys’, us, had nailed it in thirty seconds on the show! And it’s beginning to be shared in England now, too, by current affairs journalists. You just don’t know what way it’s going to go. But what is quite interesting is that suddenly people in England, specifically England, are becoming aware of Northern Ireland in a way that they never were before. Marcus Brigstocke, a well-known comedian in the U.K, did a joke on The Blame Game recently about the D.U.P. coming into existence in 2017! And he was right, that’s what certain people seem to think. It’s interesting to see stuff dawn on people like that now, that never dawned on them before.” 

The main reason I was sitting down with Neil, of course, was to chat a little bit about his new tour, End Of Watch, which is on its way to Tullamore at the end of February. The show is built around a central theme of Neil trying to buy his dad a fancy new watch…

“I think when you have a story, people kind of want to hang on until the end and see what happens…did he get it or did he not? I’ll tell you this much, I forgot to buy it, so I had to buy it in an airport, which resulted in much wrangling over duty-free [laughs]. It got good reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, including from a man sat in the front row who was… the Chief Constable of the P.S.N.I, Sir George Hamilton! He retired about a month before the Fringe, but he came up to me and said ‘Hi, I’m going to your show tonight.’ Because of the nature of the festival, the venue I was in had another show on after me, then another one after that again. So you have to get your audience out and the next one in for the next performer. So at the end of my show, we’d ran a little bit over, and I realised what I was going to have to say next. I looked down at the Chief Constable and I said…you’ve got two minutes to get out! [laughs]. And he laughed…and then he shot me in the leg! [laughs]. No he didn’t! [laughs]. So yeah, people seemed to have liked the show there. We’ve just started its tour, I’ve done a couple of nights already, and it will go from now until the end of April. And hopefully I’ll get the Da to go to it. Because the last time I did a show about him a couple of years ago, it was about he and I doing the Meals On Wheels, and I got him to go to that in Vicker Street. And he was lauded like some sort of rockstar! [laughs]

Going back to when Neil was actually trying to buy the watch and haggling about the duty-free and such, how soon into that whole scenario, I wondered, did he realise he was going to use this as material at some stage?

“Oh as it was happening! [laughs]. Yeah, yeah. I was with my missus and she was going, ‘Why are you not annoyed that you can’t get this watch?’ And then she saw this glint in my eye, and she goes, ‘You’re going to write about this, aren’t ya?!’ And I just said yeeeeessss! [laughs]. That’s the great thing about comedy, if something awkward or bad happens, for most people in normal everyday life, they get annoyed. But with me, half of me gets annoyed, but the other half of me goes, ‘Woaaaah, this is twenty minutes of a show!’ [laughs]. So yeah, I knew kind of as it was happening, but I didn’t realise it would be the full show until I started putting all the pieces together.”

So because Neil realised as it was happening, that it was something he was going to use in his shows, did it change or affect how he was actually dealing with the situation in real-time?

“Well that would have been the really clever thing to do, to deliberately start to antagonise someone to see if they’ll be ruder to you and make it all funnier again! [laughs]. No, I wasn’t quite that on-board with it at the time. Sometimes, I think, it depends when the incident happens. I don’t know about other people, but my brain is trying to impose some sort of logic or structure on a job that has none. That’s why it’s all fallen into this routine of Edinburgh every August, telly in November and December, and tour between December and April, with festivals during the summer. If you’re trying to buy that watch and it’s January, where it’s around the time you’ve turned your head to writing your next show, you immediately know [that you’ll use it]. Whereas if it’s mid-November and you’re writing lots of topical stuff…like if it happened this week, I’m doing Blame Game on Wednesday, on Thursday I’m doing a TV show for BBC Scotland called Breaking The News, another panel show, so then you might file something like the watch away in the back burner and suddenly find it when you need it.”

ENDS

 

 

Pat Cunnane

First Published September 2018

WEST WINGING IT

Senior Writer & Deputy Director of Messaging on Life In and After the Obama White House

Pat Cunnane

Imagine… coming out of college at just twenty-two years old and your first ‘real’ job in the ‘real’ world being in the White House. Yes, THAT White House. The one with what is perhaps the most famous address in the world; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., 20500. And imagine that the man sitting in the Oval Office during your time there carried daily upon his shoulders – with the most inspirational and genuine displays of personal dignity and sense of public service and responsibility – the weight of being the first African-American to lead the free world. And imagine being right at the heart of the American political machine for six intense years, watching your boss, your nation’s President, reviled, mocked, and purposely hindered at every opportunity by the opposition, while at the same time being adored and respected by supporters of your own party and most of the rest of the world.

Then, imagine being there, in the midst of the maelstrom, as the seemingly impossible happens and you found yourself facing the reality of witnessing an individual who was, and remains, the polar opposite of everything great and good that had gone before, becoming the new President of the United States.

For one thing, this would make a heck of a movie! But fascinatingly, for one man, this was his life. That man is Pat Cunnane. He became Senior Writer & Deputy Director of Messaging in the White House. And his President was Barack Obama.

Pat served in the West Wing of the White House in President Obama’s administration, working as a media-monitor, press-wrangler, and writer between 2010 and 2016, or to give him his official title, as mentioned above, Senior Writer & Deputy Director of Messaging. And thanks to his magnificent memoir of that time, ‘West Winging It’, we don’t have to imagine what it would have been like to be there. We can hear it, from the heart, from a man who was. I had the pleasure and the privilege of chatting to Pat not so long ago. If you have even a passing interest in politics, history, the challenges of the times we live in, and the intricacies of human behavior in one of the most all-consuming workplaces on the planet, you’ll love this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You’ll also laugh more than you’d ever expect to when reading a book that covers six years of a life in politics. And that says everything about Pat, and indeed, the many amazing characters who he shared his journey with, not least of all President Obama himself.

Pat, first of all, thanks a million for taking the time to have this chat today, I really appreciate it. So listen, the main reason you and I are talking is because you’ve just released your book, ‘West Winging It’, about your time as a member of staff in the West Wing of the White House during President Obama’s administration. I have to say I loved your book, and if it wasn’t for the need to sleep, eat, and work, I would have finished it in one sitting! So congratulations on creating what is really a very personal, and very human document of a special time in your life, and of course, a momentous time in American life too, for so many different reasons.

“Thank you so much, that is wonderful to hear!”

 

Let’s start with the actual process of putting your book together.

Was that something that you enjoyed? And with there being so many ways that you could have approached it, and with so many stories that I’m sure you could have told, was it tough to find the exact road you wanted to go down, and then to keep on that road as well?

“For the most part, I enjoyed the process. In the beginning, my notions of what the book could and should be were quite vague, but something clicked the day after the election in 2016 when Trump won. I knew then what I wanted the book to be: a time capsule of an administration that just ended – that now feels like ages ago. And a look at what it used to mean – and what it can mean again – to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I kept mostly to the road-map I laid out from the start, but definitely allowed for some adjustments and plenty of feedback, which I think made the book better.”

 

So many ex-staffers from the Obama administration have taken to writing books that either entirely encompass, or are in some way related to their time in the White House. Yourself, of course, Alyssa Mastromonaco (‘Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? – And Other Questions You Should Have The Answers to When You Work in the White House’), Ben Rhodes (‘The World As It Is – Inside The Obama White House’), and Dan Pfeiffer (‘Yes We (Still) Can’).Do you think there’ll be as many folk with stories to tell at the end of the Trump administration?

 

“There will always be an appetite for insider-y looks at any White House. However, I think it’s safe to say that most Trump staffers’ books would serve better as guides on how not to run a White House.”

 

What really struck me most, Pat, and surprised me most too about Alyssa’s book when I first began reading that, was how funny it was. I don’t think I was expecting a book about politics – and I know now, in fairness to Alyssa, that it’s far from just being ‘about politics’ – to be funny. Because of the atmosphere and work environment, and the people that Alyssa mentioned and described in her book, I think I was a little less surprised that yours seemed to have such a strong sense of your own sense of humour in it. But also of the sense of humour of the White House at that time, including President Obama and Vice-President Biden. Looking back on it now, how important do you think it was to have that freedom really, for people to be able to express that side of themselves in such a high-pressure, intense workplace? And also, was that atmosphere something that developed organically, or was it designed in as much as possible by the leadership within the White House?

 

“I’m glad the humor came through. I definitely did not want to write a stodgy political book. Part of the point I was determined to make was that politics and public service can be fun without being totally dysfunctional. I can’t overstate how important it is to be able to laugh at yourself and with others throughout the day when you’re working in a high-stress environment like the West Wing. It’s like that cliché about taking your work seriously, but not yourself. That’s a mantra the Obama White House lived by from the top down.”

 

 

You remarked a few times in your book about how you’ve always been a worrier in normal life, but weren’t really at all in the White House because somewhere in the back of your mind you felt like it would never end. After six years of working there, for President Obama, and around so many dedicated, and inspiring people, what do you think are the most important personality or character traits that you’ve developed in that time? And in a sense, because of that time. I assume that, having come through your time in the West Wing, the whole worry thing in normal life is pretty much redundant now?

 

“Well, I’m still certainly a worrier, but I’ve also learned to take a longer view of things, not to get so caught up in the worry and frenzy of the moment. I was always amazed at President Obama’s ability to do just that, and I am trying to be better that way – to emulate that characteristic. In terms of the most important personality or character traits, I think working with so many different members of the press in such stressful environments forced me to get better at working with lots of personality types. The ability to sort of go with the flow and adapt on the fly was crucial in that job and I hope that will serve me well in the future.”

 

 

Yourself, and indeed the rest of the Obama administration, seemed to work so well with the press during President Obama’s time in office. With the odd exception here and there, I’m sure (adapters in the water, and such like…read the book!). Firstly, considering you had such a close relationship with the press pool for so long, what goes through your mind when you hear Trump repeatedly referring to the press as the ‘enemy of the people’, and the media (most of it) as ‘fake news’? And secondly, do you think Trump’s attitude towards the press and the media has kind of caught them off-guard in its persistent viciousness, absolute disregard for facts or the truth, and how easily so many Americans seem to be buying into that?

 

“In the Obama White House – like most White House’s before us – we upheld the natural, healthy tension that exists between the president and the press. Sure, they got on our nerves, and we certainly got on theirs; but we always remembered that we weren’t the only public servants who went to work at the White House. The press were and are just as important as the staffers who serve the president. After all, we call it The People’s House for a reason.”

Pat continued, “I think President Trump’s outrageous attacks on the free press are as dangerous as anything he’s done in office. It’s despicable, and it’s often hard for me to believe it’s happening here in the United States. I would say it’s caught them at least a little off guard. I think there was this idea that he’d be slightly more respectful after assuming office. It’s certainly caught me off guard, and it’s only made the work of the press even more crucial than it once was. I imagine it’s a lot harder for them now, too – what with the leader of the free world riling up his supporters against them in such a vicious manner. But, in the face of that unprecedented opposition, I think they’ve done a remarkable job of rooting out the truth.”

 

I certainly don’t recall any politician, either in the States or here in Europe, indeed, in my lifetime or before it, who has continued to hold rallies AFTER being elected. And seemingly, only to appeal to what everyone refers to as his ‘base.’ From somebody on the outside looking in, it’s definitely a strange turn of events, to put it mildly. What’s your own view on it?

 

“You know President Obama often held events – but they were in service of a policy or agenda that he thought would be good for the American people. President Trump seems to be holding events simply to stroke his own fragile ego.”

 

 

Twitter has changed the world in so many ways when it comes to communication. The fact that it’s instant, that it’s so direct, that it’s worldwide. What nobody could have ever imagined, I think, is how Twitter would change the Presidency, even if it does turn out to be (hopefully) for just this one term. From here on out, how do you see the role of, and the methods of, communication changing as far as the Office of the President is concerned? Both as a result of technological developments such as Twitter as platforms for communication, but also taking into account how this administration all but abandoned protocol in that area?

 

“It’s an interesting question. White House communications teams and plans have always had to evolve with changing technology. The Obama campaign was especially adept at it in 2007 and 2008, and we worked hard in the White House to keep up with the changing media environment and to “meet people where they are.” At the same time, I think the current presidency is an anomaly and we will revert to more traditional, respectful discourse from the Oval Office. But it will remain incumbent on all presidents to connect in new and creative ways with the American people, both to convey their own messages and – probably more importantly – to understand what’s on the minds of those across the country – but to do so in a manner befitting the awesome power and responsibility of the office he – and hopefully soon she – holds.”

 

 

Now, I know from your book that your Nana was, and I suppose still is, a massive fan of President Obama, and also very aware politically. Now that you’re out of politics, do you two still discuss what’s happening in the political realm, and if you do, what does she make of it all right now?

 

“My nana remains as spunky as ever. She’s getting much older, so I try not to get her too upset by bringing up President Trump too often. Truth is, I feel very sad for her. Here she is, a woman who’s fought for her rights her entire life, who has been incredibly involved on a local level – knocking doors, protesting, petitioning – and I, and I suppose she, thought it would culminate in her lifetime with the election of our nation’s first female president.”

 

 

You worked at the White House, Pat, not just for a long time, but really when you think about it, for most of your actual working life so far. That being so, how hard is it to deal with life away from a world where the days – and even the hours and the minutes within those days – were usually of real consequence? And is there any sense now that life has become boring? Or have you tried to consciously guard against letting that feeling creep in at any stage?

 

“It’s true, my first real job was working in the White House. I went straight from college, at 22, and didn’t leave until I was 29. So, in a way, I grew up there. It still sort of feels like I’m just on a long break from work and that one day the whole Obama crew will get together and head back to work. It’s still weird that it’s actually over. But I’ve had fun working on other projects like the book and TV shows and some other fun things I have in the works. But, yes, I do miss it and my wife did often warn me that it was going to be basically impossible to find something that matches the intensity and meaning of my first job!”

 

So you’ve essentially lived what would be seen as the pinnacle of many other peoples’ lives before you’re even out of your twenties.

Is there any kind of fear or worry about what comes next? And not just over the next few years, but in the longer term, too. Do you ever wonder if anything in the rest of your life will match the energy, and emotion, and uniqueness of what’s already been? Is it a high that you feel under any kind of pressure – internally or externally – to try and find again somewhere? 

 

“Ha, yes! I’m just 30 now, and I don’t really have any clue what I want to be doing five years from now. But I’m having fun figuring out what that next exciting thing will be. I guess you could say I’m still winging it…! Truth is, I realize how privileged I was to have had this experience and that I may very well never have one like it again. But I’ve been fortunate to get involved in some other exciting opportunities, from TV to writing to volunteering on my mom’s campaign for Congress. And it’s been fun watching what all my former Obama-world co-workers are up to. Even the Obama’s themselves are exploring new opportunities like the one they signed with Netflix.”

 

 

In your book, you recall a moment when you were standing in a room after Sandyhook, waiting while the President met with the victims’ families backstage. And while looking at the front-row, it dawned on you that there wasn’t really a front-row per-say in the room that day because everybody who was going to be in there was directly impacted. It’s quite a powerful passage, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be in your position right then. Or indeed, President Obama’s. Were there any other moments like that, when almost all of a sudden, you became so vividly aware of the weight of the moment on your shoulders?

 

“It’s hard to say, but this question really is what makes working at the White House unique. Any day can turn on a dime. You can fall into feeling like you’re working at any old office and then – like a bolt of lightning – the president walks in, or important news breaks across the globe. I remember feeling this sense of what-in-the-world-am-I-doing-here impostor syndrome when we were flying down to South Africa with former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, as well as Secretary Clinton, and of course President Obama, for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. But the truth is I felt that way every time I walked through the White House gates. I heard someone once say that the day you don’t feel nervous – that the awe of the place doesn’t hit you as you approach – then it’s probably time to leave.”

 

 

Your mum is a Professor of Writing and Rhetoric. So it’s probably fair to say that it’s from her that you get at least some of your own flair for writing. As well as your own natural talent, too, of course. Would you say that your mum’s influence and encouragement, in the writing side of your life, was a big factor in preparing you for your life in the West Wing? And ultimately in helping you to be as good as you were at your job during your time in the White House?

 

“My parents were and are a tremendous influence on me: my dad because he’s probably the hardest working guy I’ve ever met, and my mom because of her love for writing. I remember she made me read Strunk and White’s writing guide and she would reference it so often you would think they were family friends. My mom and dad played a huge role in my time at the White House, and they never failed to remind me that I needed to “stay and turn out the lights,” if ever I was considering leaving. I took their advice and stayed until the end, and I am very grateful I did.”

 

President Obama is a big hero of mine. That’s something that I freely, happily, and proudly admit to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere! And because I also write, I’m fascinated by what your process and technique was for finding ‘his voice’ first of all, and then for being able to write ‘in his voice’ for all those hundreds of pages that you did. So, if you don’t mind sharing a little bit, or everything, about that part of what you did…how did you do it??

 

“I started out writing suggested answers in his many, many interview memos – so I had a lot of practice before I ever wrote anything that went out directly from him. Other than that, it was a huge benefit to work as a wrangler and travel to hundreds of his speeches in 2011 and 2012 where I would listen from the buffer zone by the stage as he delivered countless speeches. So his voice sort of seeped into many of his staffers minds. My wife Stephanie would often call me out when I used an Obama-ism in real life, like when I slipped into writing about “hope and change” to our landlord, when – in reality – I just needed him to fix our air conditioning!”

 

You say in your book, Pat, that President Obama rightly considers himself to be a writer. And everybody knows about his love of reading. But most people will probably have no idea that he used to read ten letters a night from people from all over America to help him get a better sense of what was going on in the lives of those ‘ordinary, everyday’ Americans. I think letter-writing, sadly, is becoming something of dying, if not already lost, art. As a writer yourself, do you still write by hand at all, and do you ever write letters?

 

“I do. I still take lots of notes by hand and write out to-do lists (mainly for the pleasure of crossing items off the list). I’ll occasionally write a letter, but I should do it more. I want to emphasize the letters. Even while some were emails and not hand-written, it was a really important way for President Obama to pierce through the bubble that exists around any president – to connect, and understand a little bit better those he was elected to serve. All presidents would be well-served by upholding the tradition.”

 

Leaving aside the fact that you managed to get two jokes into President Obama’s speech for his last White House Correspondents Dinner…what would you say are your three most cherished memories from your time working in the West Wing of President Obama’s White House?

 

“Well, I did get engaged in the Rose Garden to my grade-school sweetheart and now wife Stephanie, so I suppose I should start by including that! It’s hard to choose a second – there are too many! But I will say election night 2012, after months of travel and worry, was pretty fantastic. Seeing the President and First Lady backstage after he delivered his victory speech and knowing that I was a very small part of something so wonderful, was really rewarding. Then, lastly, it would absolutely be election night 2016 and the morning that followed. We all know what happened. I was in the Press Secretary’s office partying with co-workers watching the returns come in. Then, of course, everything went badly, and we were drinking for a whole different reason. I’ll never forget being in the Rose Garden around midnight – where I had proposed to Stephanie a few years before – and thinking this can’t be how my time here ends. And then leaving the White House that night knowing that walking back in would never be the same.”

 

Pat went on, “But the memory doesn’t end there. The next morning, shocked, angry, depressed, I walked through the rain and gathered with the same co-workers in the same office as the night before. Only this time we were consoling each other. And then the President’s assistant, Ferial, popped her head in and said the president wanted to see us in the Oval Office. So we all streamed in. And he started to give us a pep talk about how hope is called for most in our losses, not our victories – and that history doesn’t move in a straight line; it zigs and zags. At this point, I was full-blown ugly crying. Then he turned and looked toward the Rose Garden where it had stopped raining. He told us he wanted to deliver the same message he just gave us to the American people. But he wanted to do it outside where it’s more optimistic.”

 

Pat concluded, “That’s a morning – and a pep-talk – I’ll never forget.”

 

ENDS